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Spotlight on Former Athlete: Ernie Lancon – Men’s Basketball 1961-65

Lancon used opportunity as springboard to success



By Bruce Brown


Written for Athletic Network



Ernie Lancon had no idea he’d be going to college, much less that his basketball skills would pave the way for that opportunity.


He figured he’d be making money in the oilfield, like many of his classmates at New Iberia Senior High.


But once USL basketball coach Beryl Shipley came to visit, and got the attention of Lancon’s father, it was a done deal.


I was not thinking about college,” Lancon recalled. “You could make good money in the oilfield – that’s what my friends were planning to do – and I figured I would work for Shell like my father.


Then Coach Shipley sat down with my parents, who hadn’t finished high school, and talked to them about me playing for the Cajuns. My dad said, ‘He’s going’ and that was it.


I can still remember sitting there, talking, in the kitchen.”


Lancon got Shipley’s attention when he was named Outstanding Player in Louisiana in his senior campaign at NISH in 1961, the kind of talent the coach needed as he built a powerhouse program.


Once he got to college, Lancon was converted into a defensive specialist who often drew the opposition’s best shooter. He adapted his game and helped USL to records of 17-8, 12-13, 13-10 and a 20-10 finish in 1964-65 that culminated in a two-game stay at the NAIA National Tournament – the school’s first appearance on a national stage.


Basketball was always my game,” Lancon said. “I improved by working hard, by practice. I played at the park and at the recreation center. There was a good group ahead of me at Senior High – they got to the (state) semifinals twice – and they let me play with them at the park.


My senior year, we reached the quarterfinals. Went 32-7 or 32-8 and went from last place to first in the district. It was just experience. We had three seniors and two good juniors starting on that team.


I still play golf with some of them.”


While winning under coach John Cason’s relaxed leadership was fun, life with Shipley was decidedly more structured.


The experience was hard, but it was good,” Lancon said. “It was tough, a big transition for me. In high school, I got to shoot the ball. Shipley wanted me to play defense.


It took a year to get used to it. I had to adjust to everything, like playing man-to-man instead of zone. With Shipley, it was all about discipline. But if you worked hard enough, good things were going to happen.”


Lancon recalled that some 52 players tried out for the team in his first year at USL. It was a number quickly whittled down to size by Shipley’s staff. Of the new group, only Lancon and Bob Cutrer got to play as freshmen.


Cutrer became a standout on the team built around future Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame member Dean Church, whose 23.4-point average led the Cajuns to the NAIA Nationals in 1965.


They topped Athens State 71-58 and Huntingdon 78-69 as regional hosts, then beat Colorado State-Pueblo 66-59 before losing to Oklahoma Baptist 95-82.


In those days, Coach liked to keep the game in the low numbers,” Lancon said. “A lot of times, we’d play McNeese and the score wouldn’t get out of the 50’s. They always had a great shooter, like Jimmy Shields and Clyde Briley, and their game would revolve around one guy.”


Guess who would draw the thankless task of defending that ace.


Ultimately, the Cajun experience benefited Lancon well beyond the court.



Coaching career


Following Shipley’s lead, Lancon became a high school basketball coach. He won a pair of district titles at Fatima, then five titles in nine years at his alma mater.


From there, he moved into administration at NISH, becoming an assistant principal in 1978 and principal in 1986.


He came full circle in a career working with youth with a 17-year period working as a juvenile officer with the 16th Judicial Court D.A.’s office.


I was in graduate school,” Lancon said. “My degree was in business and I was working to get certified in education. I really enjoyed it at Fatima. We had great kids and were successful.


Then the job came open at Senior High, and they offered it to me. It was a tough decision. I asked Coach Shipley what I should do. He said, ‘You’ve got to go. Tougher competition makes you better.’ So I went.


Senior High was integrating, and there were problems. Federal marshals in the halls. Four or five kids quit the team. After a while, though, we really turned it around.”


The Yellow Jackets made a habit of titles and state playoffs, going four straight seasons without losing a district game at one point. The 1974 team, featuring Zack Mitchell and 6-foot-9 Lionel Green, remains a fond memory.


Our practices were harder than the games,” Lancon said. “We lost two games, one to Crowley during the season and the other to Holy Cross in the state semifinals.”


NISH also beat Calvin Natt-led Bastrop in quarterfinal play, one year before Bastrop was an unbeaten state champion.


I liked coaching because of the kids, mostly,” Lancon said. “They began to buy into what we were doing, because they could see we were going to win. My second year (at NISH) was my only losing season.


When I started coaching, we ran the shuffle offense – the same one we ran at USL. I knew high school kids could do it. We didn’t run up and down the floor. We ran the shuffle, and pressed when we needed it.”


Then came the call to join the administration.


It was hard to give up basketball,” said Lancon, recalling upcoming talent like Chris Manuel, Kelvin Price and Bryan Brown. “But, you’ve got to move up for the pay. I handled most of the discipline. You’re dealing with 2,000 kids. You don’t have your little group. It was different, challenging.”


A 27-year career in education wrapped up with nine years as principal, as NISH earned a School of Excellence ranking in 1989.


It was great,” Lancon said. “When you’re principal, the whole school has your philosophy. We believed in everything together. I got to hire teachers. I had great assistants. It was good. It was fun.”


The 17 years with the D.A.’s office offered Lancon a different perspective.


I got to meet a different group of people,” he said. “Good people. Professional people. I learned there’s a different world out there – the outside world.”


None of which would have happened if Beryl Shipley hadn’t stopped by.


I can’t complain about my life,” Lancon said. “We (he and wife Terri) have three grandkids (daughter Ellen has 7, 9 and 11-year-olds). I get to travel a lot now. I play golf 4-5 times a week.”


In his leisure time, Lancon still recalls working with and shaping his players.


Working with the kids, I saw it as a chance for them to get better with their life,” he said. “I still see and talk to a lot of them."


I’d meet with the seniors, and tell them you need to try college, even if it’s just for one semester. If you don’t like it, then you can always go to work.”


Ernie Lancon should know.

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Click here for the happy Bulldog cagers after beating La. Tech and tying them for the Gulf States Conference crown in 1964. Ernie is #24.

Click here for Terri, Coach Shipley and Ernie at the first night of the Nov.2-3, 2001 Shipley Reunion.

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Click here for the chronological listings of the Spotlight on Former Athletes.