School of Hard Knocks: Lusher takes its lumps in first season of varsity hoops

School of Hard Knocks: Lusher takes its lumps in first season of varsity hoops

Credit: Bradley Handwerger / WWL-TV.com

Hunter Higgins just finished his second year as head basketball coach at Lusher Charter School. The Lions played their first season of varsity basketball, and despite going 6-22, all involved feel they're on the right track.

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by Bradley Handwerger / WWL-TV.com

wwltv.com

Posted on August 19, 2009 at 5:03 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 21 at 4:32 PM

NEW ORLEANS ? Hunter Higgins sits in a classroom desk angled to point at the wall where a dry-erase board mimics a projector screen.

Rewind. Play. Write down a note or two on a piece of paper.

Rewind. Play. Write down another note or two on the same piece of paper.

This is Higgins' task, more than a week after Lusher Charter's boys basketball season ended.

After a 6-22 year in which Lusher competed at the varsity level for the first time ever, it's all he can do - begin looking back at the just-ended year and begin dissecting plays and games and practices.

And no matter what you say, that Lusher isn't Jesuit, that Lusher isn't O. Perry Walker or Helen Cox, it matters how well the Lions do now and in the future.

That much Higgins is sure of.

"To have first-class arts, first-class academics, first-class athletics, that's what makes me tick," said Higgins, in his second year as Lusher's head coach. "My job is to get it from the athletic and academic standpoint.

"That's what makes us different and that's what makes it important for us to be successful. There isn't anything like this school. There's lots of good athletic schools, lots of good academic schools. There's some good at both, but then are they good at all three? Not a whole lot of schools."

Still, Higgins' job is to make sure Lusher competes on the basketball floor as well as the classroom, where he teaches in the history department.

Heading into this season, Higgins knew the task was going to be difficult. His team was composed of freshmen and sophomores and they'd be playing in a district for the first time ever.

A year ago, games were only played on the JV level, where the Lions experienced some success. However, things were made even more difficult during the transition when sophomore big man Gilbert McGregor, son of New Orleans Hornets TV commentator Gil McGreger, went down in the first game with a shoulder injury.

"They had high expectations. I had high expectations," Higgins said. "But in the back of my head, I knew it was going to be really tough even if (McGregor) wouldn't have gotten hurt. The kids all of a sudden realized, hey, all these teams are good.

"This is going to be a little tougher than at the JV level where we felt some success. When we didn't win, we were pretty close and playing Catholic League schools and beating some of them.

"Now all of a sudden, we're losing double digits to 2A schools we thought we'd have success against."

None of that is to say that those who made the choice to move Lusher to varsity in only its second year of high school sports feel like it was a poor decision.

They don't. Both Higgins and Lusher Athletics Director Louis Landrum Jr. said the move, ultimately, was just as well suited for now as in the future.

"It really could have been a toss up," Landrum said. "With football, injuries are a major problem or concern. That's why we didn't rush into varsity with that. As for basketball, one more year wouldn't have hurt, but considering the way the guys did this season, I think had they not been in so competitive a district, they would have done well."

Higgins, a native of New Orleans, spent five years as an assistant at Jesuit prior to coming to Lusher.

It was Jesuit learning under Blue Jays Head Coach Christopher Jennings that Higgins first got a taste of everything that's involved in running a competitive basketball program.

So he knew year one on the varsity level wasn't going to be a cake walk.

He said he wasn't quite prepared for things to be as tough as they were, however, especially when McGregor went down and a few other players quit the team.

But hardship in season one can lead to elation in season two.

"The biggest thing is that it's just so much more competitive at the varsity level than at the other level," Higgins said. "The kids couldn't realize that until they actually experienced that the other teams were lot more prepared."

And now that they've seen varsity-level basketball up close and personal, it's up to the players to take the next step in the offseason.

Landrum is certain of at least one thing - he has the right man for the job.

"Motivation, dedication and commitment - he goes above and beyond what most coaches do or what you expect from coaches," Landrum said.

Despite the slow start, Higgins is confident he's on the right path. His expectations haven't fallen at all.

"I think they know I expect to be competitive," Higgins said. "I expect to win district championships. Whether it's this year or five years, those are my expectations.

"I'm not just doing it to be here. I want to win."

Bradley Handwerger can be reached at or 504-529-6439.

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