Atkins has high hopes for Wildcats
He’s guided one Western Slope high school basketball team to a state championship.
And Richard Atkins wants to do it again.
The 69-year-old, who coached the Meeker High School girls to a 1995 state championship, accepted the girls basketball head coaching position at Fruita Monument High School, the school announced Monday.
Atkins inherits a team that went 13-11 this season and, with many underclassmen, made it to the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs.
“The reason I took this job is I want to improve basketball in western Colorado,” Atkins said. “I’ve been wanting to do that for quite some time.”
Since about 1970, in fact. Atkins moved to Grand Junction from Texas that year and since has been a boys assistant coach at Fruita and head of numerous area youth teams, among other coaching positions.
He coached current Fruita juniors-to-be Mariah Love, Vanessa Herrera and Kassidy Fair when they were playing for the Mesa County Junior Women’s Basketball Association’s 7th grade Supreme Court team.
Atkins brings a style that was designed, in part, through his days of watching the University of Nevada-Las Vegas Runnin’ Rebels and coach Jerry Tarkanian when Atkins lived in Las Vegas from 1986-90.
“(Tarkanian) played an up-and-down, run-and-gun game,” Atkins said. “I believe in that run-and-gun, but you still have to have some kind of control.”
Atkins also has the simple love of basketball. He said for the past 15 years, he’s watched portions of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
“It’s more than basketball,” Atkins said. “It’s an event.”
Atkins wants to make an impact on Western Slope basketball. He said he eventually realized he could not do that by just coaching youths.
So he took the job at Fruita.
As an assistant at Fruita in 1986, he coached the boys basketball team alongside Denny Squibb — now Fruita’s athletic director — to a second-place finish in the Class 3A state playoffs.
Squibb, who led the Fruita boys to a 1983 Class 3A title, met Atkins in 1979.
“I was an assistant at Mesa at the time and he came up to one of our camps,” Squibb said. “I’ll never forget, he said, ‘What do I have to do to learn the game of basketball? I’m going to try to get AAU started ...’
“We talked for a bit, he bought books by Dean Smith and stuff like that, and he’s been at it ever since.”
Atkins, a civil engineer, is stoic.
“My wife says I don’t smile much,” Atkins said. But if lulled by the straight-talk, one could miss his dry-pan sense of humor.
“I think the kids will love playing for him,” Squibb said.
Atkins said basketball isn’t complicated — players can’t score without the ball, he said, so a defender’s priority, while keeping an eye on his or her man, should be the ball-handler. Defensive rotation is key.
Offensive players should maintain their spacing and move without the ball. If possible, make the opposition do what it doesn’t want to do.
Shoot the ball properly — plenty of arc, lots of spin.
There’s more, of course.
“I want to see better basketball in western Colorado,” he said.