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Gaels' coach now at top of ladder

St. Maria Goretti boys basketball coach Cokey Robertson starts the 2002-03 season Friday as the winningest active coach in Maryl

St. Maria Goretti boys basketball coach Cokey Robertson starts the 2002-03 season Friday as the winningest active coach in Maryl

November 29, 2002|by DAN KAUFFMAN

kauffman@herald-mail.com

St. Maria Goretti basketball coach Cokey Robertson admits he is not Morgan Wootten.

Even though Robertson assumed the throne of winningest active coach in Maryland once Wootten retired from DeMatha earlier this month, the Gaels' leader knows there's no filling in for what Wootten meant to the sport.

"He was the pillar of high school basketball," Robertson said. "Everybody tried to measure up to what he did there, and it was always an honor to have him come into our gym and compete with us."

Wootten won 1,274 games over 46 seasons at DeMatha, including a few at Goretti's Mid-Atlantic Invitational Tournament. DeMatha won the MAIT in 1995, 1996 and 2000.

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When the 20th rendition of the MAIT opens Friday, Robertson - with 689 wins entering his 29th season at the helm - insists he won't be worrying about the history he will be making replacing Wootten as the state's winningest active coach.

"It's still day to day, doing the same kind of job I've always done," Robertson said. "It's just another niche in longevity, I guess."

Goretti plays Nazareth, of Brooklyn, N.Y., in Friday's nightcap.

"I know less about them than I do any of the other teams," Robertson said. "They play in the New York Catholic League, and their commissioner always finds a good team to send down. They're a Princeton-style team, they play good defense and they're very deliberate."

Chambersburg returns to the MAIT tournament for the first time since 1997, playing St. Joseph's Prep, of Philadelphia, in Friday's opener. The Trojans played Calvert Hall at last year's MAIT, but were not part of the tournament itself.

"(Chambersburg's) a very solid class program, one of the quality programs in the area," Robertson said. "We're very fortunate to have them. St. Joseph's is one of the premier teams in Philadelphia, one of top five teams in the city."

Robertson has a rebuilding task in front of him. The Gaels lost All-Area selection Matt Tanner and All-County private school selection Matt Spierenberg to graduation and are trying to fit new players into new roles.

"We got to see a new blend of guys," Robertson said. "I hope we see a team that starts to blend and starts to learn roles. We've got a bunch of kids in new spots, and they've got to learn to blend in. We've got to find our depth, that's one thing we haven't been pleased with in the first three weeks of practice. We need to solidify our rotation."

Nazareth's slow-down style of play presents a new challenge to this group of Gaels.

"Early in the year, it really taxes your defense when you're talking about young kids trying to help us," Robertson said. "It's gonna be a real challenge, seeing as we haven't faced this before. We face a couple of teams like that in our league, so it will be good training grounds for what we face down the road."

One thing hasn't changed for Robertson - the anticipation each new season brings, anticipation that makes the season-opening MAIT special to him.

"The nerves get tight, butterflies start to fly, and that's what it's all about," Robertson said.

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