by Amber Childs
Recently, I attended one of the most intense high school basketball games I’ve ever seen. The matchup between the Lutheran East Falcons and the Akron Buchtel Griffins ended in a final score of 88-82 with the Griffins triumphing over the Falcons. But believe me when I say that this game came down to the final wire, as is often the case when two of the top teams in Ohio face one other.
I have never been so excited to see a group of young men play with such energy and passion for the game they love. I’m sure much of the passion and heart I saw on the court can be attributed to Head Coach Sam Liggins, who was once a Falcon himself (Lutheran East Class of 2005).
After the game, I had the privilege of speaking not only to Coach Sam but also star senior Jalen Knott, who led the team with 19 points and some beautiful defense. They were able to share some insight with me about not only the game but what it’s like to play during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
Jalen Knott #15, Senior
AC: What is your favorite aspect about the game of basketball?
JK: The competitive standpoint -- I like how a player can be more skilled or less skilled than you, but it’s often about who plays harder.
AC: Being one of the leaders on the team, how do you make sure you exhibit those leadership qualities on and off the court?
JK: Building a bond with my teammates -- we’re close friends on and off the court and we do just about everything together. The better the bond you build, the harder your teammates will play for you.
AC: What are one of the hardest challenges pertaining to the basketball season that you have had to face due to COVID?
JK: Practice and consistency. When one of our players had exposure to COVID, we all had to quarantine for two weeks. Afterwards we had to get back into the motion and get the stamina back -- it was difficult.
AC: What kind of legacy do you want to leave once you graduate in the spring?
JK: That I played hard and that I was always a team player that helped the Falcons win.
Head Coach Sam Liggins '05
AC: What fueled your desire to serve as basketball coach for Lutheran East over any other school?
SL: I graduated from East in 2005, so as an alumnus, Lutheran East has a special place in my heart. When I first started, the school’s program wasn’t as strong as it was when I was a player -- I just wanted to bring it back to that high point that it was when I was here. I'm just blessed that they entrusted me with this program.
AC: What do you expect from your players on and off the court?
SL: They need to have character. Character is very important on and off the court. On the court, you treat the game with respect, you play as hard as you can, and you view it as a blessing because not everyone has this opportunity. Off the court, you behave as a good citizen, you do right by people, and help them every chance you get.
AC: Being one of the top high school teams in Ohio, how do you plan on keeping that momentum throughout the season and into future seasons?
SL: Through culture and character -- you have to have good character. Character is always carried with you, especially when you’re here at Lutheran East where we focus on Christian values and an uplifting community. If a student comes here and his goal is to work hard and take care of his academics, then good things will happen to him.
AC: What is one of the biggest accomplishments that you all have made as a team?
SL: We’ve one five consecutive district championships (Editor’s note: as of the date of this interview, the 2021 district championships had not yet occurred; as of the date of publishing, the Falcons had secured their 6th district championship). We’ve been to Columbus three straight years and we’re getting ever-closer to making this the fourth straight year and go to State, which is a huge accomplishment in itself.
AC: With COVID changing our entire lives, how have you been able to bring a sense of normalcy to the team and to the game?
SL: It’s definitely not easy. A lot of the kids are used to their friends and families being around and being right there to support them from the stands. The energy in the gym is simply not the same, so we have to get used to that huge difference. The best thing we can do now is to help our players focus on basketball on the court during practice and competition, but also help them to focus on family and gratitude in this unstable time.
On March 9, the Falcons triumphed 74-31 over Cardinal Mooney to advance their season. Catch a Cleveland.com recap and interviews by reporter Matt Goul with Jalen Knott, senior Sirr Hughes, and Coach Liggins here.
The Lutheran East Falcons take on the Norwayne High School Bobcats this Saturday, March 13 in an Elite 8 matchup. With a victory, they would secure a spot in the 2021 State Final Four.
Follow Lutheran East Men's Basketball on Twitter at @LEFalconsHoops for updates, scores, news, and more.