Marvin Meredith would begin every one of his basketball practices at Russell High School with a story.
Before the running, there was a story.
Before the shooting, there was a story.
Before the dribbling, there was a story.
Players would roll their eyes as another of Meredith’s tales began spinning out of his mouth.
They had heard it before. If you’d played for three years, you may have heard it several times.
But those treasured stories were part of what made Marvin Meredith such a good coach and such an unforgettable character in the 16th Region and Kentucky high school basketball history.
What the players didn’t know then that they know now is the stories usually had a point to them that stretched beyond the baselines on a basketball floor.
They weren’t just stories.
They were life lessons.
There was always time for the other things — running, shooting and dribbling — during Meredith’s practices, too.
“Marv was very entertaining,” remembered Charles Baker, the longtime East Carter coach who served as Meredith’s assistant on the 1987 Kentucky All-Stars. “He loved being out in front. Those are special people.”
Baker said those two weeks he spent with Meredith during the summer of 1987 have stayed with him for a lifetime and so are some of the lessons he learned from him.
“He was good for the game,” Baker said. “Him and (former Olive Hill coach) Jack Fultz. They sort of made the bed for us.”
Baker was a great coach in his own right. He learned by listening to winners like Fultz and Meredith.
“Jack Fultz always told me to associate myself with winners because they’re not making excuses,” Baker said
Meredith won 677 basketball games in his career in the Russell school system. His name is stamped on the gym floor and the youth league in Russell is named after him.
You want respect? Now that’s respect.
He captured three 16th Region titles and made it to the finals seven times total. The Red Devils were experts in the trapping 1-3-1 defense that made them so effective. Meredith preached it to them and they believed in the results it garnered. It was usually only five who played for Marv. Depth was never really a weapon in the way he coached.
Marv used to tell us sportswriters after a tough loss that “Five hundred million Chinese didn’t even know we played tonight.” Or after a close win it would be, “Two robins don’t make spring!”
You could count on it.
Scott Humphrey, the highly successful basketball coach at Clark County, played under Meredith. He was at the top of the 1-3-1 on the wildly talented 1988 team.
Humphrey made Marv’s list of the top 25 players who ever played for or against him.
“That’s quite an honor but I don’t think I belong there,” he said.
Meredith coached some of the all-time greats during his 32 seasons at Russell, including scoring machine Mickey Sydenstricker when he first started coaching in 1955.
Sydenstricker tops the list of Meredith’s top 20, which was accumulated by Steve Day, a former Red Devil player and almost a second son.
Day asked Coach basketball questions all the time. He happened to ask that one and shared the list with me.
The man that everyone called simply “Coach” died early on Tuesday morning at the age of 85. He told his last story, at least in this place.
Humphrey said he remembered Meredith talking about Cam Henderson, who he played for at Marshall College and who could be a tough man to deal with.
“He said, ‘I don’t know if Cam Henderson is going to heaven or hell when he dies but I know wherever it is, he’ll be running the place in two weeks.’’’
Humphrey said he knows where his Coach’s eternal destination is now and he’s already got an agenda.
“In two weeks,” Humphrey said, “he’ll have them in the 1-3-1.”
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 9606) 326-2648.