Minus ailing coach Robinson, Gators juggle emotion and basketball

Published 8:32 am Tuesday, January 17, 2017

JACKSON — While their coach laid in a hospital bed 2 ½ miles away, the Vicksburg Gators forged ahead and tried to honor him the best way they could — by playing hard and winning.

The Gators beat Picayune 44-42 Monday at Lanier High School’s MLK Classic, but basketball was still taking a back seat to concern about the health of head coach Dellie C. Robinson.

Robinson suffered an aneurysm in his heart during a game against Madison Central a week ago. He reportedly felt ill and left that game early to return to Vicksburg, and then went to the hospital the same night. He was transferred to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson late last week and has been in intensive care there since.

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“Coach was like a mentor to me, like a father. We have to get past it and play for him. It’s about him and about winning for this team,” said Vicksburg senior forward Kirk Parker, who scored a team-high 11 points in the win over Picayune (13-6). “We’re going to honor the rest of the season to him. We have to keep praying for him, and keep his family in our prayers, and keep praying for him.”

Robinson is not expected to return to the bench for the Gators this season, or possibly at all. He had often talked about retirement in recent years — including at the start of this one — only to come back for another run at an elusive second state championship.

Robinson coached the Gators to the 2003 Class 5A championship, as well as state runner-up finishes in 2011 and 2013. Since taking over as the head coach in 1992, he has won more than 400 games and made Vicksburg a perennial contender.

Longtime assistant coach Kevin Carter was named the interim varsity coach. Carter, a Vicksburg High graduate, has been on the staff for 13 seasons and is head coach of the school’s ninth-grade team.

“The recovery process is going to be so strenuous month by month, and day by day, that it’s pretty much a wrap. We just hope we can keep the torch going,” Carter said.

Carter added that he’d been hoping to take over Vicksburg’s program when Robinson retired, but for now will just try to maintain his mentor’s standard of excellence.

“Those are some big shoes to follow. Come on, now. The Coliseum appearances, the 2003 championship, it’s big shoes to fill,” Carter said. “But I think I’m prepared because I’ve been alongside him. In practice we haven’t missed a beat. He trusted me several times if he was sick or had to go to a funeral or whatever, and I stepped right in and most of the time we kept on going.”

Ever since Robinson went down, that’s exactly what everyone in the program has been trying to do. The Gators (10-6) lost to Neshoba Central, 50-46, in their division opener on Friday night and then returned to the court Monday for their matinee with Picayune.

The matchup with the Maroon Tide was tight all the way through. Vicksburg’s six-point lead late in the fourth quarter was the biggest by either team at any point. The Gators, though, outscored Picayune 9-3 during a crucial stretch to finally take control.

Joe Thomas’ layup as the Gators broke Picayune’s press made it 43-37 with 35 seconds remaining and, after Picayune made a 3-pointer to make it a one-possession game, Parker split a pair of free throws with 13.6 seconds left to push it back to a four-point margin.

Delrae Smith hit a layup just before the buzzer to make the final score 44-42.

Marvun Arnold and Gary Travis led Picayune with 13 points apiece. Thomas finished with nine for Vicksburg and Kardell English scored seven.

“I think after the third period we wanted to be more aggressive and play as a team,” Parker said of the Gators’ late surge. “Coach has been down lately and we have to step up. The leaders on the team have to step up and everybody has to fill in their roles.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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