Ken Lacy doesn’t look like a basketball coach at peace with his decision to walk away after this season. It is late in the third quarter of the Pinecrest Academy girls basketball team’s game Friday against Walker, and his head is cocked forward and eyebrows furrowed as the Paladins are called for another foul. This is one of Lacy’s cardinal sins, even though he demands his team play with frenetic effort.
This time, three Paladins players reach to steal the ball from a Walker ball-handler. One is called for a foul, but the referees can’t agree on who.
“It was 11,” he says with hands on hips and eyebrows only slightly less-furrowed.
“Thank you, coach,” the referee says.
Lacy’s countenance hardly wavers the rest of the game. Coming out of halftime, Regina Metz scores 10 straight points to build a 20-point lead, but one defensive lapse and suddenly Lacy calls a timeout to admonish the senior guard. Two minutes later, senior forward Maddie Lynch fouls out, and Lacy comes back to it at every timeout thereafter until the Paladins finish off a 61-25 victory.
“I push them hard,” Lacy says. “But every group I’ve ever had has allowed that. They’ve always told me there’s a difference between being tough and being mean. I’ve always just enjoyed pushing them, seeing them maybe go beyond what they could.”
Lacy has pushed the Pinecrest program beyond anything it had experienced before since taking over in 2014. The Paladins had won just nine games in the previous four years combined. In Lacy’s first season, the Paladins went 18-10 and reached the GHSA state playoffs for the first time ever. Pinecrest went 16-9 the next season and reached the region tournament championship. Last season was the best in school history: 21 wins, another region tournament championship appearance and a run to the quarterfinals of the Class 1A state playoffs. After another win this past Saturday, the Paladins are 9-6 this season and in contention to make the state playoffs again, depending on how the GHSA’s Class 1A Power Ratings shake out.
Whatever the outcome, one thing is certain: this is the end for Lacy. He’s stepping away from coaching at the end of the season. He knows it, and his players do too.
“I’m going to hate leaving it,” Lacy said. “But sometimes, you eventually wake up, look up in the mirror and kind of know when it’s time.”
Lacy has coached in Forsyth County for the past 12 years. He started at South Forsyth Middle School, then moved to Lakeside Middle School when it opened. The parent of one his Lakeside players taught at Pinecrest and reached out to Lacy when the Paladins girls basketball head coaching job opened up.
A fitness enthusiast, Lacy placed effort as the foundation of Paladins girls hoops, and he designed offseason workouts to prepare players for the frenzied pace they’d experienced in games. One infamous drill had players go outside and get a partner. One held a plank while the other sprinted a lap. When the sprinter returned, the players switched. On and on it went for 30 minutes.
The ethos is a reflection of Lacy’s own self-governance. All these years of coaching, 25 in all when counting his work with recreational and travel teams, Lacy has balanced businesses in real estate and healthcare information technology along with a family.
But Lacy said, lately, he’s felt the need to re-prioritize. His kids are grown. The healthcare IT business led to work in the cyber security field.
“I can only do this one way,” Lacy said. “and it takes a lot of time. I’ve got other things pulling on me, too. It just gets to a point where you got to let it go.”
The hardest thing to let go, Lacy said, will be working with the players, and he is particularly attached to Pinecrest’s current seniors who were freshmen when he took over.
“That’ll kind of be an emotional senior night,” Lacy said. “That’ll be tough.”
But until season’s end, Lacy won’t slow down. He’ll continue pushing Lynch to stabilize the team’s defense in the paint. He’ll continue pushing senior Molly Dankowski and freshman Meghan Sullivan to balance out the Paladins’ scoring around Metz. He’ll continue pushing the team to defend and run despite their lack of depth and size compared to other teams.
Maybe by the end, Lacy will have pushed the team to achieve another new milestone for the program: back-to-back appearances in the GHSA state playoffs.
“It’d be great if they got some postseason action,” Lacy said, “because they definitely work as hard as any group I’ve ever had.”