Basketball more than a game for former coach

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

ALBANY, Ga. -- In March of 2001, as Dougherty High School basketball coach Charlie Givens walked off the floor of the Macon Coliseum after his Trojans had just beaten Mays for the GHSA Class AAAA championship, he was asked a simple question: What's next, coach?

"As of now," Givens replied, "our goal is to repeat as state champions."

Little did Givens know that he had just coached the last high school game in a career wrapped around two state titles and nearly 400 wins over the span of two decades.

Two months after claiming that state title, Givens was charged with inappropriate touching and fondling of a 16-year-old student on school grounds. In November of that year, he pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of sexual assault and his teaching certificate was revoked.

And just like that, at 49, Charlie Givens' coaching career was over.

"At the time, it never crossed my mind that would be my last game," Givens, who departed with a 396-147 career record and state titles in 1997 and 2001, said. "We were on a roll, and there was nothing but good things in front of us. But I've put all that (the assault charges) behind me. My wife and my family stood with me during those hard times. I don't think about it anymore.

"I have my family and they love me, and that's all I need right now."

And Givens has needed his family. In 2005, he suffered a debilitating stroke that left his right side paralyzed.

"I was in the hospital for almost four weeks," Givens said. "It was hard. All I wanted to do was to get back strong and to be with my wife."

What followed was three days a week of grueling rehab, treatment he is still undergoing today. Unable to work, Givens, 59, now fills his days with going to as many local basketball games as he can, sitting in the same spot at each gym -- midcourt, front row.

Archie Chatmon, the dean of city coaches with 25 years at the helm of Albany High, had many battles with Givens' teams. Chatmon always knew what his squad was in for when it faced Dougherty.

"Charlie was a three-point guru, and he was always gonna have two shooters on the floor and another one on his bench," Chatmon recalled. "He invented the 'green light' for shooters in this city. We had to stop his shooters because if we didn't, we wouldn't stand a chance."

Albany basketball at its peak

During Givens' 20-year career at Dougherty, from 1982 to 2001, basketball in Albany was at its zenith. Westover and Dougherty combined to win eight state championships, and Albany made two finals, losing both times to Westover. Monroe made two semifinals and four quarterfinals.

Players like Dontonio Wingfield, Greg Tinch, Alexander Johnson, Melvin Drake, Pertha Robinson, Todd Merritt and Michael Spruill were among the talent that was among the "low-hanging fruit" that seemed to be in abundant supply.

"During the season, we knew that we had to play hard every time we were on the court," Givens said. "Back then, all four teams in Albany were among the best in the state. Everyone in Georgia knew that the road to a state championship went through Albany.

"We looked forward to playing everybody in the city. We knew our team would be better at the end of the year because of the competition. I think all those state championships proved it."

Givens played guard for three years at Monroe under his mentor, local coaching legend Lewis Smith. He says his coaching style mirrored that of his former coach.

"I learned from Coach Smith that you can't treat all players the same way," said Givens. "I learned what it takes to motivate."

Givens preached the team concept. Team was family, a lesson Merritt remembers to this day.

Former players remember

"Coach Givens was a father figure to me," said Merritt, a slick-shooting forward who played at Dougherty from 1985-88 and collegiately at Mississippi State. "He stressed that basketball was a team sport. It was all about team to him. I learned fundamentals from Mississippi State, but I learned team from Coach Givens.

"I played overseas for 10 years, and I can trace my entire basketball career back to Coach Givens."

Albany State University coach Chris Cameron, who played for Givens from 1990-93, agrees.

"Coach Givens was crazy," said Cameron. "He was more than a tough coach; he preached discipline, team and work ethic every day. You worked, and worked hard, or you weren't going to play. It was just that simple."

Givens also had unique ways of getting the attention of his players.

"I remember at the half of a game in Thomasville, we were winning but not playing very well," Cameron said. "Coach Givens came into the locker room with a can of Diet Coke in his hand, looked at me, then threw the can at me. I had Diet Coke all over me and the guys wanted to laugh, but they didn't because they were scared of him."

Colquitt County Coach Kervin Davis, who played for Givens from 1985-88, said Givens instilled discipline and a sense of purpose within him.

"Coach Givens was my father figure. He taught discipline and loyalty. You can tell by all the coaches he's put out," Davis said. "The biggest thing to me was he taught me how to adapt to different players while not wavering from your basic philosophy. Convince them what you are doing is right, and they will follow you and they will play hard."

Today's players different

Now 10 years removed from the game, Givens is past pining for his coaching days, adding he thinks today's players feel entitled and are more difficult to coach.

"It took a few years, but I finally got over coaching," Givens said.

"Besides, today's players aren't as dedicated as they once were. They don't understand that basketball is more than a game, that if they work hard they can go places and do things for themselves and their families.

"All the players I coached who wanted to, went to college and got degrees and now make good livings. Don't just look at the records. I helped teach them discipline and how to be men. That's the most important thing to me."