Basketball a way of life for Liptraps
From dates that consisted of meals followed by scouting basketball opponents to hundreds of nights watching her husband coach and her sons play the game, the past 24 years have been a memorable ride for Leslie Liptrap.
The wife of Pickerington High School North boys coach Pete Liptrap wouldn't have it any other way, especially considering the success she's witnessed.
"Before we were married, we spent a lot of dates on scouting trips," Leslie said. "We did that a lot. Then as the boys (Joe and Jeff) got older, that's something they enjoyed doing with him. Basketball is a big part of our lives and something (that) when we got married, I knew it would be what we did a lot of. Luckily, the boys enjoy it, too. It's what we do."
Liptrap won his 400th career game Dec. 28 when the Panthers defeated host Thornville Sheridan 42-25. After trailing 7-2 within the first three minutes, North put together what he called its best defensive game of the season, limiting the Generals to one field goal in a 13-minute, 11-second span to take a 29-9 lead into halftime.
After the game, Liptrap was presented the game ball by Sheridan's administration and posed for dozens of photos with his players, family and friends.
"We've had a lot of awfully good players and a lot of good teams," said Liptrap, who was 401-254 entering a Jan. 8 game against Gahanna.
"When you're (around) a long time, things are going to happen. I've had not only good players but a lot of good people. The assistants I've had have just been great. It's a program and staff accomplishment."
Liptrap's players think just as highly of him.
"No one has pushed me like him," junior guard Jordan Chambers said.
"I heard about him over the years and when you come up to high school, you're a little bit scared. But you figure it out and get used to it. He's a good guy and when you get on the court, you know he's ready to coach you and make you become the best player you can possibly be."
Liptrap's first 272 wins came at Pickerington, now Pickerington Central, from 1983-2003. The Eastmoor and Muskingum University graduate guided his 1991 and 2002 Pickerington teams to Division I district championships, and the Tigers won three consecutive OCC-Ohio Division titles from 2000-02.
The district title in 1991 was the program's first since 1959 and second overall. Pickerington fell a win short of the state tournament, losing to Lancaster 50-37 in a regional final.
In 2002, the Tigers defeated Reynoldsburg 67-54 in a district final before losing to Brookhaven 68-59 in a regional semifinal. That was the most recent district title for either Pickerington team until last season, when Central won the Division I state championship.
Liptrap moved to North when the school opened in 2003 and has guided the Panthers to three league championships. They won titles in the OCC-Capital in 2005 and 2006 and shared the OCC-Ohio championship with Gahanna in 2011.
North has some work to do if it is going to win the league title this season, as it was 1-4 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Gahanna on Jan. 8.
The Panthers' primary concern right now is establishing a consistent identity after senior Jake Butt left the team in late December to enroll at the University of Michigan, where he will play football.
Senior guard DeVon Price was averaging 13.7 points through nine games, followed by senior forward Desmond Palmer (8.6) and sophomore guard Dajon Moore (5.4).
"Jake Butt's irreplaceable," Chambers said. "We have young guys. We're a young team and we're trying to put the pieces together, but we'll be all right."
Tigers' schedule less hectic in January
Of Central's nine games in December, three were in holiday tournaments or events outside the Columbus area. The Tigers also had been scheduled to play Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary on Dec. 8 in the Hope Classic High School Basketball Showcase in Struthers, but the game was canceled and replaced with a visit to Northland.
Central went 1-1 in the Chick-fil-A Basketball Classic held Dec. 28 and 29 in South Charleston, W.Va.
This month, the Tigers' schedule slows down and their travel decreases. They will leave central Ohio only once more this season, when they play Shaker Heights on Jan. 27 in the Dunk 4 Diabetes Shootout at Walsh University in North Canton.
Central suffered its first loss of last season in that event, falling 66-65 in overtime to Cleveland St. Ignatius.
"It always helps when you win, but as long as we show improvement and a passion and will to get better, then I'm fine with that," coach Jerry Francis said of the front-loaded schedule.
"With good play comes good preparation. ... We have to hold our own."