THROWBACK THURSDAY: Former basketball coach fondly remembers LHHS

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Liberty Hill players gather around Rusty Segler during the Panthers’ state title matchup with Morton back in 1988. During his three-year stint as Liberty Hill’s head basketball coach, Segler would lead the Panthers to the state finals twice. (James Wear Photo)

Liberty Hill players gather around Rusty Segler during the Panthers’ state title matchup with Morton back in 1988. During his three-year stint as Liberty Hill’s head basketball coach, Segler would lead the Panthers to the state finals twice. (James Wear Photo)

By JAMES WEAR

Observing the success of the Liberty Hill basketball programs this year prompted memories of another era of Panther domination.

Nearly three decades ago, a young fellow by the name of Rusty Segler took the helm of the boys’ varsity team and quickly took Liberty Hill to a level of greatness that the school had not seen in its history, and not surpassed until nearly 20 years later when the Panther football team, under the direction of Jerry Vance, captured back-to-back state titles.

Segler, now 58 and coaching at Little Elm, recalls his time in Liberty Hill as “the most fun years of my career.” After taking over a struggling program, Segler guided the Panthers to a 14-14 record in his first year with a group of sophomores and one senior as his starters before leading Liberty Hill to two consecutive appearances in the state tournament.

Although the Panthers came up short, losing in the 1986-87 title game to Morton and the 1987-88 championship to Archer City, Segler had laid the groundwork for a program that would continue to rank among the best in schoolboy basketball year after year.

Liberty Hill was not his first head coaching job. The Southwestern University graduate, who played for the Pirates under the legendary Paul Peak, coached at Aransas Pass before coming to Liberty Hill. Segler also served as an assistant football coach under Charlie Braun — with Braun, then head football coach as well as athletic director — serving as Segler’s assistant coach in basketball.

Among those who played for Segler at Liberty Hill was Phillip Lenox, who Segler says “is the purist shooter I ever coached.”

“At one time, Phillip ranked third in scoring among all Texas schoolboy players,” says Segler.

Others who played under Segler include Clay Cole and Darren Masur, both of whom continued their basketball careers with Segler when he took the head coaching job at Concordia Lutheran College in Austin. Corby Davis, brothers Steve and David Smets, Shawn Vickers, Ryan Cole, Chris DeGroot and Joel Monroe were among others to suit up for Segler’s team. Segler says he occasionally has the opportunity to visit with some of his former players.

Clay Cole, now president and a veteran member of the Liberty Hill school board and an active supporter of youth-oriented activities in Liberty Hill, recalls, “I really enjoyed being part of the Panther teams, especially all the great times had with former teammates and coaches. I respect and appreciate Coach Segler and his family. We share many great memories.

“Coach Segler helped reinforce success through teamwork and work ethic. Pushing through after hitting the wall to finish strong, which if you knew me I was far from strong,” Cole said.

Segler recalled the tremendous following his team enjoyed, remembering some 12,000 persons attended one playoff contest the Panthers played in.

“I believe that was a record for a while in Class 2A,” he said.

Among his prized possessions is a videotape of the Panthers’ playoff win over Shaquille O’Neal and San Antonio Cole. It was the only loss O’Neal, a future NBA legend, would suffer in 69 high school contests. Segler said he made copies of the tape and distributed them among his Liberty Hill players.

Following an eight-year stint at Concordia, Segler coached 13 years at A&M Consolidated. He has spent the last six years at Little Elm. He has no plans to retire.

Before chatting with Segler this week, I guess one of my last conversations with him was back in 1988, when I interviewed him following his announcement that he was leaving Liberty Hill.

In the lead story of the May 5, 1988 edition of The Independent, I quoted him as saying, “I want to offer a big thank you to the community for three tremendous years at Liberty Hill. The past three years have been the most exciting and fun of my career.”

Nearly 28 years later, his opinion hasn’t changed. “I feel like a proud papa,” says Segler. “All of my Liberty Hill players grew up to be great husbands and fathers.”

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