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Staff photo by EMILY BARNESNew Lackey boys basketball head coach Greg Gibbs speaks to his team before Wednesday's preseason practice. Gibbs takes over the post from Tony Mast.
For the last four seasons, the Lackey Chargers have assumed the role of the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference's premier boys basketball program.
That span has seen Lackey capture three SMAC crowns with just one loss in 48 combined league games, attain a Class 3A South region title while reaching the regional final two other times and come within an uncharacteristically bad second half away from claiming the 2006 3A state championship –– coughing up an 11-point lead at intermission just when Maryland glory seemed to be in its grasp. Lackey's five-point setback in College Park's Comcast Center was as close as any SMAC team had come, up until that time, to ending the league's incredulously long streak without a state title, which last occurred in 1972.
Not coincidentally, the intense, passionate Tony Mast arrived onto the Lackey scene as head coach when its ascension to juggernaut status within the SMAC, region and state ranks began during the 2005-2006 campaign.
Mast compiled a gaudy overall record of 85-15, including 60-4 within the SMAC, during his four seasons at the helm of a program, which had not previously hoisted regional and SMAC banners since 1978 and 1980, respectively.
Then on March 19, he surprisingly resigned from holding the reins of a gig that suited his makeup perfectly, stating that he wanted to pursue more opportunities as a teacher while finishing his master's degree.
Even Mast's assistants were taken aback when he stepped down.
"It's a little humbling. He set a standard here that wasn't here before," new Lackey head coach Greg Gibbs said of his predecessor. "I hope I can continue that also."
Gibbs was an assistant to Mast last year when the Chargers boasted a perfect 16-0 SMAC mark en route to a 23-3 overall tab, falling to Friendly, of Prince George's County, in the regional final. Gibbs was the Lackey freshman frontman two years ago. During that time, he got a firsthand glimpse at what made Mast so effective.
"His Xs and Os are excellent, and his scouting –– he knew exactly what to do against each team –– and his game planning always seemed to work if the kids paid attention to it," Gibbs added about Mast. "I keep some of the same things that Tony had here. He was successful, because he knows the game and he's a players' coach.
And I have a little of my own [influence]."
Returning senior forward Terrance Turner said during Wednesday's preseason practice, "I don't think it's much of a change [with Gibbs now the head coach]. The intensity's still the same every day. Basically, we just want to keep up the excellence of this program. We don't want nothing less than a state championship –– that's what we look at every year. SMAC [title] is good, but we want more than that this year."
Gibbs noted that his intensity and knowledge of the game are among his hallmarks of coaching.
"Even though Tony Mast was a good coach, we still had the players to play for him and they were talented," Turner said. "We do have a talented group of players [this year]. Coach Gibbs does have that mindset of discipline, and he holds us to those high standards. [Gibbs and Mast] have some of the same drills, same methods, but we are learning a new offense."
This is not just a fresh job for Gibbs. It runs much deeper than that for the 1987 Lackey graduate given his roots. He played in the program under head coach Bill Stewart.
"I was a 5[-foot] 9 power forward," he indicated with a smirk about his Lackey playing days. "I have a lot of pride in Lackey. I'm a community guy. It's pride that I'm bringing here."
While the shadow cast from the accomplished Mast could seem too imposing for his replacement, Gibbs is embracing the opportunity to take control of a ready-made contending program.
"How do I put it?" Gibbs asked, not unsure of his answer but rather wanting to choose his confident words properly. "I relish the challenge. I look forward to it. I'm very competitive. Hopefully, I can take us to a higher level.
"I embrace what Tony did, but I also want to set my own standard, put my own footprints on the program. I take what I've learned from Tony and Bill Stewart –– I feel confident."
"Winning," senior guard Raynard Martin said of what stood out from Mast's regime. This is his first year on varsity after moving up from junior varsity. "Winning – that's a legacy here. We just got to try and keep it up. There's no pressure, you just have to work with your team and have faith in them."
Martin does have experience playing under Gibbs as a youngster in the AAU ranks.
"He likes intensity just like coach Mast," Martin said of Gibbs. "He doesn't expect nothing but the best. If we don't work hard, we're going to run. He knows the game pretty well. I'm learning from him. Hopefully, we go to states. We don't settle for nothing less."