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Commentary Bob Lutz: South girls coach Antwain Scales has everything under control

  • Published Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, at 6:42 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, at 10:23 a.m.

Antwain Scales patrols Wichita’s public schools in the dark of the night, when almost everyone else is asleep. He works a third-shift security detail for USD 259 — 11 p.m. until 7:30 a.m. — and when there’s an alarm, he checks it out.

“I make sure there’s not a break-in,” Scales said. “I make sure all the buildings are secure.”

It’s a job done usually in quiet solitude. But Scales prefers the intensity and occasional chaos of his day job as the girls basketball coach at South, where he’s set off an alarm around the City League.

There’s a new gunslinger in town and Scales and his Titans are taking no prisoners. They come into the 2013-14 season fresh off a Class 6A state championship and hungry for more. Scales, who played at South for Steve Eck during the early 1990s, has elbowed his way into a league once dominated by Heights and Bishop Carroll.

“He teaches the basics of basketball, the fundamentals,” said Wayne Riddle, who has been around the City League for a lot of years and agreed to be Scales’ top assistant in 2011-12, Scales’ first year on the job. “And he doesn’t rush it.”

Scales, 37 and with five kids of his own, believes in persistence and routine. His practices are the same. He and his coaches pound home the same points day after day, week after week.

South rarely scores more than 50 points in a game. But the Titans usually don’t give up more than 30. In fact, they held opponents under 30 in 14 of 25 games last season.

The Titans play methodical, intense, defensive basketball. And they don’t stray because Scales won’t let them.

“It is intense but it’s what we know we need,” senior guard Eledria Franklin said. “Coach Scales demands 100 percent from us on every play, every drill. We just have to work. We constantly work.”

Scales reminds me of Carl Taylor, who is returning to coach City League boys basketball this season at West. Taylor is a disciplinarian in a world where discipline has waned. He doesn’t give an inch. He makes demands and expects them to be met. If they’re not, there are consequences.

Scales wasn’t sure about the comparison, but he was flattered.

“I have great admiration for Coach Taylor, to the highest degree,” Scales said. “I grew up watching him coach and he reached a pinnacle. In fact, I was just over at West talking to him last week.”

Like Taylor, Scales does no suffer foolishness. He is stern and his eyes at times can tell a terrifying story. There aren’t many smiles when he’s coaching.

But Scales can smile. And does, quite often.

His hard demeanor softens in the right situations, such as when he’s with his team privately.

“I believe in tough love,” Scales said. “If you interview my players, they’ll probably tell you I want what is best for them. Yes, I can be tough. But I never shy away from telling them that I love them, that I care for them and that I’ll help them in any way I can.”

Scales coaches AAU basketball in the summers, and even works with a youth team of elementary-age girls during the school year. His focus, he said, is for his players to do well in school and earn college scholarships.

“Basketball is just the vehicle we use,” Scales said. “We try to mold these kids so that they develop that college mentality. We want them to know what they can accomplish against all odds.”

Scales is familiar with long odds. Personal issues before his senior year led him to transfer from South to Heights. He lived with grandparents growing up and struggled with some aspects of his life.

But he persevered. And he still perseveres. He is close to attaining a college degree, he said, and wants to someday coach women’s college basketball.

“We’ve had college coaches come in here to recruit and they tell us they’ve never seen a harder working team in the state of Kansas,” Riddle said. “We knew we were going to win, we just didn’t think we’d get there as quickly as we did.”

South was 14-9 in Scales’ first season, a big improvement. The Titans shot to 24-1 last season, their only loss early in the season to Kapaun Mount Carmel. South defeated Heights, the City League’s previous kingpin, three times. The last was a 46-44 win in the 6A state championship game.

Heights coach Kip Pulliam is ultra-competitive and relishes being on top. He and the Falcons will be back to claim what they deem to be their place in the City League’s hierarchy this season.

But in Scales, Pulliam may have met his match. They know one another from long ago and, Scales said, they get along.

“We’re definitely competitive on the court,” Scales said. “But we have a relationship off the court, as well.”

South wasn’t a one-year wonder. The Titans have most of the players back from the state championship team. If Heights or any other team is going to wrestle the championship away, it’ll have to be in the mud.

“I think we’ve just raised the expectations here at South,” Scales said. “There’s discipline. Accountability.”

And pride.

Scales loved his years at South and relishes having the opportunity to coach there.

“I never would have dreamed of coaching here,” Scales said. “So this is a dream job, really. I still get goose bumps when I walk in these hallways.”

And even when he checks the locks when everyone else is asleep.

Reach Bob Lutz at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @boblutz.

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