Photo by Jeff Helmkamp
Evansville director of basketball operations Kavon Lacey encourages the Purple Aces during a semifinal game of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament March 5 at Scottrade Center. Lacey is a 2007 Alton High grad and the boys’ basketball program’s all-time leading scorer.
When the University of Evansville played in the Missouri Valley Conference Basketball Tournament at Scottrade Center the past weekend, it served as a homecoming for Kavon Lacey.
“It’s always great to come home and coming to St. Louis is like home for me because it’s right across the bridge,” Lacey said.
The 2007 Alton High graduate had the welcome mat out for him during the 26th annual Arch Madness event in St. Louis. Lacey is completing his fourth season as director of basketball operations for the Purple Aces and he’s savoring it.
Living the dream, you might say. Once he played for the Purple Aces. Now he’s coaching them.
“I’m enjoying what I’m doing and my job is steadily changing,” Lacey said. “We’ve had a really good season. A lot of people look at it in terms of wins and losses, but it’s a process for us.
“We have a senior-led team and the players have really stepped up this season.”
Every step seems to be going forward for Lacey, the AHS boys’ career scoring leader with 1,499 points. He was a two-sport star, including football, for the Redbirds.
Now, he’s part of an Evansville team that’s stirring more success. The Aces came within a whisker of winning their first conference tournament. Evansville, sporting a 25-9 record, bowed to Northern Iowa, 56-54, in last Sunday’s championship game. The Panthers thus gained an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
Evansville is eying a berth in the NIT.
“I’m sure it’s going to be an anxious week for us,” Purple Aces’ coach Marty Simmons said Sunday. “But I think we will get an opportunity to play in the NIT.”
Last year, the Aces snared the CIT crown, thanks to five postseason wins.
They went 12-6 in the Valley this season and finished tied with Illinois State for second place behind league champion Wichita State.
“Our conference is always tough,” Lacey said. “You have to take care of business every night.”
Simmons, formerly at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville for five years, has put together an impressive array of assistants. Lennox Forrester is one of them.
He’s back at Evansville after spending the last eight years guiding the SIUE men’s basketball program. Doug Novsek, a standout prep player at Lawrenceville — as was Simmons — is another.
“It’s an honor and privilege to be back at Evansville,” said Forrester, a UE graduate and the SIUE head coach the past eight seasons. “My main goal is to do whatever I need to do in helping the team be successful.”
Simmons said, “Lennox is a unique guy, a close friend, a great role model and mentor to our players.”
Lacey said, “We’re glad to have Lennox back because he’s an Evansville guy with a lot of experience.”
Then there’s another local connection in freshman Rocky Alderman, the team’s manager and the son of AHS director of athletics Jeff Alderman. Rocky filmed the Purple Aces’ games during their weekend in St. Louis.
Simmons and Lacey have deep ties. The 6-foot guard was Simmons’ first recruit at Evansville and he played for him from 2007-2011. All figured, Lacey played in 117 games during his 4-year collegiate career.
Simmons thought so much of Lacey that he made him team captain his junior and senior seasons. Lacey then served as a graduate coach for one year. After that, Lacey was elevated to director of basketball operations.
“Kavon is a positive guy and a spiritual leader,” Simmons said. “He’s a loyal guy, a tough dude and he brings a lot to the program. He’s a student of the game and understands attention to detail.”
Simmons added, “That’s because he had to work extremely hard to have success as a player at this level. So he is terrific at getting things done.”
Lacey got things done the right way when he was at Alton High. The basketball and football standout stirred the Redbirds in both sports. The basketball team went 81-17 during Lacey’s three years with them and snagged two regional championships, along with one sectional title.
AHS football also benefited from his sharp work at quarterback in going 20-10 and registering 3 winning seasons. The 2006 Birds finished 8-2, their best record since posting a 10-0 mark in 1970.
Lacey, engaged to Idaho native Shayna Jones and planning a 2017 wedding, still follows the Redbirds. He encouraged them against Quincy in the March 4 regional final at AHS and they prevailed 66-62. Lacey couldn’t attend the game because the Purple Aces were locked in a MVC tournament quarterfinal with Missouri State, which they won 66-56. Evansville then walloped Indiana State, 68-42, in the semifinals for its first championship game berth since 1999. Lacey continues to be integral to the Aces’ success.
“I do a lot of different things as director of basketball operations,” he said. “Part of it is being like a traveling secretary. I make sure everything is set and we’re ready to go. I take a lot of pride in doing it.”
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