Girls’ basketball: Robinson Coach T.J. Dade inspires team toward Northern Region tournament berth

Robinson girls’ basketball Coach T.J. Dade was running out of buttons to push. His team had lost nine of 10 games in the Virginia AAA Concorde District, and he needed a way to spark the Rams before their district tournament quarterfinal Tuesday against Westfield, a team that had twice blown them out. But how?

As he does often in his life, Dade thought about an uncle, the late Robert Dulaney, whose Madison County farm he used to visit and work at during the summer, a place where he learned so many life lessons. So before the game against Westfield, Dade talked to the Rams about his uncle and asked each player to name a person or people in their life, alive or dead, to whom they would like to dedicate their effort that night. The responses ranged from parents to grandparents to first basketball coaches.

Sixth-seeded Robinson proceeded to beat third-seeded Westfield, 43-42, after losing to the Bulldogs by 17 and 22 points during the regular season. With the win, the Rams (7-16) qualified for the Northern Region tournament and denied Westfield (13-8) a berth.

“It made us focus on the game and play hard for them,” said Robinson senior guard-forward Dhyamond Crenshaw, who named her parents and siblings as the loved ones she was playing for. “Before the game, we were all joking and ready to play, but when he talked about everything, it made us buckle down and really want to win the game more than we wanted to do anything else.”

Crenshaw, a 46 percent free-throw shooter, hit two foul shots with about 13 seconds to play to provide the tying and decisive points. The Rams lost 72-35 to No. 14 Centreville on Wednesday night in the district semifinals and will enter the 16-team region tournament as the Concorde’s fourth seed.

Reaching regionals caps an unconventional senior season for Chowan recruit Crenshaw. She played at Robinson her first two years of high school, then transferred last year to St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes to play for her father, Calvin.

Crenshaw practiced with the Saints at the beginning of the season, but a week or so before the first game, she transferred to Robinson. She called it “a decision that had to be made” for reasons not related to basketball.

So with the season opener approaching, Crenshaw entered a Robinson program she knew well but encountered girls who were strangers. Other than three players, Crenshaw knew no one, and here she was, one of two seniors on the roster, expected to help lead a young team that she had not joined until sometime around Thanksgiving, one that would go on to finish last in the six-school Concorde.

“It’s been an interesting experience,” Crenshaw said with a laugh Wednesday night. “Usually when the team has been so-called ‘young,’ I was the young one. Now it’s me being the senior. It’s hard having to direct them on what’s right and what’s not right so they don’t make the same mistake twice.

“It’s also been a fun season because they say what young people say. The questions they ask aren’t on topic sometimes. It’s halftime and and we’re down and they’ll ask how their hair looks. I just tell them to focus on the game. No one’s here to watch your hair.”

“I knew she could add some leadership, some varsity experience,” Dade said. “But those things can go one of two ways. Sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t. A kid comes in with a different style of play. You’re always cautiously optimistic about stuff like that.”

Crenshaw averaged 22.9 points per game last season as St. Stephen’s, which went 20-6, 11-1 in Independent School League A play. Now in ISL AA, the Saints are 9-13, 3-8, and sometimes suit up only seven players. Crenshaw is averaging 12.2 points at Robinson, five-plus more than any teammate.

“From a coaching standpoint, it’s not a tough thing to deal with because you coach who you have,” St. Stephen’s Coach Calvin Crenshaw said of his daughter returning to Robinson. “On a more personal level, yeah, it was kind of tough. But I’m very happy for her.”

Crenshaw and company led Westfield by 10 in the quarterfinals, with the Bulldogs struggling against Robinson’s zone until the fourth period, when they took a one-point lead with less than two minutes remaining. After Crenshaw made her free throws, Westfield squeezed off a shot in the final seconds and the Rams came up with a loose-ball rebound to seal the win.

The late Dulaney, a farmer and carpenter known as “Uncle Turk,” would have been proud.

“I thought about it Monday night after our practice,” said Dade, who grew up in the District and attended Coolidge and Theodore Roosevelt high schools. “I didn’t think we had a particularly good practice. You get to a point where you run out of things to tell your team.

“I just kind of thought about [my uncle]. He always stressed that if you’re going to do something, you commit to it and do it right or you don’t do it at all. I told them often times I think about him when things get kind of tough.”

 
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