Donald Lockhart was an All-American at Palatka from 1989 to 1992 and helped coach the Panthers to four Final Four appearances.
Deep down, the memories pulled at the heartstrings of Matanzas boys basketball coach Donald Lockhart as he watched the Palatka Panthers beat his Pirates.
There’s no question: Lockhart is a competitive man. He wanted to win more than any Pirate in the gym — coach, player or fan, alike.
But he couldn’t help feel a mixture of emotions as he watched his old team run up and down the court.
Born and raised in Palatka, Lockhart was a star forward for the Panthers from 1989 to 1992 and was named a McDonald’s All-American his senior year. Lockhart returned to his alma mater as an assistant coach and then as the head coach, reaching the Final Four four times from 2009 to 2013.
Lockhart left Palatka to take the head coaching job at Matanzas in 2016.
He still has players on the Panthers he coached, and his old assistant, Bryant Oxendine, is now the head coach.
“You want to beat them, and you want to move to your new team and get them all excited, but it’s kind of difficult,” Lockhart said after the Pirates’ 58-47 loss on the night of Friday, Jan. 12, at Matanzas High School. “I’ve still got feelings because of all I did there. I’m a Panther deep down, but right now, I’m a Pirate, so it’s going to be an emotional game any time I play against them.”
The Panthers, who are 16-0 on the season and have a firm grasp of District 6, took control of the game after the start of the second quarter. The Pirates (8-6) went into the locker room down 27-11 after the Panthers scored two layups in the final six seconds of the first half.
In short, turnovers doomed the Pirates against one of the top teams in the state.
The Pirates scored four points in the third quarter and were down by 19 with 5:45 remaining in the game.
“We were beating ourselves the whole time turning the ball over,” Lockhart said. “You can’t expect to win ball games like that. It never happens, and it never will.”
But even as the clock ran out, even when the odds of winning shrank to zero, Lockhart, who was on his feet the entire game, was as animated as ever.
He shouted plays and defensive schemes to his players on the floor, and he thoroughly instructed his players on the bench.
He clapped. He high-fived. He yelled. He encouraged.
It’s just who he is.
“I never give up,” Lockhart said. “I always try to teach my players that. I want my guys to always believe there's still a chance.”