POPLARVILLE – One explanation of Pearl River Community College coach Richard Mathis’ success as a basketball coach can be found in the numbers.
- His overall record at Pearl River: 384-206 and five state championships, the latest in 2009-10.
- His overall record as a college coach, including stints at East Mississippi and Northeast community colleges as well as Jacksonville (Ala.) State and PRCC: 643-295.
He’s been a basketball coach since 1969, beginning as a freshman coach at the University of Southern Mississippi. At 65 years old, he’s been a head coach for 37 years. He’s coached on the high school, junior college and college level.
Coupled with several regional and national tournament appearances and no less than eight coach-of-the-year honors, and his accomplishments speak for themselves.
“I still enjoy it,” said Mathis. “I still enjoy practice everyday. I enjoy trying to take a group of guys and making a team out of them.”
His accomplishments on the basketball court have earned Mathis a place in the PRCC Sports Hall of Fame. He will be inducted at 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, during 2012 Homecoming festivities.
“I feel good about being selected,” said Mathis. “Pearl River Community College has been good to me and I hope I have been good for the school. I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish here.”
Perhaps the biggest obstacle Mathis had to overcome came in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina destroyed M.R. White Coliseum, forcing the Wildcats to move their home basketball games into old Shivers Gym, home of the Pearl River basketball teams from 1948 to 1974.
“Shivers has been good to us,” said Mathis. “We haven’t had a losing season since we moved into that old gym,” By this time next year, he will be preparing the Wildcats for play in new White Coliseum. “It’s been a long time coming.”
Since the beginning of his career, Mathis has seen many changes in the game – both on the court (the shot clock and 3-point line) and in the players he has coached.
“I’ve had to change with the times and I was glad to do it,” said Mathis. “The things we did offensively and defensively 30 years ago, you don’t even try them now. You still have to be able to shoot the ball, rebound, play defense and limit your turnovers. But the game is so much more athletic now.
“The 35-second shot clock did not take the coaching out of the game. It just changed the kind of coaching you had to do.”
And the caliber of athlete has changed over time.
“Athletes have changed from they would do anything you told them to do with no questions to now having to answer questions like why, and having to tell them how it is going to benefit them and the team,” said Mathis.
“Used to, you couldn’t make a kid quit. Nowadays you have to be really careful because they will quit you in a minute. I had to change my style. We talk about that a lot. Quitting is one of the easiest things. One of my favorite sayings is, ‘it takes no talent to quit.’ We as coaches have to make it relevant to them, make the game exciting to them.”
Another adjustment for Mathis has been the recent change in recruiting rules. Junior-college coaches can now recruit statewide rather than just sticking primarily to their districts.
“I feel like we have always done a good job of recruiting,” said Mathis. “When we had our old district lines, we made a substantial effort to recruit best players in our district. Now that the state is opened up, we are out the working hard to try to get the best players we can.”
Mathis likes the change because he doesn’t feel the PRCC district has always been strong in basketball talent.
“We’ve had some district players who have helped us win state championships,” he said. “You need some. You can’t win state championships with all out-of-state players.”
He has coached young men who have gone on to be successful both on and off the court. “Out of 40 years of coaching, I’ve only had one player make it to the NBA and I’ve had four or five of them play professionally overseas,” Mathis said. “What we have been able to do consistently is get kids to go on to the next level that means making sure kids are academically eligible to accept a scholarship if it is offered to them.”
One of his favorites was 6-foot-5 Lemayn Wilson of Highland Home, Ala., who played at PRCC from 1999-2000. “He did not play on a very good high school team,” Mathis recalls. “He had a bad shot. We worked with him, he grew to be almost 6-8 and he became one of the best shooters I ever coached. He’s been playing pro ball overseas for 12 years now.”
Mathis is not sure how many more years he will coach. “I enjoy playing golf and I enjoy riding my motorcycle, but I also enjoy coaching,” said Mathis. “I couldn’t do any of them all the time.”
Another season will soon be here and practices are well underway. He wants to improve on last season’s 15-12 team.
“I’m getting excited already,” he said. “I still enjoy taking a group of young guys and molding them into a team – make them as good as they can be.”
NAME: Richard Mathis
FAMILY: Wife, Barbara; two daughters, Laticia Pejic of New Orleans and Holly Miller of Gulfport; one son, John and wife, Brittan, of Hattiesburg.
EDUCATION: Graduated from Southeast Lauderdale, 1965; attended USM 1955-56, attended East Mississippi 1956-57; played and graduated from USM, 1969.
OCCUPATION: Basketball coach. He led PRCC to MACJC state championships in 1995 (first title since 1965), 1998, 2003, 2004 and 2010; a South Division championship and runner_up spot in state championship tournament in 1997, while the Wildcats finished second in the Region 23 Tournament in 1998 and 2006.
NJCAA’s Region VII (now Region 23) ‘Coach of the Year’ (1978_79), Gulf South ‘Coach of the Year’ (1988), Mississippi Association of Coaches ‘Men’s Coach of the Year’ (1983, 1995).