‘It was a real game changer’: Senior manager Jelani Ragins had key role in Lawrence’s win over Shawnee Mission East
photo by: Courtesy photo
Senior student manager Jelani Ragins isn’t sure why he started counting players, but his decision to do so was the difference between a win and a loss for the Lawrence High boys basketball team during Tuesday’s thrilling overtime victory against Shawnee Mission East.
“It’s just one of those moments where you are paying attention and it changes the whole mood of the game,” Ragins said. “It was a real game changer.”
It was a sequence that ultimately altered the outcome of that game and perhaps even the Sunflower League crown. After all, the Lions (13-1, No. 3 in Class 6A) have won all nine of their games against league opponents and are currently riding a five-game win streak.
A loss would have spoiled both of those impressive feats, and that’s exactly what was going to happen before a crazy finish at the end of regulation. After the Lancers grabbed a 65-63 advantage in the closing seconds, senior guard Zeke Mayo raced the ball back down the court and headed toward the rim.
On Mayo’s drive, the ball was knocked out of bounds. Shawnee Mission East made its way to the court to celebrate, but the officials ruled that there was still 0.1 seconds remaining. With no timeouts, LHS was forced to draw up a last-ditch effort.
At that same time, the Lancers made a substitution. There was only one problem: No one came out of the game after the new player entered the contest.
The interesting thing was that nobody else seemed to notice that Shawnee Mission East had six players on the court. The officials didn’t say anything, the coaches were barking orders at the players in the game, and the players on the sideline were waiting to see what took place during that final possession.
Ragins noticed something strange, so he decided to count the players. Once he realized that there were six Shawnee Mission East players, he calmly walked up to whisper what he saw to LHS assistant coach Jacob Larsen
“I’m not good at math, so I counted a couple times and noticed that it looked like six (players) and not five,” Ragins said. “At first, I thought they weren’t going to call it.”
photo by: Shane Jackson
Larsen went to tell the officials, but Mayo had already fired the inbound pass from under the basket. Because there were six players guarding the play, Lawrence’s designed set unsurprisingly didn’t work. Junior Avion Nelson misfired on a touch shot from the baseline.
The Lancers once again started celebrating on the court, but the official who was near the LHS bench blew his whistle. The referee then issued a technical foul on Shawnee Mission East for having six players on the court.
Mayo, who ended up with 30 points in that game, hit both attempts from the free throw line to send the game to overtime. A few players on the sideline congratulated Ragins, but it wasn’t until after the game that the rest of the team found out who was responsible for what took place on that final possession.
“It doesn’t surprise me that he saw it,” Lawrence head coach Mike Lewis said. “He’s a great guy and he’s very smart and very much engaged in the game.”
It was a moment that allowed Ragins to contribute in a big way after being such an integral part of the program for the last four years.
Ragins has been a student manager all four years at LHS, with this being his third season at the varsity level. He has a number of responsibilities that often go unnoticed by those not involved with the team.
“He’s somebody each day that you just look forward to seeing,” Lewis said. “He’s smart, he’s hardworking. He’s reliable.”
“He cares about the coaches and is just somebody that is really special to our group,” Lewis added.
Ragins, who usually sits behind the coaches, will help keep stats every game. LHS tracks several different statistics such as points, shots, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks for each contest. Ragins will also help film games on a regular basis.
Ragins’ role is to help assist the coaching staff on a day-to-day basis. Ragins will do anything from helping with drills in practice to doing laundry after games. For him, that’s all a part of the job.
“(The role of a manger) is to help the team in whatever way they can,” Ragins said. “Whatever needs to be (done).”
Ragins has had the mindset since he’s been a manager, a career that started for him in junior high because his mother encouraged him to try it after she had experience as manager. He’s been a manager for the football team, but basketball is his favorite sport.
For the boys basketball team at Lawrence South Middle School, Ragins helped out a coaching staff that featured assistant Cornelius Edwards, who is now coaching at Free State. Mayo was also a key player on that junior high squad.
“I think that’s when I really started enjoying the fundamentals and how the plays work,” Ragins said.
That’s ultimately why Ragins will continue being a manager after high school. Ragins will be a manager for the men’s basketball at Coe College, which is a Division III program located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
It is the next logical step for Ragins, who has aspirations of being a coach one day.
“I think it’s just given me a nice start of (understanding) how the game actually works,” Ragins said of his time being a manager at LHS. “Seeing how Coach Lewis, and all of our other coaches work, it is nice to mentor under them. Just learn from them.”
For now, Ragins will cherish his final month with the Lions. Lawrence’s lone loss of the season was to top-ranked Blue Valley Northwest, and he’s become accustomed to have a front-row seat to one of the better basketball teams in the state.
“I really just enjoy watching our team play,” Ragins said. “It’s exciting just to see where we have come from, some of them I started watching when they were freshmen. It’s exciting to see how they have all grown into varsity basketball players and hopefully excel beyond high school basketball.”