MOREHEAD CITY — Jeff Lebo isn’t your typical high school basketball assistant coach.
After an All-ACC playing career with the North Carolina Tar Heels and nearly 20 years of college coaching, he brings a wealth of experience to West Carteret.
“I haven’t coached high school before,” Lebo said. “I’ve coached every other level, so this will round out my résumé.”
He spent last season as an assistant coach under former Tar Heels teammate Joe Wolf with the Greensboro Swarm of the NBA’s Developmental G League. That season ended in early March.
He stepped down as head coach at East Carolina in November 2017 after coaching for nearly two decades at four universities.
He and his wife, Melissa, have owned a home in Morehead City since 2009.
“I’m 53, and I still love coaching, still love working with kids, still love teaching,” he said. “We plan on moving down there full time, so I figured I’d reach out to the school and see if they needed help.”
Mark Mansfield, who just finished his first year as the West head coach, was happy to receive such a call.
“It’s amazing to get someone of that caliber,” he said. “He’s got a wealth of knowledge and experience, and I’m excited that he’ll be able to share that with the kids. It’s kind of like Vaughan Johnson coming back to help. It’s a similar deal.”
The Patriots are no strangers to high-profile assistant coaches. Johnson, who died last year at the age of 57, returned to coach at his alma mater after an All-American career at N.C. State and an All-Pro career with the New Orleans Saints.
Lebo earned All-ACC honors with the Tar Heels in 1988 under the tutelage of Dean Smith. His name is still littered throughout the school record book, including ranking second all-time in three-point percentage (.428) and fifth all-time in free-throw percentage (.839).
After stops at East Tennessee State (1990-1992), Vanderbilt (1992-1993) and South Carolina (1993-1998) as an assistant, he got his first head coaching gig at Tennessee Tech (1998-2002) and shined.
He was a three-time Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year (2000-2002) after leading the leading the Golden Eagles to two regular season championships.
He moved on to Chattanooga, and after two years there, he coached Auburn for six seasons before serving seven-plus years at East Carolina. His father, Dave, followed him as an assistant at every head coaching stop except East Carolina.
“My dad has been a high school coach for a long time, and I’m very close to him, so he fills me in on what it’s like,” Lebo said.
Dave, who just turned 76, has been an assistant at D.H. Conley for the past 11 years.
He spent nearly 20 years as the head coach at Carlisle (Pa.) High School where the court is now named in his honor. He went 365-149, including a remarkable 118-11 stretch from 1985-1989 that saw his team win four straight state championships.
Lebo was a member of the first state title squad in 1985 and was named a McDonald’s All-American that season.
Ironically, Mansfield was helping lead West to a state championship that same season under legendary coach Billy Widgeon.
“He doesn’t remember it, but we met at the Five-Star Camp prior to our senior year,” Mansfield said. “I roomed with Chucky Brown. It’s neat to think about. That was 35 years ago. I attended camp with the guy, and now he’s asking to help coach on our staff.”
The two didn’t spend their college years too far apart with Mansfield playing ball at UNC Greensboro.
Lebo’s other connection to the area comes in the form of his wife. Melissa’s father, Dink Mills, played football at ECU and served as Williamston High School’s longtime football coach and athletic director. The family often made the trip from Williamston to Carteret County.
“She grew up coming down to the beach,” Lebo said.
Lebo joked his wife is responsible for him joining the West staff.
“She told me, ‘We’ve got to find you something to do,’” he said with a laugh. “She is the happiest of all. She’s asking if we can play 50 games instead of 14.”
High school teams will play just 14 regular season games in a shortened schedule due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of starting in November, the season will begin in January.
“It’s kind of a funky year to do this, but I’m excited to get around the kids and coach basketball,” Lebo said. “They keep me young. I’m looking forward to it. I love the game and how it’s changed my life, molded me.”
Of course, while people of a certain age are thrilled at the idea of Lebo joining the staff, the players aren’t quite aware of his reputation among longtime ACC fans.
“We had a workout, and one of them asked me to give my name again,” he said with a laugh. “It’s awesome. It’s fun, I’m just excited to be back in a gym.”
Here is statistical breakdown of Lebo's career:
Carlisle High School (1981-1985)
McDonald’s All-American (1985)
4A Class State Champions (1985)
North Carolina Tar Heels (1985-1989)
Patterson Award (1989)
Second Team All-ACC (1988)
Two-Time All-ACC Tournament
1987-1988 ACC Champions
1988-1989 ACC Champions
1989 ACC Tournament Champions
Two Great Eight Appearances
Four Sweet Sixteen Appearances
116-25 Four-Year Record
Finished in AP Poll Top 10 for four straight years
2nd all-time in 3-PT percentage (.428)
5th all-time in FT percentage (.839)
4th all-time in assist-turnover ratio (2.21)
7th all-time in 3-PT (211)
10th all-time in assists (580)
28th all-time in scoring (1,567)
3-time Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year (2000-2002)
2-time Ohio Valley Conference Regular Season Champion (2001, 2002)
CIT Champion (2013)
Five 20-Win Seasons
Tennessee Tech (1998-2002)
East Carolina (2010-2017)