Lisath back home to lead Trojans


PORTSMOUTH — With the holiday season officially upon us, and if you poll Portsmouth High School boys basketball fans, the Trojan faithful foresees much to be thankful for —and that indeed Christmas came early.

That’s because Jeff Lisath, a former Trojan on-court star and highly-successful head coach of the past three decades, has returned to his tradition-rich basketball alma mater — as the first-year mentor of the Trojans.

With 413 career coaching victories (413-239) —at stops along the U.S. Route 23 and U.S. Route 35 corridors —Lisath, also an author and longtime law enforcement employee, is beginning his 30th season as a head coach.

And — after all — since 30 is a nice round number, then why not return to your roots, and give a reboot the proud Portsmouth program.

Per the highly-respected “trojandave” of, the Trojans’ all-time record stands at 1,496-830 — with 64 sectional titles, 37 district titles, 15 state tournament appearances, four state runner-ups (including 1990 and 2012), and four coveted state championships (1931, 1961, 1978 and 1988).

Lisath, in fact, was a large part of a pair of those state titles —in 1978 as a senior and 10 years later as an assistant on Joe Suboticki’s staff.

But basketball is different in today’s day and age, especially in Portsmouth for the past decade, although Lisath looks most certainly forward to re-establishing its extreme prominence.

Lisath, during the Trojans’ Media Day activities a week ago, interviewed in-depth with The Portsmouth Daily Times.

He was officially hired in the late spring, and spent the summertime tuning up the Trojans for the late fall and upcoming winter workouts.

“It’s a real surreal feeling. To be able to go full circle, grow up here and play basketball here, go around to different places and then circle back and come back home and coach, it’s just been fantastic. I am thankful for the Lord to bring me back here. It was unexpected, but God works in mysterious ways. So here I am,” said Lisath. “This team has been very cooperative in terms of learning a new system, giving 110-percent every day and working extremely hard. And they’ve shown their eagerness and want to win.”

And, when your program is a mere four wins away from 1,500, that’s all your almost accustomed to.

The Trojans sport an all-time state tournament record of 16-11, and are 8-1 in their last nine state semifinal games.

Lisath takes over for 14-year head coach Eugene Collins, who guided the Trojans to 201 wins and 130 losses —with back-to-back Division III Final Fours in 2011 and 2012, and an Elite Eight appearance in 2015.

However, the highest-level winning has stalled out, aside from last season’s squad snapping a 16-game losing streak against Fairland.

Portsmouth hasn’t won an Ohio Valley Conference championship or a Southeast District championship since 2015, hasn’t captured a sectional title since 2017, and hasn’t even experienced a winning season since a 16-8 mark in 2018.

The Trojans’ most recent regional crown came in 2012 —the last season in which ANY Southeast District boys team won a state tournament tilt.

Against individual opponents, Portsmouth has lost 10 consecutive against archrival Ironton —and four straight against South Point, including twice last year in overtime, the second of which was the Division III sectional final against the eventual Region 11 runner-up Pointers.

Lisath aims to start stemming that tide…this season.

He has history on his side, as a dozen Trojan coaches —including Collins in 2010, Suboticki in 1988 with 27 wins, and Tom Smith in 1982 with 20 wins —has posted a winning season in their first year.

With his fast-paced, up-tempo and get-after-it yet disciplined style of play, the Trojans should indeed be well-conditioned.

They endured a lot of running exercises in the preseason, prior to the start of official practice three weeks ago.

“We had two weeks of preseason conditioning, and it was extremely hard. The kids expressed that,” said Lisath, with a slight laugh. “But I told them that’s the way we’re going to play. We’re going to get up and down the floor and press and run. We have to be immaculate shape in order to do that for 32 minutes. They’ve bought into that, they’re working extremely hard and each day we’re getting better. Trying to get transition baskets, trying to play go 94-feet of defense. It’s difficult to do for 32 minutes, so you have to be in shape.”

While Lisath’s style should be physically demanding, his results as a player and head coach speak for themselves.

Lisath twice was named all-Ohio, where he led the Trojans to the 1978 Class AA state championship — amounting a PHS record 40 points in the two-game tournament, including 22 in the title game, which also remains a Trojan record.

He was named that state tournament’s Most Valuable Player, and is a three-time inductee into the Portsmouth High School Hall of Fame.

He played his collegiate basketball at Miami (Ohio) University, where he was a four-year letterman, team captain and Defensive Player of the Year —and the prestigious Marshall North Award winner for his “outstanding commitment, sportsmanship and leadership” while playing.

As an undrafted free agent, he participated in tryouts for the NBA’s New Jersey Nets in 1982 and Washington Bullets in 1983.

That same year, Lisath began his coaching career —at Columbus State Community College for three years, and finishing with a 59-9 record.

He returned to Portsmouth as an assistant for the next seven seasons —including the 1988 state championship club.

He was also the head coach at Unioto, of Chillicothe’s girls, and at Piketon —where he guided the Division III Redstreaks in 2009 to their only regional championship.

Lisath later coached at Dayton Northridge of the Southwest District —winning three district championships and a regional runner-up over a full decade, after the school went 75 years without even a sectional title.

He has been named conference coach of the year seven times, a district coach of the year six times, and received the 2023 Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Association/Ohio High School Athletic Association Sportsmanship, Ethics, and Integrity Award.

In 2015, Lisath landed a three-pointer of sorts — he was named the Ohio Division III Coach of the Year by the Associated Press, coached in the Ohio-Indiana All-Star game, and served as a guest speaker at the Nike Basketball Coaching Clinic.

From that same coaching clinic, his “Mastering the 1-2-2 Defense” has received over 100,0000 views on

But Lisath, who remains as Operations Director and Assistant Superintendent at Northridge, is much more than just a coach —and educator.

He is the author of three books — “In Jesus Name I Played” and “My Faith and Basketball”, which were both released in March 2020 at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic.

His third book, “Faith on the Court” was released this past summer.

Lisath is also the Founder, CEO and Executive Director of Jeff Lisath Basketball Ministries — which he created in Portsmouth in 1979.

The initial purpose was to give at-risk youth a positive alternative to “street life.”

A quarter-century ago, the Mission evolved to using the game of basketball as a platform for ministry.

The “Vision is to multiply a fruitful and sustainable ministry around the world”, as the organization offers free Bibles, backpacks, t-shirts, hoodies, free youth basketball camps, clinics, public-speaking engagements and academic scholarships to Portsmouth and Northridge High Schools.

This is a 501 c Non-profit organization, which is financially supported by charitable donations.

Lisath holds three college degrees (AA, BA, MA) — Physical Education, Leadership & Ministry, and Fine Arts & Ministry Counseling from Miami (Ohio) University and Ohio Christian University.

His three-decades long law enforcement career included various positions with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitations and Corrections, where he retired as Warden at the Pickaway Correctional Institution in 2016.

He also appeared in Corrections Today magazine as being the “Best in the Business” as a Deputy Warden at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville — for his leadership following the deadly prison riot there in April 1993.

Three decades later, Lisath has returned to Scioto County —and in particular PHS as its boys basketball head coach.

And that is something, this holiday season starting, that the Trojan faithful is expressing its great thanks for.

“It’s been exciting for us. I’ve received a very warm welcome from a lot of people. The kids have really been invested since I was hired on and we started our open gyms and since transitioned into our preseason conditioning. I’ve just got total buy-in since the spring and summer. It’s always a plus and vitally-important for a coach to almost instantly win a team over. I believe these kids know they can trust me and I’m building confidence in them,” said Lisath. “I am a coach that likes to build relationships with my kids. We try to keep everything positive —we laugh and we play, but we put in the work. I think the kids like that, and so far it’s been really good.”

Lisath makes his PHS head coaching debut on Tuesday night Dec. 5 against Lawrence County (Ky.).

Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on X @paulboggssports © 2023 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved

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