Four tournaments, four championships.
Randy Lambert has built an enduring legacy in 30-plus seasons as men’s basketball coach at Maryville College, but now wouldn’t be a good time to slow down.
There’s another coach Lambert out there, youngest son Wes, and early indications are he’s going to be pretty good.
“I’m not worried about him,” the elder Lambert said by phone from the Final Four in Houston this week.
Wes Lambert’s East Tennessee Elite AAU team captured its fourth tournament championship in as many tries this past weekend at Eagleton Middle School. It’s quite the coup for a program in only its first season, but it’s really no surprise, said Mike McClurg, whose twin sons, Mitchell and Matthew, both start for the Elite. The younger Lambert is his father all over again, Mike McClurg said.
“It’s like watching a mini him,” he said.
Being compared to his father is a standard he welcomes, Wes said.
“We’re best friends,” he said. “We are the same person.”
A junior at Maryville, the desire to enter the college coaching ranks when his playing days are done has been with him for some time, Wes said. He made his coaching debut with a local AAU team while still in high school. It was quite the learning experience, he said.
“It was rough,” Wes said. “We played up (an age group). I had a kid on my team that was 4-foot-6, and, sometimes, he was going against a guy that was 6-8. I said, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’”
The indoctrination continued when the younger Lambert enrolled at the college three years ago to play for his father. Now, he was not only learning about the finer points of coaching over the breakfast table, he was living them everyday in practice.
This past season, Wes was forced to sit out the year with an injured knee. Rather than sulk, he decided to build his own AAU program from the bottom up. The results, as previously mentioned, have been a rousing success.
“I had to spend some time away from the game,” Wes said, “and seeing it triggered something in my mind.”
Randy and Wes Lambert share more than a coaching philosophy when it comes to basketball. Their coaching styles, as Mike McClurg alluded to, are nearly identical.
Both pace almost stoically in front of their team’s bench, arms folded across their chest. Both keep the yelling to a minimum, Wes’ approach in that regard helped along by the fact he’s coaching seventh graders. Both use humor to great effect when giving instruction.
“He’s a little more laid back because it’s not school ball,” Mitchell McClurg said. “He makes me want to work harder for him.”
“He’s not just a coach,” Matthew said. “He’s also your friend.”
There are moments, however, when there’s no mistaking it’s coach Wes Lambert talking to his sons, McClurg said.
“More than anything, he coaches them,” he said. “I love it when he tells Matthew or Mitchell, ‘You need to pivot off a rebound, and it’ll all work out.’”
It isn’t easy following a father into a profession where he’s enjoyed so much success. Hit hard by injury, including the loss of Wes at one of the guards and senior Ben Williams to a torn ACL, Maryville failed to reach the 20-win plateau for the first time in 12 seasons this winter. In 31 campaigns, Randy Lambert has had only four losing seasons, his second, third, fourth and seventh.
Maryville stunned the Old Dominion Athletic Conference in 1984, winning the league title in only Lambert’s fifth season. The Scots had reached 12 consecutive NCAA tournaments prior to this season, making the Big Dance 17 times all told during Lambert’s run.
Lambert said he can see the similarities in coaching styles many see in his son.
“Anytime you watch your children do anything, you catch yourself saying, ‘Hey, that’s me!’ I’m very proud of him, as I am of all my children. Wes is a Christian young man, and I think he can have a positive influence on young people. I know he can teach them the game.”
Following his father into the coaching ranks after graduation is pretty much a done deal, Wes said.
“I’m settled on coaching for my profession,” he said. “I feel like God’s leading me to touch some lives that way. More than anything, I try to make them a better person, that you can be courteous and respectful in the right way and still win basketball games.”
His father has taught him a great deal about preparation as player, Wes said. It’s quite a bit different when you’re the coach, he said, something Wes said he hopes will pay dividends his senior season at Maryville this fall.
“You still get hyped when you get ready to play,” he said. “There’s a lot more you’ve got manage. I think that’s going to help me next year.”
Randy Lambert’s status on the Maryville campus is almost as iconic as the school’s Anderson Hall, so he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. From what he’s seen, he’d hire Wes as assistant after he graduates. He said he’d also understand if his son chooses to follow his own star.
Should Wes chose that path, beware.
“I think, obviously, it would fun to have him coach with me,” Randy Lambert said. “He knows I support him in any direction he wants to go. I just don’t want him to coach against me. He’ll have to watch me because I’ll cheat.”