By Sam Elliott
The only boys basketball coach Lawrence North has ever known will now forever have his name on the gymnasium in which he’s won hundreds of games.
Superintendent Dr. Shawn Smith made the recommendation approved by the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township board in November, and Lawrence North High School officially named and dedicated its basketball arena as Jack Keefer Gymnasium during a pre-game ceremony Jan. 29.
Keefer was just thrilled to be there.
“I was honored,” he said. “So many times with things like this you’re already dead by the time they get around to doing something like this, so I’m quite flattered I’m still kicking. I’m thankful for their appreciation for the work we’ve done here.”
Keefer’s work includes 737 wins as of Feb. 3 — second-most among active coaches in the state and fourth on Indiana’s all-time list. The Marion native began his 44-year coaching career with four seasons at alma mater Oak Hill before he came to Lawrence North when the school was first founded in 1976.
“I was trying to move up the ranks to a bigger school because your chances of getting through the sectional and regional are much better,” he said. “It was a brand-new school and I didn’t have seniors … so I’m walking the halls looking for tall people and anybody who looks like they could jump and run. The players that were going here had been going to Lawrence Central, which they split. Of course if they were players of lots of talent, Lawrence Central figured out a way to hang onto them.”
Keefer and Lawrence North brushed off an 8-13 inaugural season by going 22-2 in the 1977-78 season — the school’s second. The Wildcats won their first of the program’s eight Marion County Tournaments in 1978 and first of 16 conference titles in 1979. The first of the program’s three Hall of Fame Tournament championships came in 1980 and the first of 17 sectional and six regional titles followed in 1985.
Led by Keefer, Lawrence North first reached the pinnacle of Indiana high school basketball with a state championship in 1989. Fourteen years later, Keefer’s Wildcats won three state titles in a row from 2004 to 2006. The 2005-06 team finished a perfect 29-0, helping the 2006-07 team set a new Indiana record with a 50-game winning streak.
“There’s a lot of sweat in 700 wins,” Keefer said. “There are a lot of nights we didn’t win, too. You can’t win them all, and the more you coach the more the losses hurt I think … All of a sudden, you get old and they do pile up to 700 or something like that.”
Keefer was the state’s first coach to be named National High School Coach of the Year by USA Today, Sports Illustrated and the National High School Coaches Association in 2006 and he was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.
As the newly named Jack Keefer Gymnasium was dedicated Jan. 29, Lawrence Mayor Steve Collier and Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett officially declared it Jack Keefer Day in their respective cities and school board president Carol Helmus presented Keefer a replica of the plaque that will forever hang in the gym.
But in addition to the plaques, proclamations and awards from board presidents, mayors and state senators, Keefer also got what he may have wanted most of all the night of Jan. 29 — a 67-60 Lawrence North victory against Center Grove.
BY THE NUMBERS
- 676-275* in 40th season at Lawrence North
- 737-301* in 44th year overall
- (*as of Feb. 3)
- 1 national championship (2006 selection by USA Today)
- 4 state championships (1989, 2004, 2005, 2006)
- 6 regional championships (1985, 1989, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006)
- 17 sectional championships (1985, 1987, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2015)
- 13 Indiana All-Stars (Reed Crafton, 1985; Derwin Webb, 1988; Todd Leary, 1989; Eric Montross, 1990; Tom Geyer, 1996; Jeff Layden, 1993; John Stewart, 1999; Chris Hill, 2001; Brandon McPherson, 2005; Mike Conley, 2006; Greg Oden, 2006; Stephan Van Treese, 2009; Basil Smotherman, 2013)
- 3 Hall of Fame Tournament championships (1980, 1989, 2004)
- 9 Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference championships (1998, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009)
- 8 Marion County Tournament championships (1978, 1988, 1992, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2008)
- 7 Central Suburban Athletic Conference championships (1979, 1981, 1983, 1988, 1992, 1993, 1994)
BLAST FROM THE PAST
A multitude of former players from a four-decade coaching career returned to Lawrence North Jan. 29 to witness the gym dedication of Jack Keefer, and those who couldn’t make it — including Mike Conley playing with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies on a western road trip and Greg Oden playing professionally in China — had messages included in a video presentation.
“I don’t know how many coaches in Indiana or the nation have been around since a school’s inception, and he’s been here for 40 years,” LN athletic director Mike Pemrose said. “The lasting legacy that he’s had on people will last forever… It’s a really neat evening. A lot of old Wildcats have come back from all over the place. I’ve already seen people I taught as kids 22 years ago, but I still feel like a kid when I’m talking to coach Keefer.”
Players from Keefer’s first Lawrence North teams fondly recalled playing for a strict and tough Keefer, the struggle of the school’s first season and the success that followed.
• Gary Johnson, class of 1978: LN’s first graduating class: “He had solid jet-black hair when he coached us… I scored the first basket and had the first dunk in school history and I tell people I played for Keefer and they bow down to me.”
• Tom Wallace, class of 1979: “No one else had ever played basketball here, so he built the culture. He gave us all his fire that we’ve kept through life… He really built a culture here that lives on today and it started from the very beginning.”
•Jeff Crabtree, class of 1980: LN’s first four-year graduating class — and still school record holder for season scoring average (28.1 points per game in 1979-80), made free throws in a season (154) and most made (16) and attempted free throws (17) in a game: “That first year was tough, but the second year we turned it around and beat everybody.”