After a recent game, a head coach’s booming voice addresses the Kansas City East Christian Academy Lions, a high school boys team made up of home-schooled players from throughout the city.
“Sometimes you dribble too much.”
“You beat teams by passing.”
“Make THEM play defense.”
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“You have got to play harder without the ball.”
The familiar voice belongs to Bud Lathrop. Yes, that Bud Lathrop.
The Bud Lathrop whose coaching career led him to Raytown South High School in 1961, where he led the Cardinals to four state championships. The Bud Lathrop who ranks No. 16 on the National Federation of State High School Association’s all-time national list for winningest high school boys’ basketball coaches with a 955-310 career record.
And, yes, the Bud Lathrop who initially retired in 2006 after his coaching career collided with controversy. He was suspended one week in January 2003 after a reporter from The Star witnessed him using a wooden paddle to discipline players in practice. In December 2004, he was suspended for three weeks for using foul language during practice.
Lathrop, at age 78, is back.
“I didn’t get back in it to add to my win total,” said Lathrop, whose victory total tops the all-time boys list in Missouri. ‘I’m here to help them. And if we’re going to play, we’re going to play to win. I pretty much let them know that when they asked me to coach them. If it’s intramurals, anybody could coach them.”
The East Christian Academy program is based in Leawood, practices at KC Sports Lodge in Independence and plays the majority of its games on the road, including as far away as Omaha, Neb. If the Lions do play a home game, it’s at Metropolitan Community College at Penn Valley.
His Lions players, Lathrop said, are throwbacks. They also have a 19-9 record this season.
“They are how kids were in the 1960s and 70s. They don’t take things for granted and they shake your hand and thank you after practice,” he said. “This whole thing is parent-guided. Family-oriented. They (parents) don’t gripe to me about Jimmy not playing. They don’t tell me who they want me to play.”
Lincoln Prep, a member of the Interscholastic League, edged Lathrop’s East Christian squad 61-58 in December. Lincoln Prep coach Sean Pearson, who played for Roy Williams at Kansas in the early 1990s, has known Lathrop’s name for years.
“His team is very fundamentally sound and believes in their system,” Pearson said. “I thought it was really nice to see him back in coaching. It’s hard to break away from it.”
Lathrop works the sideline, coaching a team that cannot win a high school state championship, a feat Lathrop accomplished four times (1970, 1972, 1977 and 1990) at Raytown South.
The Kansas State High School Activities Association has East Christian Academy on its approved school list, meaning it can play against member schools. The Lions have played Blue Valley and Sumner Academy this season. East Christian cannot, though, play in the Kansas association’s postseason. It will play instead in March in the National Christian Home School Basketball Championship in Springfield.
Still, Lathrop’s presence is a victory in itself, says East Christian sophomore guard Jake Dumas.
“He has a legacy. You just want to play your heart out for him,” Dumas said. “Every minute with him I want to learn.”
Because of health reasons, Lathrop coaches East Christian on a partial basis. He attends most practices but does not attend every game, having missed a couple this season. Lathrop started kidney dialysis in 2014 and awakens at 5:30 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for treatment.
“They hook me up, stick two needles in me. I don’t mind it. It’s not a death sentence,” Lathrop said. His wife of 56 years, Gay, recently completed a year of being cancer-free.
“She’s my hero,” Lathrop said.
Gay Lathrop rarely misses a game and stands by her man, whom she met when both of them attended Raytown High School.
“He still draws plays on napkins,” she said. “I’m happy this (coaching again) happened to him.”
Just as he did at Raytown South, Lathrop offers advice and lessons that he hopes stick with his current squad.
“When you go out in life, whether you are on the police force or a fireman, you probably are going to have to be part of a team. If you play as a team, you’ve got a chance,” Lathrop said. “You have to do what you feel and the players will feel that way, too. It’s doing the little things, having the courage to do them, and don’t worry about what fans might think.”
Rhonda Morrison, whose son Evan plays for Lathrop at East Christian, is one of his assistant coaches. She says she is honored to sit beside the longtime coach.
“Coach has more information in his little finger than most people have in their whole brain,” Rhonda Morrison said. “Every time you are around him, it’s like a coaching clinic. This matters to him. He still has the fire.”
Lathrop, though, offers no guarantees about coaching beyond this season. He says he might ride off into the sunset, but ...
“I don’t know. I’ll see how I feel,” Lathrop said. “If I can find a 6-7 guy …”