This year, the Lions welcomed a bevy of talented newcomers with nine new faces on the men’s basketball squad. Throw in two new, highly accomplished assistant coaches in Tom Abatemarco and Senque Carey and you have the makings of a vastly different team to complement a handful of returning core players. However, Lion fans will recognize two familiar faces on the bench at every home game. While LaRon Armstead and Taylor Walker won’t play a minute this year for the Lions, their contributions to the team will have a lasting effect and show results on the court.
This two-part series begins with LaRon Armstead and will conclude with Taylor Walker in the near future. Armstead, who played for the Lions from 2008-2012, is a graduate assistant on the Lions coaching staff.
AH: What are your official responsibilities on the team?
LA: As a graduate assistant, I am responsible for a variety of assignments. Whenever the players need me, I am there for them whether it’s before or after games or on weekends. I help the coaching staff manage administrative tasks such as making sure our guys are in their rooms for bed checks on the road, ensuring that all participate in study hall and the Learning Resource Center, checking on class attendance, and assisting with video editing and review.
AH: After years of practicing and playing, what motivated you to come back to help the Lions?
LA: I wanted to go back to school and challenge myself. At the same time, I felt I could still help the team. To me, education is very important. I’ve learned to recognize that knowledge is power – not the traditional definition of power in terms of strength and influence, but more individual growth. From the time I arrived on campus, I feel I have grown immensely. I am the first and only one in my family to receive a college degree. I see myself as a role model to my family and my community. At the end of the day, I want to look back and be proud of myself.
AH: As a senior, you were recognized by your coaches and teammates as the Most Improved Player. What did that recognition mean to you?
LA: While that award was for my performance on the court, I saw it as recognition of my personal growth, which was a big part of my improved play. I didn’t pout or sulk because I wasn’t playing at the beginning of the season. Mentally and physically, I stayed ready. I was willing to do anything to help our team win even if it meant practicing every day and sitting on the bench.
AH: LaRon, you contemplated continuing your basketball career by exploring options to play professionally. How did you arrive at the decision to forgo those opportunities and return to school to obtain an advanced degree?
LA: I was fortunate to have former LMU assistant coach Chris Farr in my life. Coach Farr helped me realize what it took to get off the bench and play. So after graduation, I naturally turned to Coach Farr for guidance and to review options. I attended a tryout with the Los Angeles Defenders of the NBA D-League and basically made the roster. However, shortly thereafter, I called the coach and told him I was going back to school to get a master’s degree instead. The coach said that I made a good decision, and that he hoped many players chasing a basketball career would have made the same decision as me. He said that at the end of the day, getting a master’s degree would be more valuable than playing basketball. I still keep in touch with Coach Farr several times a week. He helped me grow and see that there is more to life than basketball. I still have the energy and desire to play, but I feel the decision I made was the best decision of my life thus far.
AH: What are you currently studying and what interested you in this field?
LA: I am currently pursuing a Master of Arts degree in counseling, which would allow me to work as a counselor in high school. However, the thought of attending law school or working in a business-related field has more than crossed my mind. Whatever I choose as a career, I know that I can accomplish my goals once I put my mind to it.
AH: What are your long-term goals?
LA: Ten years out, I see myself as a family man. I want to be in a position to support my family, own my own home and help my community in any way I can. I also see myself staying involved and helping the LMU basketball program. I’d like to support and encourage kids that come from backgrounds similar to mine and help guide them — show them that if I can do it, so can they.
AH: Is coaching part of your long-term future? If yes, what type of coach would you be?
LA: If I get involved in coaching, it would be at the collegiate level. It’s where I think I can make the most impact. I see myself as a player’s coach — someone who would have a positive impact on a student-athlete’s life both on and off the court. I would want to have a strong relationship with everyone on the team.
AH: What have you learned on or off the court that has helped you?
LA: On the court – don’t get frustrated if your shot isn’t falling and stay positive even if your team is down. While there are no 10-point plays in basketball, there are 10-0 runs that can happen in a minute.
AH: What is your most memorable experience at LMU?
LA: Our home game vs. St. Louis University on Dec. 21, 2011. I remember that game vividly because not only did I play well, more importantly, we won. I felt I had a hand in dictating the pace of that game (22 points, 5 rebounds). I remember my teammates and me playing as one closed fist as opposed to five individual fingers. I have a DVD of that game but I’ve never watched it. I will one day, but for now, it stays in the vault.
AH: Describe the transition from player to coach?
LA: It’s harder than it looks. The players I coach still think I am one of the guys so it’s hard for them to see me differently.
AH: Any words of wisdom or advice to student-athletes?
LA: Practice hard and at full-speed as if you are playing in a game. If you practice hard, games will seem effortless. You will be better prepared than the opposition because chances are your opponent will not have practiced as hard as you.
Bio from LMULIONS.COM can be read here.