Deion Lane began the season with a bang and never slowed down, leading the Independence basketball team to another conference title and the third round of the playoffs for the second year in a row.
But this was a totally different ride than what he and the Patriots enjoyed last year.
Lane had 20 points, 10 rebounds, seven blocks, six steals and six assists in the Patriots’ season-opening win over South Meck, offering a glimpse of his versatility and all-around game. But from there, despite Lane putting up gaudy individual numbers, the Patriots struggled against one of the toughest schedules in the county. They were sitting with a 6-9 record coming out of their holiday tournament, and many outside of the team had alreday written them off as conference championship contention.
But Lane didn’t take time to listen to the whispers of criticism as the 6-foot-5 senior averaged 17 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.8 steals, 2.3 assists and 1.8 blocks per game, putting his teammates on his back as they went 11-1 in conference play, won the Southwestern 4A regular season title and advanced to the third round of the Class 4A playoffs.
Now Lane also is the Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group’s 2014 Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
“We were told how tough our schedule would be, but we didn’t get discouraged and stuck with it,” Lane said. “I knew it was my senior year and I wanted to go as far as we could. I knew we had the talent to do whatever we wanted to do, really.
“For me the best part was honestly just our seniors being able to come together and lead the team as far as it could get. It wasn’t like a one-man or a two-man thing, it was all of us, everyone got it.”
Lane did have help, namely from seniors Tayon Gleaves, Workpeh Kofa and Herbert Bowen Jr., but in the end it was Lane’s contributions which truly made the Patriots’ season a smashing success.
“He can help other people get off if teams focused on him, and if they didn’t focus on him he could produce himself,” coach Preston Davis said. “Having a player like that – as versatile as he is – it means a lot for the program and the team. He’s just so valuable. He does a little bit of everything – he scored for us, he got assists, he got steals, blocked shots – and he was a matchup problem. He really helped us these last two years.”
With all of his value, Davis knows Lane will be playing college basketball somewhere next year. He played AAU this past summer for the first time and was late to the recruiting circuit. Still, Belmont Abbey, Queens University of Charlotte and Erskine College (S.C.) have already offered and more are sure to follow suit.
Lane and Davis both said the senior isn’t rushing into signing with a college and will look for the best match for all that Lane wants in a school.
“I want a mix of everything and somewhere I can feel comfortable,” he said. “I don’t expect to be playing right away, but I want to get at a place where I can have a chance to play and somewhere I can get better.”
But as Lane leaves, having been an integral part of the basketball revival at Independence, his coach said he’s proud of how much Lane has grown – both on and off the court.
“I’m proud of the maturity and seeing him grow from a ninth-grader who you needed to push to get a lot out of him to now,” Davis said. “He’s gotten a taste of success and winning, he’s gotten a taste of being recruited and now he’s starting to know he can be pretty good at this.
“I think just seeing that little boy that came into high school to the young man that’s about to leave high school, it’s a good feeling to have as a coach knowing I had a little small part in that.”
And Lane, too, has memories of being a Patriot he won’t soon forget.
“I’m proud of winning games,” he said. “That two-win season (the Patriots were 2-23 in 2011-12) was tough on everyone. I was still on JV, but we felt everything, too. Just bringing Independence back to a winning program is really what’s most important to me.”