Right move at right time makes Lepper’s debut successful

Quincy High School assistant coach Tom Lepper, who is filling in as the interim coach while Andy Douglas serves a six-game suspension, watches from the sideline during the Blue Devils’ 62-50 victory over St. Charles (Mo.) Lutheran North on Thursday night at Blue Devil Gym. | H-W Photo/Katelyn Metzger

By Matt Schuckman Herald-WhigPosted: Nov. 29, 2019 3:10 am Updated: Nov. 29, 2019 3:18 am

The Quincy High School boys basketball players generously estimated Tom Lepper’s pregame speech lasted about 30 seconds. 

By then, what else was there to say? 

“We were prepared and he knew it,” senior guard Lucas Reis said. 

Even so, the Blue Devils shared a mix of adrenalin and anxiousness with their interim leader prior to Thursday night’s season opener against St. Charles (Mo.) Lutheran North in the 49th annual QHS Thanksgiving Tournament. With head coach Andy Douglas serving a six-game suspension for his offseason guilty plea to driving under the influence of alcohol, Lepper was tasked with being the fill-in. 

That didn’t change much for the long-time assistant coach outside of being the first to speak and the one with the last word. 

So some trepidation is understandable. 

“You could tell he was a little nervous,” Reis said. “He just wanted to get there.” 

So why waste time on a pregame speech? 

Lepper saved what he had to say until halftime when the Blue Devils led just 28-24 and needed to make some adjustments. 

“I told them at halftime I was a little excited and I take partial blame for the way we played,” Lepper said. “I told them to go out and guard. Let’s go get ’em. I get bored when they pass it around, but then you have to go with what works.” 

Lutheran North didn’t handle the pressure early, allowing the Blue Devils to bolt to an 8-0 lead and failing to score until Isiah Wlliams’ putback with 4:40 to play in the first quarter. The Crusaders whittled away the entire deficit with three minutes remaining in the first half by scoring off dribble penetration. 

So Lepper and assistant coaches Bruce Bonness and Doug Bruner made a critical adjustment and pulled back on the aggressiveness. 

“I told them let’s just contain it,” Lepper said. “Let’s keep the ball in front of us and keep it from going in the middle and see what happens. We started getting some rebounds and it started working out for us.” 

The Blue Devils assumed it would. 

“When we tried to pressure, they figured out the middle was going to be wide open,” Reis said. “(Lepper) said to play back and kind of cluster everything up. I don’t think they were expecting it.” 

It changed the tone of the game enough to allow the Blue Devils to roll to a 62-50 victory and a 1-0 coaching record for the former all-state center who has been a part of the QHS coaching staff the past two decades. 

As different as Thursday night seemed in many ways — the 6-foot-9 Lepper casts a more imposing sideline figure than Douglas — the end result came down to knowing the game, the personnel and how to get your point across. 

It doesn’t take long to do that if you say the right things. 

Lepper needed only 30 seconds to remind the Blue Devils they were in this together.