Stewart, Sanders named Player, Coach of the Year

Published 1:07 am Sunday, April 12, 2009

VIDALIA — As the leader of a team that went to the state championship game for the first time in 30 years, it’s no surprise that Gary Stewart would be named The Natchez Democrat’s All-Metro Player of the Year.

What’s surprising is that the junior from Vidalia High School is so humble after all the accolades he’s garnered.

Stewart was named the LHSAA Class 3A Player of the Year by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association and was District 3-3A All-District Most Valuable Player.

Email newsletter signup

He averaged 15.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 4.8 assists 2.1 steals and one block per game this season while leading the Vikings to the LHSAA Class 3A Top 28 State Tournament championship game, where they fell to Richwood 75-61 to finish a 32-2 season.

“When I got (LSWA) Player of the Year, I was really surprised,” Stewart said. “I didn’t think I was going to get that because we lost the championship. But I guess even though we lost, I got it because I played hard and I gave it all I had. I showed that I really wanted to win.”

Stewart attributes much of his — and his team’s — success to his coach, Robert Sanders, who was named All-Metro Coach of the Year.

“He just continued to push us,” Stewart said of his coach. “He was a good motivation.”

Sanders used that motivation to lead the Vikings to the title game and was named Class 3A Coach of the Year as well as All-Metro Coach of the Year.

But Sanders, like his star player, isn’t one to heap accolades on himself and would rather give credit to others.

“(Assistant) coach Damus Smith played a big part,” Sanders said. “He was like my right hand man. Other coaches have influenced me along the line, like Willie Woods, Dee Faircloth and Rick Brown.”

And as great as Vidalia’s season was last year, Sanders said he knows expectations are higher next year.

“Our superintendent said they expect us to win (the championship) next year,” Sanders said. “I’m sure she was joking but those expectations were put up on us last year too. I guess that’s all part of the package.”

And those expectations are partly because Stewart is returning for his senior season.

Stewart’s mother, Sharon Stewart, may be more excited about her son’s accomplishments than Gary himself.

And it’s not just because he’s her child.

“He’s just so good on the floor,” she said. “He knows what he’s doing; he knows how to handle the ball. And he really loves the game. I just sit there and smile the whole way through, watching him.”

The entire Miss-Lou pulled behind a team that lost only one regular season game.

Students even came up with shirts and cheers to support the Vikings, and Gary said that helped them in tough times.

The fact that many Vikings fans traveled helped as well.

“When we went to Marksville and had to play them there, that was the hardest game of the season,” Gary said. We were down by 16 at halftime, and we had to come back in overtime. But whenever we felt like we were getting down, the crowd stepped in and gave us a second motivation.”

Gary said he is considering playing basketball at LSU or Baylor — LSU because it is close to home and Baylor because he has family living in Texas.

Sharon said she will be sad to see her son go to school but is excited about the opportunities ahead of him.

“He’s excited about going to college because he wants to go to the NBA,” she said. “I’m praying and hoping that something like that can happen to him. I think he’s going to make it.”

She said her son is still receiving congratulations for the school’s championship run.

She said she has been a little surprised by all the attention Gary has received.

“I never thought he would be so out in front of everyone,” she said. “I didn’t think he’d turn out to be this type of person, that so many people would be giving him publicity. He stays mostly to himself when he’s at home. My husband and I have to go into his room to see if he’s even home.”

Gary was very disappointed in the state title loss, Sharon said, but he quickly got over it. He’s not one to dwell on the negatives, she added.

Gary said he stopped thinking about the loss and has started looking ahead to next season.

And there are some pretty high expectations for 2010.

“I think that if we stick together and play like we played this year, we can try our best to reach the expectations,” he said. “We just have to go out there and play with the same intensity we did last year. If we can just continue to play together we can bring the trophy home next year.”