Sports

Former South Kitsap hoops standout back on Wolves’ bench

L.P. Neloms, who graduated from South Kitsap in 2007, has returned to the school as a volunteer assistant for coach John Callaghan. - Kenny Gatlin photo
L.P. Neloms, who graduated from South Kitsap in 2007, has returned to the school as a volunteer assistant for coach John Callaghan.
— image credit: Kenny Gatlin photo

One of the most decorated players in recent South Kitsap basketball history now finds himself driving to Bremerton and Yelm for a spot on the Wolves’ bench.

L.P. Neloms, a 2007 South graduate, might still be playing if a bulging disc in his back and knee problems did not force him to the sideline. Instead, he serves as a volunteer assistant for coach John Callaghan.

“As a player, I would always have an excuse for something,” Neloms said. “Now that I’m on the other side of things, I see what (Callaghan’s) talking about. I learn something new every day.”

After stints at Highline and Olympic community colleges, Neloms transferred in 2009 to Central Washington University.

The 6-foot-4 Neloms was not ready to give up the game he has played as long as he can remember, but he had to figure out an alternative when his body no longer could withstand the rigors of a full season.

Neloms, 23, pursued a degree in exercise science, which he completed this month, with the idea that it could enable him to work as a college strength-and-conditioning coach. He eventually hopes to coach at a community college or four-year university.

That leads to his presence at South. Neloms serves as a volunteer assistant to complete the internship required for his degree. But with that work finished, Neloms said he could continue to work with the Wolves for the rest of the season.

Callaghan welcomes that — and thinks Neloms will make a strong coach.

“Knowing the game and trying to teach the game are two different things,” he said. “He obviously knows the game. I think he’s got a really good demeanor and is positive with kids. I’m happy to see someone like L.P. go into the coaching profession.”

South is not in the position it was when Neloms graduated as one of the state’s top basketball programs of the last decade. He played with cousins Derrick Webb, who lived with Neloms beginning in seventh grade after moving from Seattle, and Tysaiah and Tionne Curry.

Only the latter still was with the Wolves during Neloms’ final season in 2006-07. Despite that, South appeared poised to advance to the state tournament for a seventh consecutive season.

But Neloms was injured during the West Central District opener against Kentwood. Less than a month after Neloms guided the Wolves to a dramatic 62-61 overtime win at Lincoln, South lost by 33 points against the same team in districts to end its season.

“We were the No. 1 seed in district and he twisted his ankle in the first quarter,” said Callaghan, referring to a 45-39 loss against Kentwood. “That was really unfortunate.”

But it also established a legacy. Junior post Josh Osinski attended his first Wolves’ game when Neloms starred for the team. He said Neloms’ playing experience gives him credibility among his teammates.

“A lot of us grew up in this town watching him play,” Osinski said. “We’ve watched him play and we know what he has to say works. It’s an honor to be coached by him.”

Neloms does not foresee a future as a high-school coach — he likes the idea of recruiting players to fit his system. That does not mean he endorses a philosophy that superior athleticism is enough to win, though.

“If you know the game well, that will take you far,” said Neloms, reiterating a message he often delivers to players.

And perhaps enable some players to share experiences similar to the ones he had with the Wolves.

“It was fun,” Neloms said. “We were always one of the teams others were trying to knock off.”

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