Posted: May 05, 2014 7:05 PM
By Shawn Wansley
JCJC Sports Information Director
ELLISVILLE – There were around 30 applicants for the head coaching position of the Jones County Junior College men’s basketball team.
JCJC President Dr. Jesse Smith believes the Bobcats made a slam dunk by selecting former Ole Miss standout Rahim Lockhart to lead the program.
“He presented himself as a man of integrity, which is first and foremost among our coaching staff,” Dr. Smith said during a Monday morning press conference in the Media Room of the C.L. Neill Student Center. “He is a person that keeps the philosophy of JC going, which is win and be the best person you can.
“He has a charisma that students are naturally drawn to. After you get to know him, you will see that he has a natural charisma and a strong presence. That will help when we recruit students because first impressions are so important. That charisma will also lead to folks being yielding to his leadership and that is something that is a characteristic of each of our coaches.
“He is a great teacher and you can tell he grew up in a teaching family. He is a winner and you can tell that by looking at his resume’.”
Lockhart comes to JCJC after serving the previous three seasons as head coach at Madison Central High School. He expressed appreciation to Dr. Smith, JCJC Athletic Director Katie Herrington and the school’s Board of Trustees for hiring him at Jones.
“I want to thank Dr. Smith for his trusting and believing in me as an individual, as a coach and as a person,” he said. “I want to thank Coach Herrington and Dr. Smith as well because they were very accommodating when I first came to Jones Junior College.
“Words can’t describe how I feel right now. I wish I could do a dance to show you how excited I am to be here.”
It’s been quite a climb for Lockhart up the coaching ladder.
Lockhart has served as head coach at Madison Central since 2011, where he led the Jaguars to the 6A North State title in 2013 and 2014 and the 6A state finals in 2013. He was head coach at Grenada from 2009-11, leading the Chargers to North State in 2011.
Lockhart was the head coach at Taylorsville from 2007-09, guiding the Tartars to the 2A championship quarterfinals in 2008 and 2009 and a district championship in 2009. He served as an assistant coach at Piney Woods from 2005-07, helping the Tornadoes to the 2A state finals in 2007.
At Taylorsville, Lockhart met Chuck Robertson, who was serving as an assistant football and baseball coach with the Tartars. Robertson is now the offensive line coach at JCJC and was present at Monday’s press conference, along with most of the Bobcat coaches.
“My first head coaching job at Taylorville, Chuck and I naturally gravitated towards each other,” he said. “He and I just spoke and he affirmed it by saying this is the place you want to be. And I want everyone to know this is where I want to be.
“I am so excited to be here. I can’t wait to get to work and prove that I am the man for the job.”
Lockhart noted that each head coaching situation he has been in has been different.
“I believe that Taylorsville was the top 2A school in the state and they were used to winning,” he said. “They had great players and great athletes. At Grenada, they really didn’t have any tradition, but when I left I think we had built a solid program and they ended up going to the state tournament this year.
“At Madison Central, it was a great school, but the basketball program was behind and we were able to catch up very quickly.”
Now with JCJC, Lockhart will replace Jay Ladner, who guided the Bobcats to the 2013-14 NJCAA Division I national championship, claiming the title in March in Hutchinson, Kansas. That was a first for any MACJC team.
Ladner resigned last month to accept the head coaching position at Southeastern Louisiana University.
Lockhart wants to continue that success. He wants Jones mentioned each year with the nation’s elite basketball programs.
“My plan here is a little different because Jones has already established that they are the best,” he said. “My goal is not to establish we are going to be the best this year or next year, I want us to be there every year.
“When you think about basketball in the junior college ranks, you think about Chipola (Florida) or Indian Hills (Iowa) – teams that Jones just recently beat. I want Jones Junior College to be that school that kids think about when they think about junior college basketball. When out-of-state kids think about where they want to go, I want them to first think about Jones. That’s my goal and we are going to work tirelessly to make sure that’s achieved.”
But MACJC schools can only have three out-of-state players on their roster.
Lockhart knows the backbone of the program will be attracting standout players from across the state to JCJC. He noted several examples of the tradition of quality athletes in Mississippi, including one of his former players from Taylorsville – Billy Hamilton of the Cincinnati Reds.
“As far as in-state players go, we have the best athletes in the nation,” he said. “You think about football, you’ve got Jerry Rice, Brett Favre – we’ve got Hall of Fame athletes like that in Mississippi. We have the most exciting player in the Major Leagues right now from here in Billy Hamilton. There is no shortage of athletes.
“I can recruit Mississippi because I am a Mississippi boy. I was born and raised here. I went to Ole Miss, which I love. But I grew up cheering for schools in Mississippi. I had friends who went to Mississippi State and Southern Miss. I know that the state of Mississippi is the place where you have the athletes who can win.”
Lockhart, a Mendenhall native, was a standout player at Ole Miss from 1998-2001.
He led the Rebels to NCAA Tournament appearances in 1998, 1999 and 2001 and an NIT berth in 2000. In 2001, he helped Ole Miss to a school-record 27 wins and the school’s first NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 appearance.
He was a third-team All-American selection, was an All-SEC performer and an All-SEC Tournament selection.
He has been through the role of being a high school player being recruited by bigtime schools. And he knows what players at that age are going through.
“The reason I wanted to be at the community college level is that you have these 18, 19 and 20-year-olds, young men who do not know what they want to do,” he said. “I had no idea I wanted to be a coach. I had know idea period of what I wanted to do when I was 18, 19, 20-years-old.
“I believe this is the time in their life where you have strong individuals who are put into place to help bridge the gap between childhood and manhood. That’s my biggest concern and main objective as long as I’m here.
“Now, winning is a part of the picture as well, but I want to make sure I make productive citizens out of these players who will go on and make us all proud. I want them to be law-abiding citizens who know how to conduct themselves in any environment.”
Lockhart added that building a relationship not only with the student-athlete, but those around him, is vital when it comes to recruiting.
“I’ve been a part of the process,” he said. “I did not know I was a Division I athlete until I got to the Ole Miss campus. I had no idea what to expect, so I know how it feels to be on the other side. With recruiting, you have to know the people and who they know. Whoever they trust, they have to trust you, too.
“No student-athlete is making a decision on their own, so you have to build a great relationship with those they know.”
While some may shy away from trying to replace a coach that just won a national championship, Lockhart relishes that role. He said the fact that JCJC won the championship should make it easier to get top players to come to the school.
“When I was choosing schools, I knew I wanted to be part of a winner,” he said. “I didn’t want to go to somewhere that was losing. When I went to Ole Miss, they were coming off their first SEC Western Division title. So, that attracted me to that school.
“The reason Kentucky, North Carolina and Duke are always getting the blue-chip athletes is because those schools are always winning.
“This national championship is nothing but a feather in my hat – I didn’t win it, but I’m sure going to act like I won it! I wasn’t at a game in Hutch, but I’m going to tell everyone about it!”
Lockhart said he looks forward to being on campus and meeting students, faculty and staff members, as well as Ellisville residents and JCJC fans.
“One thing that sets me apart from most people and most coaches is that I love people,” he said. “It’s not just basketball people – I love being around people. Anybody who knows me knows that I’ll have a conversation with a stop sign. I love to talk, but if that stop sign talks back, I love to listen, too.”
He also said he would have an open-door policy when it comes to Bobcat basketball.
“I will always be approachable,” Lockhart said. “This is not my basketball team, this is Jones’ basketball team and I am just the steward over the team. I will always be available at any moment. I want to be a part of the community where if someone wants someone to speak, I want to be there. When you are put into a prestigious position like this, you owe people and you have to pay your debt. And I am willing to pay my debt.”
Dr. Smith added that Lockhart is the right person to lead the program and he is confident he will get the job done.
“Coach Lockhart was a very successful athlete at Ole Miss and was a part of the reason they went to the Sweet 16,” he said. “We think Coach Lockhart can continue this great tradition that Coach Ladner has started and also continue the great legacy of JCJC sports here in Mississippi.”
Lockhart plans to uphold that tradition.
“I am a winner,” he said. “I don’t believe in losing. If they are doing something and keeping score, I feel like I should have more points than you.”
Lockhart will be busy putting together his staff over the next several weeks, as well as recruiting.
New JCJC men’s basketball coach Rahim Lockhart laughs during his press conference Monday in the Media Room of the C.L. Neill Student Center. Lockhart, who played for the ‘red and blue’ at Ole Miss, noted he would have to get used to the ‘maroon and gold’ of JCJC.JCJC President Dr. Jesse Smith congratulates Rahim Lockhart after Monday’s press conference where Lockhart was named as the new men’s basketball coach at JCJC.