Kavon Lacey had big plans when he graduated from Alton High eight years ago.
He still does.
Lacey, 25, the Redbirds’ career leading scorer in boys’ hoops history with 1,499 points, is finishing his third year as director of men’s basketball operations at the University of Evansville. He previously played four years for the Purple Aces and served one season as a graduate assistant.
It’s a good situation in southern Indiana for Lacey, who recently was engaged to Shayna Jones, a former Evansville soccer player.
“I really like it here and it has been great for me,” Lacey said. “It’s like a family here and a close-knit community. We have about 3,000 students and everyone just about knows about everybody. The professors talk to you and the president and administrators know you. It’s a great atmosphere in Evansville and a great city.”
He also has a strong bond with head coach Marty Simmons, who made Lacey his first recruit when Simmons came to Evansville in 2007. Lacey played four seasons for Simmons and served as the Evansville captain for two years.
“I respect coach so much and I try and soak it up like a sponge when I am around him,” Simmons said. “He has been around a lot of successful coaches, like Bob Knight and Jim Crews.”
Simmons values Lacey’s dedication to the program and he has complete trust in letting him oversee the basketball operations. He said Lacey functions as a role model for younger athletes.
“Kavon is one of the hardest-working, most competitive young men I’ve ever worked with or coached,” Simmons said. “He is a giver in every sense of the word and is passionate about helping young people become successful.”
Lacey pointed out, “What I’ve learned the most from coach Simmons is the way he treats players as individuals. It’s not just about playing basketball. He wants each one of them to go to class, to graduate, to be a great person and be successful.
“Coach is a great motivator and he gets the players to give everything they have. I had that in high school, too.”
Lee Bennett, now at Centralia, guided the Redbirds from 2003-07 and compiled a 100-27 record. The Birds were 81-16 during Lacey’s three seasons of varsity ball. They won two regional titles and one sectional championship.
And Lacey also excelled in football, leading Alton to a 20-10 record in three seasons under head coach Joe Hook. The Redbirds went 8-2 in 2006, Lacey’s final season and the last time AHS qualified for the playoffs.
He could have played college football, but opted for basketball and now intends to make a career of it. His next step could be as a top assistant or head coach at a major university.
“Ultimately, I want to be a head coach at a Division I school,” Lacey said. “That’s what I’m aspiring to do. Someday I want to run my own program.”
Simmons started at Division III Wartburg, Iowa, moved on to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and has settled in at Evansville.
The Purple Aces are carrying a 19-12 record into more postseason play. They lost to Illinois State, 71-67, on March 6 in a quarterfinal game of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in St. Louis.
Evansville was seeded fifth in the 10-team event that ended Sunday.
Although it was a short stay for the Aces at the Scottrade Center, the trip close to home made it worthwhile for Lacey.
“The atmosphere is great there and nobody has a homecourt advantage,” he said. “It’s a place you play at once a year and that makes it different.
“Every game you play is an opportunity for you.”
He’s hoping the Evansville Experience will be beneficial in the long run. Lacey said he has made some enduring friendships during his time in southwestern Indiana and that will assist him along his coaching journey.
“It will be a great stepping stone for me,” said Lacey, awaiting the day when he will coach a team — just like Simmons or Bennett. He figures the opportunity will come, though realizes that it’s all about timing.
Lacey said, “These could be some of the best years of my life and I want to enjoy every moment of them. I can’t be afraid to take a (head) coaching job, if it’s right for me.”