South Terrebonne student O’Darion “OD” Robinson has always dreamed of being a basketball player.
For one night last week, that dream was able to come true – a moment that both Robinson and members of the Gators nation will not soon forget.
The 21-year-old South Terrebonne special education student was given the opportunity to play with the Gators during their junior varsity matchup with South Lafourche – the team’s final home game of the season.
(To see OD's time on the floor, click here)
Robinson suited up at halftime and played the final two-plus minutes. He scored four points, including a long three-pointer that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
After the game, the student manager got high-fives from his teammates and words of encouragement from the Tarpons’ coaches and players. It was a night that Robinson said was “no doubt” the best of his life.
“It was awesome, man,” Robinson said with a laugh when asked about his big game. “I did not know it would be happening. I just am so glad I got to play and be on the court with my friends. I will never forget it. I was just so, so happy. I’m still so, so happy.”
OD THE MANAGER EARNS HIGH MARKS
When not smiling from ear-to-ear about his big night on the hardwood, Robinson is almost always hard at work helping the South Terrebonne boys’ basketball team.
Robinson has been a manager with the team for the past four seasons – a gig that he says is fun, but that he also takes very seriously.
The folks around him on a day-to-day basis can echo that statement.
South Terrebonne assistant coach Justin Lirette sees Robinson, who is known by students as ‘OD’, at work every day.
Lirette said that OD is “as good of a manager as you could ever ask for,” adding that he is always willing to lend coaches or players a hand to make sure that things flow smoothly.
“He knows where every light switch in this building is,” Lirette said. “He is always there to help in any way. He can run the scorer’s table at practice. If the janitors are in here, he’d be willing to help them clean up or do whatever they’d need. If our players need something, he’s on top of it, as well. He does an excellent job.”
Gators junior captain Brandon Anderson agrees.
He said that OD is the best manager he’s ever had in his career, adding that there’s never a time during a game where a Gators player is in need of anything.
“Whatever we need, he’s right there willing to help us out,” Anderson said. “Water, Gatorade, a towel – whatever we need, he’s the first one to run off his chair and make sure it’s taken care of. We know he loves this team, and we appreciate the work he puts in for us.”
But make no mistake about it – OD loves to play, too.
During practices, the student-manager routinely shoots his signature shot – a 3-pointer from the right wing that is about five feet behind the line. No one has any clue why OD loves to shoot from so far away, but that’s his sweet spot.
He makes them, too. Routinely and with ease. He thrusts all of his body into the shot, then admires as it splashes the net.
“He can shoot the ball,” Lirette said. “He’s a pretty solid shooter.”
When not shooting, he’s often telling tales to players about what life would be like if he were on the team.
“He tells me all of the time that he could beat me in one-on-one,” Anderson said with a laugh. “He can shoot the basketball. He loves to play. Any chance he gets, he’s ready to get on the court and put up some shots.”
So while the 2015-16 season unfolded, Gators first-year coach Caleb White took note of his manager’s passion for South Terrebonne basketball, which sparked an idea.
Together with Lirette, the coaches said they quietly planned and brainstormed ways to get OD into a game before the end of the season – his last as a student.
“We needed to find the right opponent,” White said. “We wanted it to be a team that brings a nice crowd.”
As district play started and White skimmed the schedule, he found a match – South Lafourche. The Gators closed their season with the Tarpons last Tuesday night, and White said he knew the Tarpons would allow OD a chance to play because they are a “first-class program in every way.”
White said he contacted Tarpons coach Brian Callais, which set everything into motion.
The Gators coach said the school’s acceptance of the idea is an act of class he will be long grateful for.
The Tarpons fans outnumbered South Terrebonne’s probably four to one on that Tuesday, but they rooted OD on every minute that he was on the floor.
“South Lafourche High School is as responsible for this as anyone,” White said. “They’re such a well-run program, and we have so much respect for them. I want to thank them, their fans and everyone involved with their program – coaches and players – for giving us this chance. It was so special to see our two schools come together to give this young man a moment that he will never forget.”
OD’s DREAM COMES TO LIGHT
OD never knew that Tuesday, February 16, 2016 would be his big day. It started about the same as every other day does for the local manager.
OD said he went to school during the day, then got to the gym early to help set things up before the basketball game – all part of his normal routine.
Once the basketball game started, that was all normal, too.
He did his managerial duties for the first half of the junior varsity game between the Gators and Tarpons, taking care of his teammates when they needed his assistance.
But as the buzzer sounded and the teams headed into the lockers, White called OD into the locker room. The coach baited the manager into the room by claiming he needed a favor.
“I told him, ‘Hey, OD, why don’t you come in here, man, I need some help,’” White said. “So he comes by, and I told him to put on a jersey and suit up, because he was going to be a member of our team in the second half of the game.
“The smile he had was as big as I’ve ever seen. It was from ear-to-ear. He was experiencing pure joy. He was so happy.”
OD said he had “no clue” that he would be given the chance to play, but that he put on the uniform in what he described as “lightning time.”
He sat in uniform and rooted his team on for the entire third quarter and then the opening minutes of the fourth.
Until he got his chance.
Lirette, the Gators’ JV head coach, subbed OD into the game with a little more than two minutes left in the fourth quarter.
He got a standing ovation from the small Gators crowd and the hundreds of South Lafourche fans who made the trek to see their Tarpons play.
On South Terrebonne’s first possession, OD got the ball in his signature spot, and he put it up.
The ball was right on line, but a hair short, rimming out.
“That first shot, I thought, was going to hit nothing but net,” Lirette said. “It looked like it was right on line.”
OD got the ball a second time, then a third time – two more missed shots from deep.
He then got in the books.
On one of South Terrebonne’s final possessions, OD drew a foul and got three free throw tries. He rimmed out the first two, then buried the third – the first points of his basketball career.
“When I saw them go in, I was like, ‘OK, this feels good,’” OD said with a laugh. “But I was just trying to stay calm, because the game wasn’t over yet.”
On the next offensive possession, everyone lost the ability to be calm – the entire gym went nuts.
Gators freshman Tyler Smith pushed the ball up the floor. He fired a pass to OD, who was back on that right wing.
He heaved the shot in the air, over the top of the Tarpons’ defense.
Nothing but net.
The crowd went nuts.
OD backpedaled, then sprinted as fast as he could down the floor – unable to hide the giant smile on his face. For that 10-second period, his dream was suddenly reality. For that one night, O’Darion Robinson was, indeed, a South Terrebonne Gators basketball player.
The South Terrebonne bench rose in a joyful frenzy once the shot splashed through the rim. The South Lafourche coaches and players gave their opponent a loud round of applause to honor his big moment.
OD summed it up in just a couple words.
“Best moment of my life,” he said with a smile – that same grin he’s now worn for a week, since it has taken place.
After the game, the teams shook hands and congratulated OD, while the fans continued to roar for the star of the night.
Smith said he was happy for OD, adding that it was an honor to call him a teammate.
“That shot went in, and it just became emotional,” Smith said. “You’re so happy to see him get that chance. We were so happy he had his moment.”
A GATOR FOREVER
Now a couple days removed from the magical night, OD is back at work in the South Terrebonne gym on Thursday afternoon.
While there, OD rebounds for a couple Gators, while joking with Anderson about who would win in a 3-point shooting contest.
OD will no longer be a student at South Terrebonne next school year, but he said he wants to still be the team’s manager. “Because this is what I love to do,” he said.
White said that is OK by him.
He said that OD is welcome with the team now and into the future, adding that he’s always going to be part of the Gators’ basketball family.
“He will always be welcomed to be here,” White said. “We love him here.”
OD said that sentiment makes him feel good, and is why he’s so grateful for the support he’s been given.
He added that even when no longer a student, there’s a huge place in his heart for South Terrebonne sports.
“I love the Gators,” OD said. “I will still be here next year. I want to be a Gator forever.” •