Coker wants to take WC to winning record in last year

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 1, 2000

Maybe it was the fact that he has a “basketball-shaped heart,” but at age 6, Kevin Coker told his father that he was going to be a basketball player.

Maybe it was because his father was a star athlete who gave up a chance to pursue basketball in college to study chemistry at Belhaven and then to raise a family.

Or maybe it’s simply that Kevin Coker’s body is 6 feet, 2 inches and 175 pounds of pure energy that never seems to take a break.

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Whatever the reason, Coker is always going all out, whether his Warren Central Vikings are trailing by 20 or up by 20.

“It’s what I do,” Coker said before WC’s opening game. “I eat it. I sleep it. I live it. Basketball is everything to me. It’s the most important thing in my life right now.”

So, in his final year of high school, Coker has dedicated himself to giving his usual 150 percent and getting the Vikings to a place they haven’t seen in a long time: a winning program.

“God may not have blessed me with all the talent, but he gave me the ability to work hard and play ball,” said Coker, who has battled his father many nights in the driveway of their home.

“In H-O-R-S-E, he beats me, but one-on-one, I get him. I’m too quick for him,” he added with a smile.

But there’s no trash-talking about his father, Gary, off the court.

“If I could pick anyone in the world to be like, it would be my dad for the way he has taken care of us,” he said.

Coker has sat through two straight losing seasons including last year, when the Vikings lost 23 games, did not win a division game and lost to archrival Vicksburg High three times.

He takes every loss personally and doesn’t get over it until the team wins the next game. Another loss and the hurt festers.

“I’m a very emotional person,” Coker said. “Last year, I cried after 24 games the 23 losses and our triple-overtime win over Madison Central.”

Coker has spilled tears and blood in gym floors all over the state. He has kissed a few after big wins. But one thing is for sure, there is not a gym that could contain his enthusiasm or zeal for the game.

“I see myself in Coker, because that’s how I was when I was in high school and college,” said Kelvin Smith, the Vikings’ second-year assistant coach who has started working with Coker after hours. “He’s gung-ho, hyper, just real active and real excited about everything. I’m his coach and he’s my player, but it’s almost like he’s the brother I never had.”

Neither can sleep at night thinking about the upcoming season. Smith said he woke up Tuesday morning at 4:30 running through plays in his head. Coker said it could take him hours to get to sleep at night just thinking of how he can make himself better.

His biggest task could be convincing the team that it is better and with hard work, the Vikings could easily pull some shockers this season.

“We have everything going for us,” Coker said. “This is my fourth year of varsity ball and there’s not a doubt in my mind what we are getting into.”

Coker, the team’s point guard, is the emotional leader and, when needed, the verbal leader.

“Coach Duett looks at me every day and says he’s holding me accountable for the way we practice,” Coker said. “No one has ever told me Kevin, you have to start being vocal.’ That’s just the way I am. I will never stop talking, never stop encouraging and never stop criticizing. That’s just who I am.”

Coker scored a career-high 25 points, including five 3-pointers, in the last game of the year. “But it was a 20-point loss to Vicksburg, so it meant nothing,” he said.

Warren Central, which has not had a winning season since Coker’s freshman year, will still battle in a tough division. Defending champion Vicksburg returns a host of players. Greenville and Gentry always put athletic teams on the court.

“We’re not going into any game overconfident. Heck, we were 7-23 last year,” Coker said. “We’re gonna break hearts this year. That’s all I want to do.”

After basketball, Coker will lead his second-favorite sport from the catcher position in baseball. He doesn’t hesitate to say that the gym is his first love and his future.

Letters from several colleges arrive at his home weekly, but not many Division I-A schools are flocking to Viking Gym. Mississippi College, which will lose both of its point guards, and Delta State have shown a lot of interest in Coker, Smith said.

Ole Miss, the sentimental favorite, will not likely offer a scholarship, but walking on to the Oxford school is not out of the question.

Two things are for sure when Coker does go to college: He will play basketball and he’ll do it at a place where his parents will not bear the burden of tuition.

The sacrifices his parents have made, the senior said, and their undying support for his athletic endeavors is more than enough payment, he said.

“There were many nights when I wouldn’t see my dad until six or seven o’clock at night because he worked that hard for us,” Coker said. “I made him a promise that my college would be paid for by whatever means possible.”

Smith is sold that some college coach will be very happy.

“There’s no doubt,” Smith said. “I told him to have a great senior year, then see what kind of offers he has at the end of the year and we’ll go from there.

“… Kevin Coker will be playing basketball somewhere next year.”