Help from friends fuel Panthers’ run

Pictured are Lincoln Prep assistant coach Johnny Simmons (left) and Panthers head coach Antonio Hudson during Thursday’s win over Crescent City. (Photo by T. Scott Boatright)

By T. Scott Boatright

LAKE CHARLES — The old adage says it takes a village to raise a child.

The same theory holds true for a high school basketball team fighting for a state championship.

And it’s a little help from his friends and community that has Lincoln Preparatory Basketball Coach Antonio Hudson so thankful for playing a part in his Panthers earning a berth to Saturday’s Division IV Select School Boys state championship game against Northwood-Lena.

Longtime basketball coach Johnny Simmons, who prepped at Downsville High School before going on to play and coach for Louisiana Tech,  is only a part – but a big one – in that “village” that has helped bring the Panthers to the brink of a state title.

Simmons came aboard at Lincoln Prep this school year at the request of the school’s executive director, Gordan Ford.

“He said at first that he was only going to teach special education,” Ford said. “But I knew better, that’s why I asked. I did the same thing last season with our football team and (former Grambling State star quarterback and then assistant coach) Matthew Reed.”

Simmons, who has also coached at Louisiana-Lafayette and Union Parish High School, said the move was all about old friends – Hudson, who Simmons coached on an AAU team and recruited to Louisiana Tech (Hudson chose LSU) and the late Grambling Lab High School coach Michael Lyons.

“I’ve been friends with Antonio a long time, and we both shared a mentor in Coach Lyons,” Simmons said. “This is a lot about Coach Lyons and has become much more so after his death last month. I want to help Lincoln Prep for both of them.

“Antonio has worked so hard and means so much to the school, just like Coach Lyons did. They both mean a lot to me. And I’m a Lincoln Parish guy, so being a part of this is special. It’s great to be part of it.”

Simmons said much of his work is done during practices.

“I’m pretty quiet during games – I usually let the rest of the staff do their thing,” Simmons said. “Now I am vocal in practices, because I do have some experience that I think can help them.”

Hudson agrees and says Simmons has played a big role in this season’s run for the Panthers to a state title game berth.

“He brings wisdom,” Hudson said. “He’s been there. He’s seen things that I haven’t seen. I played for him on a Select Nike team. 

“I trust him and I trust his knowledge. And he brings a confident presence as well. Just knowing there’s someone older with that much confidence and wisdom sitting there along with us, and helping us run practices, is big. I trust him like I trust all my guys. He’s kind of that other voice, and sometimes that means a whole lot.”

Hudson credited Simmons’ seamless transition in joining the Lincoln Prep coaching staff as a big part in their run to the title game.

“I’m fortunate to have a great staff,” Hudson said. “Kendrick Scott played at Grambling Lab for Coach Lyons before moving on to Northwestern State. Dennis Lemelle played for Grambling Lab under Coach Lyons. Tyriel Holland played at Grambling High under Coach (Fred) Hearn. Rabin Williams is another Grambling guy. LsShaun Johnson is my best friend and a pillar in the community.

“They’re all very important to this team, as is Coach Simmons.”

Ford said Hudson and his coaching staff aren’t the only part of the “village” that has helped guide the Panthers to the championship game – he also credits the Grambling community and Lincoln Parish overall for their help and support.

“We brought six buses full of people down to the tournament,” Ford said. “One for the cheerleaders, one for the band and six for 105 spectators who came down to cheer on the Panthers.”

And then there’s always the memory of Lyons and the desire to win one for him.

“The tradition Coach Lyons built, just because the school’s name changed doesn’t mean the tradition changed,” Hudson said. “When I grew up the community showed out and followed. And they showed up tonight. 

“Without the fan support we have, the outcome might not have been as positive as it was. When you look up in the crowd and see familiar faces, you feel comfort and that says and means a lot.”