AdVantage News | Caleb Motsinger
Deion and DeLeon Lavender walk off the court at the Jerseyville Tournament after playing Pittsfield.
On a Saturday afternoon at McCluer North High School, after the Marquette Explorers had played their last basketball game of 2013, Deion Lavender walked off the court unsatisfied.
He had just scored 53 of his teams 59 points in the second game of the Midwest Showdown Shootout. And even though he had just had the game of a lifetime, Lavender was unsatisfied because they had just lost to St. Mary’s 69-59.
“I was just playing ball; I wasn’t really concerned with my points,” he said. “I was just trying to keep my team in the game and win.”
Deion’s Banner Year
At 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, this senior forward fills the stat sheet every night for the Explorers. He is among the top scorers in the Metro East with an average of 25.5 points per game; shooting 49 percent on 3-pointers and leading the team with five rebounds per game.
“Deion is what I like to call a three-tier player,” coach Steve Medford said. “He can shoot threes, get rebounds and pull up from 15 feet when the defense is too deep.”
Earlier this year he was named MVP of the Columbia Tournament after leading the Explorers to the championship. In the title game against Waterloo he scored a game-high 32 points and pulled down 10 rebounds to help the Explorers beat Waterloo 55-44.
Lavender has Division 1 schools like Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Eastern Illinois, Western Illinois and Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne looking at him.
But even with his stats through the roof and his future bright with scholarship offers, Lavender keeps a level head and focuses one game at a time.
“And he has to,” said his father, DeLeon Lavender, an assistant coach under Medford.
“Even with all the pressure he (Deion) has on him this year, he doesn’t let it get to his head,” DeLeon said. “He’s a team player because he knows the game of basketball inside and out and he knows that is what you have to be to succeed.”
Though Deion has scored a lot of points while his father watches from the bench, teammates don’t call him “ball hog” or “coach’s son.”
Steven Peuterbaugh, a senior guard for the Explorers, spoke volumes to Lavender’s character, on and off the court.
“He’s never been a selfish player; that’s just not his style,” Peuterbaugh said. “He’s just a good guy, like his dad.”
Fatherhood From the Sidelines
DeLeon has been an assistant for the Explorers since his son’s freshmen year.
But his influence from the sidelines goes back much further.
When Deion started playing organized basketball in second grade, his father coached him all the way through until his eighth-grade year at Alton Middle School.
“Before I came to Marquette as a freshman, I always thought I would play for Alton High,” Deion said. “Even though we lost Mike-Mike (Williams-Bey) and DeAnte (McMurray) to Alton High this year, we’re still pretty good and it’s been great playing for my dad and Coach Medford.”
Medford, a Jerseyville native, was an assistant at Alton High before he became the coach at Marquette. And though he has been a family friend of the Lavenders’ since his time playing basketball at Lindenwood University in the early 90’s, Deion gets no special treatment.
“His dad always holds Deion accountable when he needs to,” Peuterbaugh said. “He and Coach Medford don’t treat Deion any differently than the rest of us.”
When DeLeon graduated from Alton High School in 1987, he took his powerful post presence to the next level at Eureka College.
“Deion is a much different player than I was; I was a forward and he’s guard,” he said. “Our high school careers were different, too. My junior year I played with Larry Smith and we were pretty good. My senior year we weren’t as good though, but I still managed to get a scholarship and win some big games.”
When his time as a player came to an end, DeLeon got his degree and went on to become an Auto Physical Damage Adjuster with Farmers Insurance. Deion, however, plans to study Sports Administration.
And though their playing styles and futures may differ, basketball is what brings them together.
“He (Deion) has been going to basketball games with me since before he could walk,” DeLeon said. “He’s always been a student of the game. When he was little he’d watch basketball on television, then we would go out and practice what he saw his favorite players do.”
The End of an Era
Medford has been head coach for four years; that’s four years of Deion Lavender and four winning seasons.
“We won 25 games his freshman year, 28 his sophomore year and 21 his junior year,” Medford said. “Deion really came into his own as a junior though; he stepped up and became the kind of leader you see on the court today.”
He said he gets a little emotional when he thinks about this season coming to an end. But Medford believes Deion’s basketball career is far from over, and he says he is not only proud of him as a player, but as an individual.
And though Medford admits things will be a lot different at Marquette without Deion around, he won’t look back at these past four years and be upset that they’re over − he will smile because they happened.