Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Coach's words fuel Kimball's charge past SOC and into state tournament
GARLAND — Kimball’s Keith Frazier called it a sermon. To Shannon Lilly, it was a very good speech. However anyone wanted to describe them, coach Royce Johnson’s words were emotional.
Before Saturday’s game started, he addressed his players in the locker room. Tears streaming down his face, he told them how proud he was already, regardless of the outcome.
“It touched everybody’s heart,” said Lilly, a senior. “It made us want to dig down deep.”
When it was over, Johnson’s voice was scratchy, nearly lost, and Kimball was back in the state boys basketball tournament after defeating South Oak Cliff, 84-63, in the Class 4A Region II final. The victory avenged two losses from earlier this season and sent Kimball back to Austin for the opportunity to defend its 4A state championship.
It’s unfair to describe Kimball as a basketball program facing adversity, considering its status as a traditional powerhouse and the fact that a top-30 national recruit, Keith Frazier, transferred in before the start of the year. But this season was not going to be as easy as the last one.
Eight seniors graduated. All that experience had vanished. Aside from Lilly, no one on the roster, even Frazier, had played significant roles on a team that advanced deep in the playoffs.
With that kind of inexperience, Johnson wanted to emphasize this season less as a whole and to focus on certain parts, namely three tournaments. All year, he told his players to measure their success against the baseline of the Coca-Cola DISD Tournament, the regional tournament and, if things fell into place, the state tournament.
That line of thinking clearly worked. Kimball won the Coca-Cola title, and against South Oak Cliff on Saturday, it resembled a team far different than the one that couldn’t close out the Golden Bears twice in district play.
Forcing turnovers with a quick defense and snaring the majority of the rebounds, Kimball took a double-digit lead at halftime and extended it from there. Frazier led all scorers with 26 points.
After the game, Frazier could barely speak. He was too excited.
“I think we realized how important it was for us to win this game,” he said. “We beat them when it counted.”