Lehigh basketball mourns death of on-court leader

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LEHIGH ACRES, Fla. — The floor general is gone.

That’s the role that new coach Greg Coleman expected rising senior point guard Stef’an Strawder to play for the Lehigh Senior High School boys basketball team this year. Instead, Strawder was gunned down early Monday in the Club Blu mass shooting.

“It always seems like bad things happen to good people,” Coleman said. “It always seems like it.”

The devastation inherent in the loss was readily apparent on the faces of Coleman, former coach Dawn McNew, and principal Jackie Corey, all of whom were on the court at the school to face the media just hours after Strawder was slain.

“Quite frankly, it’s like losing a son,” McNew said. ” … He was basically the glue to this family.”

Current and former teammates like Alex Debnam, who played two seasons with Strawder at Lehigh from 2013-15, were also there on the school’s court to mourn a player they regarded as a true floor leader.

“He was probably one of the most fun teammates to play with,” Debnam said. “He was exciting on the court. He always got his teammates involved. He always put on a show. He was there when we needed him.”

Strawder staked out a reputation as one of the top players in the state, leading the Lightning in points, assists and steals last season. Florida Gulf Coast University was one of a handful of Division I schools that had scouted the steady 18-year-old. Stetson, Jacksonville and Georgia Southern had also given him a look, though he’d yet to receive a formal offer, Coleman said.

It would nonetheless have been no surprise if he had, as his coaches and former teammates made clear.

“We were just getting ready to get heavy into the whole recruiting process with him,” Coleman said.

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Former Lehigh coach Dawn McNew with Strawder (Courtesy Lee County School District)

Strawder was a gym rat who constantly sought to improve his game, said Coleman, who worked extensively with Strawder over the summer, at times driving him to the gym.

“He brightened up everyone’s day and made players work harder because he was one of those leaders by example,” Coleman said.

His loss makes Coleman’s job that much tougher. He took the Lehigh job in April after McNew resigned amid controversy that marred the end of her largely successful five-year tenure, during which the Lightning were 92-40.

A rap video containing sexually explicit lyrics that players released just before the district playoffs last season led to brief suspensions of McNew, her coaching staff, and nine players. They were reinstated before the postseason began, but Lehigh suffered a first-round loss to Golden Gate at the buzzer.

“Right now we’re just starting this grieving process and trying to come together as a family,” Coleman said. “To be honest basketball is the last thing, the upcoming season is the last thing on my mind right now.”

Coleman, a former Lehigh assistant, has spent nine seasons at a head coach at Ida Baker and Island Coast, but he said he’s never gone through anything like this.

“You see it on Lifetime, but nothing prepares you for it as the leader of the program, nothing prepares you for it as a parent,” Coleman said. “Being a parent with two young children, I cannot imagine what parents are going through. The only thing I can do is just be there for them.”

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