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Cokey's cover belies content

Those who know him best and those who have played for and against him say you have to look inside to see the real Cokey Robertso

Those who know him best and those who have played for and against him say you have to look inside to see the real Cokey Robertso

February 03, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

Cokey Robertson defies the notion that what you see is what you get.

If looks were everything, St. Maria Goretti's basketball coach might fall into a stereotypical pigeon hole.

Robertson has a gruff exterior - complete with the towel over his shoulder - and gravely voice, both used as he paces the sideline while prodding his players and pleading his case.

The proof is in the product. Robertson's packaging recently earned him a spot in high school coaching's 700-win club in his 41st year on the bench. Last Sunday's dramatic win at Calvert Hall punched his ticket to the club.

But, take the time to peel away the wrapper and there's more to Robertson than meets the eye. In fact, firm beliefs and the extra mile, an avid competitor and an uneasy smile. A role model and a preacher, a lifelong friend and a teacher ... That's what Cokey Robertson is made of.

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And no one knows it more than the coaches and players who have worked with him and played against him.

"He puts a lot of time, effort and energy in it," said Williamsport girls coach Kevin Murphy, a close friend and former adversary of Robertson.

"Coke has a great love for the game and a respect for it. It's something that he conveys to his players. He's old school. He grew up with the game and has always been around it. When you see how he loves to compete and to be in the arena, it's just contagious."

Firm beliefs - Robertson lives and practices everything he teaches.

"He's ethical and moral. He has his beliefs and he sticks with them. He gets the kids to live and believe his philosophy and if they do that, they will play it. Cokey is a great technician," said assistant coach Scott Mowbray, who attended Robertson's summer camp as a player and has now coached with him for 17 years.

"With today's kids, it's tough to keep your beliefs. As parents, everyone wants things to be better for their kids than they were for them. Cokey wants that, too. He wants to make everyone accountable for what they do on the floor and in school - especially in school. He doesn't want anything to tarnish the program."

Extra mile - Common perception is that winter is Robertson's time of the year. But in fact, he is a man for all seasons.

"He is such a hard worker," said Skip Chambers, who has spent two decades as Robertson's assistant. "He has an old saying that 'Teams are made in the winter, but players are made in the summer when no one is watching.' In the summer, he has the kids playing in the summer league. He has one here and we go to others to play. We lift weights and we work out. We are here all summer."

Avid competitor - Goretti players improve in the summer but excel in the winter. A lot of that is because Robertson doesn't take kindly to losing.

"He's such a competitor," Mowbray said. "He makes everything a competition in practice. He teaches them life. There is a lot of adversity in games and in life. Every drill they do has a purpose. I don't think the man wastes a minute in the day. Somehow, he gets 25 hours out of a day."

Part of Robertson's magic is to convince the players that no matter the game or the opponent, the Gaels can rule.

"The best talent doesn't always win games, the best teams do," Chambers said. "He has the kids believing we have a chance to win everytime we go out on the floor. It's like in the Archbishop Spalding game. They have five players who are going to go D-I, yet we were in the game. He had them believing they could win the game if they played as a team."

Role model - Robertson's tough love style makes him part of most families.

"He's an excellent role model because of his manner and how he conducts himself," Chambers said. "He's on time all the time. He wants everyone to be accountable for their actions. He's no saint, but I'd be proud for Cokey to be my dad."

And most players credit Robertson for guiding some of their successes on and off the court.

"He got the most out of everyone, whether someone had no talent or lots of talent," said John Scallion, a Goretti point guard from 1977-80. "He cared about his players and is a real motivator. He's like a second father to me. He's the best they come."

Robertson's total package is a conglomeration of everything which has turned Goretti into a power over the years.

"His teams do a lot of things well," Murphy said. "There are teams out there who shoot well but don't play defense or play defense but can't rebound, but Cokey's teams play good defense, rebound, run the floor and can shoot. Team chemistry is a key to success and a coach plays a part in that."

Robertson has complete the run to 700 wins while guiding the Gaels through the Baltimore Catholic League, complete weekly trips to the city to play games. Yet, Robertson loves to take on all comers, locally too.

That gives him the bow that ties the winning package together.

"As a coach, you would rather be respected more than liked. And Cokey is respected," Mowbray said. "To be respected ... that's all you can ask. I hope I get the opportunity someday and look in the mirror knowing I helped a kid.

"Sometimes, this is a thankless job, but there are always rewards to it. To see the kids on Sunday, jumping up and down because they won and because it was Cokey's 700th win. To see them coming up and hugging him and pouring water over him. That's what it's all about. Those are the things that make it worthwhile."

For Cokey Robertson, 700 times over.

- Staff writer Tim Koelble contributed to this story.

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