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By Jeff Mayfield

[APRIL 27, 2004]  Lincoln boys basketball coach Neil Alexander won't be around forever, but before he goes he will have rewritten every significant record in the history of Lincoln High School basketball… if he hasn't done so already! Saturday night the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association made it official as they inducted Alexander into the IBCA Hall of Fame, along with a lot of other worthy coaches, players and teams. The event is so popular you can't even get a ticket from a scalper… I know because I tried.

But how would you like to follow Coach Alexander when he officially hangs 'em up? I don't know if I'd wish that on anybody.

What has Alexander done in his mere 14 years at the helm of the Railers? All he's done is become the winningest all-time coach, with 299 victories against only 104 losses. He has distanced himself from the pack, as the closest rival is Loren Wallace with 271. Alexander has passed the legendary Paul Johnson, who collected 196 wins, and Duncan Reed, who amassed 174 wins. Heck, he even has more wins than Roy S. Anderson (the guy the Lincoln gym is named after), who tallied 195 in two stints with the Railsplitters.

On top of that, Lincoln just happens to be the all-time leader in most wins in the Central State Eight conference, which was established in 1993. You would expect one or two Springfield schools to be dominating this record with all of the talent that comes out of that city, but they can't out-coach Alexander.

The proof? How about Lincoln leading all comers by a whopping 26 games? It will take several seasons of near-perfect ball by someone and some pretty major slip-ups by Lincoln for the records to even get close again. Lincoln leads the league with 123 victories (which is about an .800 winning percentage) while the next closest teams are Springfield with 97, Lanphier with 94 and Southeast with 93. The rest aren't even in this decade yet! Those wins have led to at least four league titles, one of which was an outright title in 1998-99, and four other second-place finishes, usually when Lincoln was supposed to be in a rebuilding year. Incredibly during the entire 11-year conference run, Lincoln has never finished lower than third in the league. That kind of dominance is virtually unparalleled in the annals of central Illinois basketball. And I didn't even list the accomplishments Neil and his Railers had in the Big 12 before they made the switch to the CS8!

 

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What else? Well, all of those victories led to tough, pressure-packed games at the next level. All Alexander's teams did in those contests was to amass 10 regional titles, two sectional titles, one supersectional title and one Elite Eight appearance, which was Lincoln's first in nearly 20 years. When all those wins were tallied, Alexander had completed nine 20-win seasons in just 14 years as the coach, and three others were 19-win seasons.

Some schools would be happy for one 20-win season and one regional title, but we have created a monster here in Lincoln. Everyone in town expects us to win 20 every year; so does everyone in central Illinois. How do you like that for pressure?

Alexander has placed dozens of players on the all-conference teams and sent dozens on to successful college careers, including some kid named Brian Cook, now toting his wares in the NBA for some team called the Lakers.

I don't know about you, but I love challenges. However, the challenge of following Neil Alexander at LCHS is something I would pass on 10 out of 10 times. He is in the Hall of Fame for reasons. I have watched and studied the game since I was a little kid, but I don't think I've ever seen a coach quite like him. I don't know if the IBCA has ever inducted anyone more deserving. This week the LDN salutes Neil Alexander and his family on his 2004 induction into the IBCA Hall of Fame. CONGRATULATIONS, Coach!

[Jeff Mayfield]

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