Robert Shelton still remembers a lot. The two-time Battlefield District player of the year remembers those 40-point games, like the three he had in his junior year alone. He remembers falling just short of the title game as a senior, losing 59-67 in the state finals to Salem High School. He remembers hurting his knee in college and the struggles that follow.
But one memory lingers closer than the rest.
“Our practices were intense. They were up-tempo, and it was a fun style to play,” Shelton said. “I can remember them like they were yesterday. It was us going full-court, no shots, just playing one-on-one trying to stay in front of your man. Everything was defense. I don’t remember us practicing offense much. Everything was run at a tempo that forced you to play hard.”
Shelton was in a league of his own as a 17-year-old senior at Louisa County High School in 1994. Louisa’s coach, Fitzgerald Barnes, modeled his offense after Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson’s appropriately named “Fourty Minutes of Hell.” There was no escape from pressure in the 84 by 50 feet of hardwood.
On offense, Barnes also wanted Shelton to shoot. The 6’3 guard with a smooth jump shot and an almost-unfair vertical obliged.
“My teammates had ultimate confidence in me,” Shelton said. “My role was to simply put the ball in the basketball. I worked it and spent a lot of time practicing over the summer.”
The team’s trust in Shelton was well founded. During the hot summer months, Shelton would call up his teammates like center Paul Jones or point guard Andre Quarles. They’d sniff out a basketball court. They’d find challengers. They’d leave victorious. When Louisa lost in the semifinals of the 1993 state tournament, a 77-76 overtime defeat to Greenville, it only motivated Shelton more.
“Our team didn’t take losing well,” Barnes said. “Robert especially, though, did not take losing well, and he communicated that to the team.”
Barnes bangs the table with his fist as he talks. It’s 20 years later, but the memories might as well have been made yesterday.
At his nicest, Barnes was a general of a coach. At his roughest, he was a dictator. Shelton recalled a practice that occurred after the guard had a feature story on him in the local paper.
To read the entire story, see the March 6 edition of The Central Virginian.