VHS still looking for answers, wins

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 23, 2004

Forest Hill’s Bryan Johnson, right, grabs a rebound away from Vicksburg’s Fred Thomas (5) during the Rebels’ 56-51 win on Tuesday. It was Vicksburg’s 10th loss in 12 games. (Jenny SevcikThe Vicksburg Post)

[1/23/04]Following Tuesday night’s 56-51 loss to Forest Hill, Vicksburg boys basketball coach Dellie Robinson sat silently in his office wearing the face of a broken man.

His eyes glazed over the newspaper clippings and awards that decorate the small room. And a golden basketball trophy commemorating the 2003 Class 5A state championship sits on his desk, gathering dust.

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When asked about the game, Robinson slowly runs his hand across his face and attempts to disguise his disgust.

“I thought we had a good gameplan” was the best he could muster.

In recent weeks, the gameplan and the result have been two different things.

The defending state champions began the season 4-1, but when it rains, it pours. Dating back to Dec. 4, Vicksburg has lost 10 of its last 12 games, falling to 7-13 on the year and last place in Division 6-5A with a 0-3 record. The stretch has included a five-game losing streak and the Gators’ current three-game slide.

“It’s just been an up-and-down season, but the kids are playing hard,” Robinson said. “We just can’t execute when we need to execute. It’s always missed rebounds, missed free throws. It’s always something that we can’t get over the top with.”

During the slump, the offense has looked stagnant, the defense mediocre and the rebounding lackluster.

Some of the losses this season have been close, but more than half have been by 12 points or more.

“It’s been real frustrating because we’ve never lost that many games before,” said VHS forward Cedric Parson, a key cog in last year’s run. “We’re just in a losing streak and we need to win more.”

Vicksburg has faced some of the state’s tougher competition. Four of the Gators’ losses have been to teams ranked in the top 10 statewide, including No. 2 Provine, No. 6 Clinton and twice against No. 10 Madison Central.

Still, the tension is mounting, and victories seem to be the only cure in sight.

“I can’t put it into words,” Robinson said. “It’s been frustrating because I’m used to winning. I’m definitely not used to losing. It’s been tough.”

Part of the problem comes with the players gone from last season.

The Gators used teamwork to excel to the top a year ago. In a David-and-Goliath matchup for the state championship, the little guys gave all they could for a stunning win over Starkville by stopping its star, Travis Outlaw (selected in the first round of the NBA draft by Portland). The victory capped off a magical season, but a dropoff was inevitable.

Entering this year, the Gators lost four senior starters, including The Vicksburg Post Player of the Year, point guard Devin Jones.

The players who replaced them have not done nearly as well. And the lone returning starter, Sedrick Williams, has had difficulty in switching from shooting guard to point guard.

“He’s just not a really true point guard. We just have to deal with that because we don’t have anybody else that can play point guard besides him,” Robinson said. “He’s not the best point guard, but he’s the best ball handler and we need him on the floor.”

On Tuesday, Williams finished the game with 24 points but had no assists. His 22 shot attempts were nearly half of Vicksburg’s 50 as a team.

“If he was just a little bit better passer, we’d be in good shape,” Robinson said. “He’s got that shooter’s mentality first.”

Williams admits it’s been a frustrating year for him as well, but he still believes in his role as a team leader.

“I know this is my team, and we’re going to get there,” he said.

Despite the struggles, Vicksburg still has every opportunity to finish strong. If the Gators run the table in the division, they will enter February’s Division 6-5A Tournament as the second seed, likely against Warren Central.

They have three divisional games remaining two against Warren Central and one at home against Natchez but if the season ended today, they would face Forest Hill again in the first round of the tournament.

“We’re used to winning, but this here is a rather new team,” Williams said. “We’ve just got to regroup and I think we can do it.”

Their first test comes Saturday at 2:30 p.m. when they host Warren Central.

Robinson is hoping his players respond and that he doesn’t spend another night reflecting back to the luster and glory of last season.

“I don’t know what more I can do. It’s basically up to them now,” Robinson said of his players. “We’ve been working on the same things, offense and defense, for the entire year.

“It’s up to them now, it’s how bad they want to win.”