Longtime basketball coach Wayne Lafley, founder of Lone Wolf Athletics, Vermont’s premier AAU program, who forged lifelong relationships and taught hundreds of players with an authentic style for nearly two decades, died earlier this month after a two-year battle with colon cancer. He was 46.
“He wasn’t just an amazing coach, he was an amazing person and the kids knew how much he genuinely cared about them,” said John MacDonough, a coaching colleague whose three daughters played for Lafley. “I’m better because of him and blessed that he was in my life for so long … He was a great, unique individual that the world will never see again.”
Lafley was hospitalized in the weeks leading up to his death on March 10.
“Basketball in Vermont basketball is going to be different,” Windsor girls basketball coach Kabray Rockwood said.
Lafley is survived by his wife Shannon, his son Luca and his stepchildren Emma, Lexie and David Litchfield. A celebration of Lafley’s life is currently being planned for June, Shannon Lafley said.
The Lafley family will also start the Wayne Lafley Scholarship Fund. Details on how to donate will be posted soon at lonewolfathletics.com.
“Being with him for this long and knowing what he does for kids, he really pulled the best out of each athlete,” Shannon Lafley said. “He really pushed players to not only be basketball players but to be the best all-around person. He brought that out with everyone he touched.
“I’m hearing from so many people that he affected throughout his life.”
Born on April 24, 1975, Lafley was a star basketball and baseball player at Peoples Academy, where he graduated in 1993. Lafley also played college hoops at Johnson State University while he earned his degree in Psychology.
After a stint in Chicago, Lafley returned to Vermont to work on the coaching staff of the Vermont Frost Heaves of the American Basketball Association. In 2004, Lafley started Lone Wolf Athletics and turned it into the state’s most well-known and influential AAU program, especially for youth and high school-aged girls basketball players.
“He was someone I saw as a father figure,” said Emma MacDonough, a former South Burlington High School standout who currently plays on scholarship at St. Michael’s College. “He was a big reason why we’ve been able to send so many players to D-I and D-II. He pushed me to do better and he believed in me.”
Lafley spawns generation of talent
Cassidy Derda will never forget Lafley’s vein-popping forehead and wide-eyed look after an opposing coach at an AAU tournament refused to shake Lafley’s hand during pre-game warm-ups.
“The coach ducked him and all of us in the huddle thought that was a big mistake,” Derda said. “He told us, ‘Guys, if you do anything for me in my life, you’ll kick the … out of this team.'”
Lone Wolf won the game. And by the end of the weekend, all five starters — Derda, Hailee Barron, Emily Kinneston, Kara Sheftic and Maureen Taggart — had Division I college offers, according to Derda. All five wound up playing for D-I schools, too.
“We were used to people writing us off and it was one of those moments that we said, ‘We are going to win, we have to win this game for Wayne,'” said Derda, the former South Burlington and Rice star who played at St. Francis-Brooklyn and the University of Vermont.
“It was a testament to everything Wayne put into us. We could beat teams we shouldn’t because of Wayne.”
Rockwood said he’ll remember Lafley for his demeanor with players. Rockwood coached alongside Lafley when his oldest child, Olivia, was a member of Lone Wolf. Another Rockwood daughter is in the program now.
“Nobody could dress down a player and build them back up the way that he could,” Rockwood said. “He put fear and love into them.
“The best players in the state wanted to play for him because they knew what it could do for them.”
Derda credits Lafley and his coaching in becoming a D-I scholarship player.
“Without him, it wouldn’t have happened for me and so many others,” Derda said. “Wayne had a gift, he had an effortless gift of getting players focused and motivated to fulfill their potential as players and as people.
“What he’s done for women’s basketball and men’s basketball — he’s put Vermont on the map.”
John MacDonough and others said Lafley didn’t want credit or praise for his players’ success.
“It was never about him, it was about the players and his program,” MacDonough said. “You play for this program and the LWA family.”
Lone Wolf program marches on
Derda, MacDonough, Shannon Lafley and Chris Johnson have taken the reins of Lone Wolf, which recently began practicing for a new AAU season. The program currently has four girls teams.
“It’s been therapeutic,” MacDonough said. “We are going to make this work for the kids.
“We won’t be able to fill his shoes, but Lone Wolf is still rolling.”
Derda returned to Lone Wolf two years ago as a coach. Lafley had asked her to come aboard shortly after he was diagnosed with cancer.
“He taught me to love basketball all over again, even more than before,” Derda said. “I feel responsible to carry on Wayne’s program. He had such an impact on my life and he would’ve wanted us to keep playing.”
In the days before his death, Lafley was able to watch the Rice and Windsor girls basketball teams win high school state crowns. Both squads had a handful of Lone Wolf players.
“They were playing for Wayne,” said MacDonough, whose two youngest daughters, Ava and Elyse, were starters on Rice’s title team.
Rockwood rested a Lone Wolf shirt on his bench during Windsor’s championship game.
“Just to know now that’s the last game he watched,” Rockwood said. “I felt so calm in the moment, I had a little bit of his Juju with me.”
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