Bud Lathrop, the winningest coach in Missouri high school history, a man whose influence at Raytown South spanned six decades, died at his home on Thursday. He was 82.
He won 955 games, 35 conference titles and four state championships as the only boys basketball coach Ray South knew for its first 45 years. He was known for tough love, a voice that could somehow be heard through the loudest gymnasiums and the uncompromising loyalty and appreciation from so many of his former players — some who are still in their 20s, and others who are now grandfathers.
“The first thing I remember is just how much he cared about his players,” said Raytown High School boys basketball coach Cody Buford, who played for Lathrop at Ray South. “And he didn’t just care about you from November to March. It was your everyday life.”
Lathrop spent most of the following days calling many who attended — he gave out his phone number, and asked everyone to include theirs in the guest book — in appreciation.
“He was overwhelmed,” said Kent Scott, a former player who helped organize the event. “He couldn’t have been more appreciative, and what we did. The way I think about it, here was a guy, a teacher and a coach his whole life. Really didn’t make a lot of money.
“But he’s got to be one of the richest men in Raytown, no doubt about it. He told me that: ‘Nobody can take away what’s in my heart.’ ”
Lathrop lived a full life. He grew up on a farm with his grandparents after his dad joined World War II, married his high school sweetheart 60 years ago this September, and from 1967 to 1994 won every conference title but one. The 1990 team, led by eventual Mizzou star Jevon Crudup, went undefeated and is widely considered one of the best in Kansas City or Missouri history.
His legacy across high school basketball in Kansas City — and beyond — is immense. When he graduated William Jewell College in 1958, he was the program’s all-time leading scorer. Five decades later, after retiring from Ray South, Lathrop obliged when William Jewell coach Larry Holley sought his advice.
Holley, a member of numerous Hall of Fame classes who surpassed 900 career victories last season, invited Lathrop to implement an offense he used at Raytown South that catered to post players.
“We even called the offense, ‘Bud,’ ” Holley said. “We put in that offense three or four years in a row when we had really talented big men. And let me tell you — we ran that offense pretty successfully. He could work with guards, too, but he was really great working with big guys.”
His last few seasons at Ray South were full of drama and suspensions before he retired in 2006. He later returned to coaching, briefly, with a group of home-schooled kids who made up Kansas City East Christian Academy. But health issues that included regular kidney dialysis were limiting.
Services are pending. In the hours after his death, former players and others who knew him connected one more time to tell stories of the man who influenced so many lives.
“As you might imagine, that event was in the planning stages for about a year and a half,” Scott said. “One of the things we all talked about, and all worried about, was whether he would make it. We were so glad he did. So happy to be able to tell him one more time how much we loved him, and for him to be able to tell us the same.”
Buford, 36, had stayed in touch with Lathrop, who remained interested in the metro’s high school basketball scene until his final days. Buford referred to Lathrop as the area’s best sounding board for ideas — utilizing him most often when things weren’t going particularly well.
“One of my favorite things would be after a game, he’d call me the next morning, and he’d start talking at 6 a.m., and he wouldn’t be done talking until school started more than an hour later,” Buford said. “He did whatever he could to help.
“I try to emulate him as much as possible, but I know that’s impossible. I try my best to have that attention to detail that he had and to care for my players and spend a lot of time with them. Because that’s who Coach Lathrop was.”