Smithfield: Sports

Smithfield-Selma tops South Johnston in interim coach’s debut

James Robinson has stepped down as head boys basketball coach at Smithfield-Selma High School because of continuing health issues.
James Robinson has stepped down as head boys basketball coach at Smithfield-Selma High School because of continuing health issues. Photo by George Johnson

It was a performance good enough to make two coaches happy. And it was a two-coach kind of day for Smithfield-Selma’s boys basketball team Tuesday.

The Spartans finished a day of change with a defense-driven 62-52 victory over rival South Johnston on a day when their head coach James Robinson made the decision to step down from his post for health reasons. At game time, the Spartans were under the direction of interim head coach Matt Cuddington for the Two Rivers 3A Conference, in which SSS moved into a three-way tie for third place with South and Corinth Holders at 2-3 in league games.

Smithfield-Selma never trailed during the contest and led by as many as 19 points.

“They guys were just playing with great energy,” Cuddington said. “You could tell from the moment they started to come into the locker room that they were ready to play tonight.

“Going back to the Corinth Holders game, the 2 ½ quarters of great defense we played there, and this, we’re really playing pretty good defense. We’re working together and keeping teams on the edge on offense.”

Robinson, who took over leadership of the SSS program in 2010 after teaching and coaching at Smithfield Middle School, said he bas been struggling with multiple back issues — disc and muscular in nature — since late November and the wear and drain on his energy level left him with no choice but to turn over the reigns of the Spartan program.

“The sacrifice you have to make as a high school coach is a lot, but the sacrifices your family has to make is a lot more,” Robinson said. “I just can’t stand the idea that the guys are suffering because of my physical issues.”

Robinson said he’s mostly coached from a stool in practice because standing for extended periods of time is very painful right now. He said the treatment is starting to make things somewhat better, but he didn’t want his long term health to become an issue.

The Spartans made the playoffs last season under Robinson, finally climbing out of the drain several years struggling at the 4A level had put on the program.

“I feel like the program is in a better place than it was before I came here,” Robinson said. “We’re not where we need or want to be, but this program is on the way up.”

Cuddington, 35, has served as an SSS assistant coach since 2011. Robinson heaped praise on his replacement.

“Nobody in the county is more prepared to step in and be a head coach,” Robinson said. “For Matt, this will be a great opportunity to illustrate that he’s ready to be a head coach and lead a high school program. He’s as prepared as anybody can be to lead a successful basketball team.”

Cuddington said the opportunity — but now how it came about — is what he’s been working for since his middle school playing days.

“Being a high school basketball head coach has been my dream,” Cuddington said. “The reason I went to school was to be able to become a varsity basketball head coach.”

Getting the Spartans into the playoffs for a second season in a row is the big goal for the new coach.

“My job is to put these guys in the best situation to succeed,” he said. “The fate of our season is dependent on those guys in that locker room. My job is to guide them the best I can.”

Robinson followed the game on Twitter Tuesday night and was pleased with how things had gone. “Love them boys!” he said in a text message. “So happy for them.”