Stephens named Area Coach

Published 5:00 am Monday, April 12, 2004

SUMMIT — North Pike girls basketball coach John P. Stephensdidn’t know what to expect when his star player LaQuita Ard wouldnot be able to play for the Lady Jaguars her senior year.

Ard, a member of the Daily Leader’s 2002-03 Dream Team, wasaveraging around 23 points her junior year. Her loss was a blow tothe team but not the end of the world. The Lady Jaguars were 21-7in 2002-03 and Stephens didn’t know what they were going to do tofill her spot on the team.

During this year’s campaign, the Lady Jaguars finished withtheir best season ever, finishing 29-6. They were runners-up toHazlehurst in the District 7-3A tournament and advanced from theSouth State 3A playoffs to the “Big House” in Jackson. North Pikefell before a tough Southeast Lauderdale in the StateTournament.

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For his accomplishments, Stephens has been selected The DailyLeader’s 2003 Area Coach of the Year. This is the second straightstraight year for him to earn the honor and his third time to bechosen. He won his first All-Area Coach of the Year title in1996.

Stephens appreciates the recognition. “It’s humbling,” saidStephens. His joy is coaching the girls and watching them attainsuccess afterwards.

“I like the opportunity to coach these kids,” addedStephens.

According to Stephens, the 29 victories is the most the LadyJags have had since he has been coaching here. He is in his 16thyear at North Pike and has been in the coaching profession for 27years..

“The kids just picked it up,” explained Stephens about theseason. “Everybody just came in and did their job.”

This season’s success can be attributed to playing soliddefense.

“Our strength was we played good defense,” stated Stephens. “Weplayed mostly zone but we did play some full-court,man-to-man.”

There were no standout stars on this year’s team. Every playerthat got their hands on the ball could shoot. In four or fivegames, there would be four or five different leaders.

Stephens credits the girls with teamwork.

“This group was very unselfish,” stressed Stephens. “They playedtogether as well as any group I’ve had. It didn’t matter who wasscoring.”

When asked about the season, Stephens said the game againstWilkinson County told him just how good his girls were.

Stephens said when they played West Lincoln, he knew they weredecent. Later on, he found out his teams was a lot more thandecent.

“We were down by eight points with four minutes left,” saidStephens. “They (Wilkinson County) were eating our cake. We went toman-to-man and full court press. We beat them by one point.”

North Pike’s participation in the West Marion Tournament was aconfidence builder. “We did well,” said Stephens. “We beat WestMarion and Ocean Springs.

“After that, I felt we had a chance to get better. Things juststarted falling into place for us.”

Coaching changes in the Region 7-3A have made the district morecompetitive according to Stephens.

“Our district is the toughest one in the state,” said Stephens.”We have good coaches in our district.”

Four girls teams, Hazlehurst, Wilkinson County, Franklin Countyand North Pike advanced from the district playoffs and three madeit to South State. North Pike went the farthest, reaching the statetournament.

A loss to Franklin County a day before the Christmas Holidaysmotivated North Pike. During the holidays, North Pike kept busy bybeating up teams such as St. Aloysius, Loyd Star and Dexter in theWesson Tournament. Playing over the holidays helped the team stayfocused.

“We were able to go out and beat everybody that beat us,” statedStephens. We had lost three games to Port Gibson, Hazlehurst andFranklin. We beat all three in the second half of the season.”

Basketball is a family affair for Stephens. Youngest daughterBritta, a junior, is The Daily Leader’s 2004 All-Area Player of theYear. His wife, Kay, coaches the junior high girls. As the girlsget older and move up to high school, Stephens already knows whatkind of talent he is going to have.

He and Kay have been married for 31 years. They also have anolder daughter, Roxie. At North Pike, Stephens also serves asalternative education director.

His wife also is coaching the tennis team for the first time andBritta is a member of the team.

Stephens and his family are members of the Topeka BaptistChurch. When time allows, Stephens likes to fish for a hobby.