Last Saturday, a few hours befor playing one of the biggest games in their lives, the entire Robinson Secondary School varsity basketball team dressed up in suits and ties and went to a local steak house for dinner. It wasn't a school-sponsored event. It was just a spontaneous team decision.
"It made us feel more like a team," center Mike Tissaw said."Some of the guys didn't like the idea of suits, but they compromised. Suits can be uncomfortable, but for a special occasion, they're okay."
Certainlyno one who compromised was disappointed with the results. The combination of suits, steaks, togetherness and a lot of hot shooting propelled Robinson past visiting Woodson, 76-51, for the Northern Region Championship. Robinson now goes to the state competition this weekend in Charlottesville.
Actually, the suits-and-steaks idea was just one of several pre-game psychs. The Robinson student body added its support through decorations and posters urging victory, including one with a caricature of each player. And Robinson coach Roscoe Dean had his players dribble basketballs down the school's main hall during practice.
By game time, Robinson was sky high and the team proved it on the court by holding Woodson to just two points during the first quarter. By the end of the third quarter, Robinson had scored more points - 53 - than Woodson would score all night.
"We were out of it by the end of the first half," admitted Woodson coach Red Jenkins. "When the shots didn't drop early, we just lost faith in ourselves and then we couldn't get back in the game.
"That happens with young kids. We were a young team (seven of Woodson's top nine players were underclassmen), but we won 19 games this year. One game doesn't make a season. I still consider it a successful year."
En route to the finals. Woodson defeated two top contenders in a row: Langley and T.C. Williams. The victories might have taken their toll, Jenkins said. "We may have left our best basketball on the floor against T.C."
Robinson has won 23 games this year while losing only two by a total of six points and appears to be peaking.
"We're playing as good as we can play," Dean said. "A lot of people considered us shaky because they thought we were a two-player (Tissaw and sharp-shooter Greg Dennis) team. Now people can see we have other kids who can play too."
But center Tissaw and guard Dennis are still the keys to his team, Dean admits. Together they averaged about 40 points a game.
"They've given us an inside and an outside game all year," Dean said. "Mike's big and he can move and Greg is a strong, smart player who can shoot with anyone."
Dennis, a 6-foot-2-inch senior, is also an excellent student. Several Ivy League schools, in addition to William and Mary and VPI, are interested in him.The 6-foot-8-inch, 200-pound Tissaw already has received three letters from more than 100 colleges interested in his services, although he has a year of high school left. Tissaw is big, mobile and averaged 13 rebounds per game.
Tissaw and Dennis also seemto have the desire to play, which recruiters from premier basketball colleges consider an essential in top candidates. Last summer, each boy paid $160 for a nine-day session at the prestigious Garfinkle's Five-Star Basketball Camp in Honesdale, Penn., which is watched carefully by college scouts.
"I learned more defensive skills," Tissaw said, "and picked up more confidence than I ever had."
The confidence came after a couple of days at the camp. "I looked at some of the All-Americans there," Tissaw said, "and realized I could play with them."
Apparently the camp directors agreed. Tissaw was the only junior named to the camp's All-Star team. He has arranged to attend two sessions this summer. He will pay his way to one session by working as a waiter in the camp's cafeteria.
At the state tournament this weekend, Tissaw and Dennis will be counted on again to carry their big share of Robinson's offense, or as Dean says, "We don't intend to change anything at this point."
But Dean also is relying on the continued strong play of Winston Streeter, Tod Kirtley, Mark Krynitsky and Danny Cox, who he fells provided balance overlooked by other coaches and critics early in the season.
Kirytley, for example, had seven steals and ten assists in the blitz of Woodson, as difficult a combination to beat as suits and steaks.