Jason Lantz

Jason Lantz watches an Atlantic City High School boys basketball practice during the 2012 playoffs. Lantz, a former Vikings player and longtime boys basketball assistant, has taken the job of head coach of the school's girls basketball team.

Staff photo

Jason Lantz feels a twinge deep in his gut every time he sees the St. Anthony High School boys basketball team play.

He flashes back to a 1994 game between St. Anthony, a perennial national power, and Atlantic City.

Lantz, now an Atlantic City boys basketball assistant, played for the Vikings back then. He missed a dunk late in the game that would have given the Vikings the lead. St. Anthony went on to win.

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"I made that dunk a million times," Lantz said Wednesday night after the Vikings beat Ewing 68-65 in the TOC quarterfinals. "It was just that one time. We had an opportunity to beat a legendary program."

Lantz, 34, uses the missed shot as a lesson for this year's Vikings team to persevere when confronted with adversity.

Atlantic City will need to have that attitude when it meets undefeated St. Anthony in a Tournament of Champions semifinal at 8 p.m. at Rutgers University in Piscataway.

"If you make a bad decision or a mistake, (Lantz) will just say, 'Next play,' " said Atlantic City junior guard Dayshawn Reynolds, "meaning just move on and make the next play."

Fans nearly filled the old Atlantic City High School gym on Feb. 19, 1994 to watch the Vikings meet St. Anthony in a regular-season contest.

Lantz, a 1995 Atlantic City graduate, was a junior. A reserve forward, he was known as a defensive player.

"One thing I could do was jump," Lantz said.

The Friars were young but the Jersey City school had won the 1993 Tournament of Champions, one of its record 11 TOC championships.

Atlantic City seemed in awe of St. Anthony in the first half and fell behind 29-13.

The Vikings rallied in the second half and tied the game at 43 late in the fourth quarter. Atlantic City had a chance to take the lead. Lantz found himself alone on the side of the rim with the ball. He went up for the dunk.

"When you go up from the side, you can't put everything you have into it because the rim doesn't bend," he said. "When I yanked down on the rim, the ball just popped right back out."

The miss swung the momentum in St. Anthony's favor. The Friars rallied and won 49-43.

Lantz leaned on his teammates to ease his disappointment. He didn't let the miss define him as a player or a person.

"My teammates were there for me," he said. "I think I recovered as well as you could have recovered. I had a great career."

Lantz went on to graduate from Hampton University in Virginia. Lantz now teaches at New Jersey Avenue Elementary School in Atlantic City.

"Life is about overcoming failures," he said. "When you break it down, it's a game. It's a game when you can develop personal skills and team skills. What I got from being an Atlantic City player, I still have this day."

He's been a Vikings assistant for five years. Lantz is a calming influence.

"He's totally opposite of my fire and brimstone," Atlantic City head coach Gene Allen said. "He gives the kids stability."

Lantz gives up his free time to work with current Vikings on their individual skills.

"He goes above and beyond," Reynolds said of Lantz.

Lantz doesn't hesitate to talk about the missed dunk.

"Any time I see the players get down on themselves, I tell them, 'Look it can be a big moment or a little moment, but the fact is you have to come back,' " he said.

Atlantic City has shown that resiliency in the postseason. The Vikings have had to rally from second-half deficits in six of their seven state tournament wins. They've won three overtime games.

"You have to live for the next game," Lantz said. "When you play basketball, you're going to miss shots. You're going to get beat. It's what you do after it happens that counts."

But tonight when he sees St. Anthony's maroon and gold colors Lantz will think again of the missed dunk.

"If I could go back," he said with a smile, "I would have layed the ball up."

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