Smith, Sanders win in Great Britain

Published 12:01am Tuesday, June 26, 2012

NATCHEZ — Randy Smith compared his experience to LeBron James’ experience following the Heat’s loss to the Mavericks in the NBA finals in 2011.

Smith and his team, Randy Smith Team Louisiana, were defeated by Rathmines in the championship round of the British Masters Men’s Over 50 tournament in Manchester, England, in 2011.

Upon returning this year for the tournament June 16 and 17 in Newcastle, England, the Cathedral High School girl’s basketball coach vowed he wouldn’t let himself and his teammates know the feeling of disappointment again.

“It was kind of like what LeBron went through last year when the Mavericks beat them,” Smith said. “We didn’t want to go home feeling that way again.”

After pool play, Team Louisiana was once again pared up against the Rathmines, and Smith said the Irish put up a good fight despite Team Louisiana getting out to an early lead.

“We led 20-3 during the first half, but they fought back and were down only 12 to 13 points in the half,” Smith said. “We were kind of mad that we let them back in it.”

But Team Louisiana kept their composure and prevented Rathmines from making the score too close, Smith said. Smith’s team eventually won 61-48.

“We kept a 12- to 15-point lead, and we kept playing man-to-man, knowing they could come back at any minute,” Smith said. “One of their best players eventually fouled out, and that made a big difference.”

Smith was able to convince another local coach to join his team’s ranks. Vidalia High School boys basketball coach Robert Sanders made the trip with Smith.

Smith said he met Sanders several years ago when Smith was living in Lafayette, La., and Sanders brought his Vidalia team in for a tournament Smith was working. Smith told Sanders he was moving to the Miss-Lou, and offered to help coach with Sanders.

Although Vidalia didn’t have an opening at the time, Smith said he stayed in touch with Sanders after moving to Natchez. He eventually offered to take Sanders with him on his trip overseas.

“I asked him over a year ago, and he called me back in April and told me he was interested,” Smith said. “I told him if he would come work out with me, I’d let him come.”

Sanders agreed, and the two began working out in Cathedral High School’s gym. When Sanders made the trip, Smith said he was a good addition to the team.

“He can shoot the three pretty well,” Smith said. “I told him a few times to go stand in the corner, and I would do like LeBron does, drive to the basket and dish it out to (Sanders). He made the three every time.”

Sanders said the experience was great for him, even if he didn’t spend as much time getting ready as he should have.

“I wasn’t in as good a shape as I should have been,” Sanders said. “I gave a good three to four minutes at a time, played defense and got a few rebounds. I even hit a few shots.”

Smith said Sanders got plenty of exercise playing competitive basketball.

“After the first game, he said it was more running than he had done in years,” Smith said.

Physically, it may have been the plane ride over to England that was the most taxing. Sanders said they flew on British Airways on the trip over there, and his right knee started barking at him after a while.

“It was a nine-hour flight, and I had to walk around a bit,” Sanders said. “It wasn’t as bad on the way home. I guess American Airlines has more room with their seats.”

There were also some cases of unintentional comedy with Sanders on the trip.

“He didn’t really know the money there, so when he wanted to buy something, he just pulled the money out, held out his hand and let them choose,” Smith joked. “That’s how he bought stuff.”

Sanders said it was the coins that threw him off.

“I was like a child; I didn’t know what something cost, and I didn’t know what I had,” Sanders said. “I just said, ‘Take what you need.’ I think for the most part they were honest.

“It was all coins. If they told me something that cost a pound, I could deal with that, because it’s on paper.”

One of the highlights of the trip was seeing the Olympic torch passing through Newcastle on its way to England for the 2012 games.

“There were 5,000 to 6,000 people waiting for it, so we got to see all the different kinds of people from Newcastle and meet them,” Smith said. “That’s what it was for us, a chance to meet people.”

Sanders also said watching the Olympic torch being carried was a neat experience.

“At the end, a local radio or TV personality carried it about 200 yards across the river,” Sanders said. “It was fun. Once they came down, they landed in front of us and headed to another place.”

Sanders said he hopes to make it back next year, and he’s going to try to start working out earlier so he can be in better shape.

“I’ll see if I can get my knee checked,” Sanders said. “It doesn’t hurt when I play, just when I sit.”

Next year’s tournament will be in Dundee, Scotland.