James Burns: Another 'court' for the king of Merced hoops

James Burns, sports editor
James Burns, sports editor

History tells us to be king you need two things: a crown and a court.

Arthur had his.

As did Elvis.

On Friday evening, in a pregame celebration befitting royalty, Vince Clemons -- the winningest boys basketball coach in Merced High history -- ascended his throne and took his place in local history.

His coronation started slowly.

Tucked behind the scorer's table, surrounded by friends and family, Clemons waited for the moment to arrive.

Then it began to happen...

Administrators carried out a table dressed in Merced black and two plaques.

One by one, former players and colleagues gathered around.

With camcorders and cameras tracking his every step and recording his every word, Clemons found his way to a familiar perch: the home bench.

There he was presented with a resolution from the Merced Union High Schools District and a replica basketball court.

To his rear, hanging in the northeast corner of the gym was a banner honoring his career accomplishments.

On it were a series of unthinkable numbers: 445 wins, 19 Sac-Joaquin Section playoff appearances and four Division I championships.

BUT TO his left, running along the sideline in black lettering, were the words everyone had come to see: Clemons Court.

Queue the applause.

Hail the king.

And his court.

"It's a special moment, having all these kids come back," Clemons said. "When you do something for 21 years and people decide to honor you like this, it's satisfying. You're humbled by something like this.

"This was something I never expected or wanted. You don't realize how many kids and teachers you've had a positive influence on."


To a man, they all said the same of Clemons.

HIS CAREER along the sidelines was the stuff of legend.

In 21 seasons, Clemons turned Merced into a resident Northern California power.

He compiled a 250-51 record in the Central California Conference and won 13 conference titles.

His teams made seven

Division I section finals appearances, dancing off the floor at Arco Arena with the blue banner flying over their heads four times.

He coached in the McDonald's All-American game and groomed future college players like Travis Richard, Jamie Holmes and Gerald Madkins.

"I wouldn't be here without the talent I had, the players

I coached," Clemons said in a sincere tone.

"I guess I started coaching at the right time. When I came through this program there were oodles and oodles of talent.

"I was fortunate to reach them, and when we started winning, it sort of snowballed from there."

But if we're talking about Clemons' legacy and his impact on the basketball culture in the city of Merced -- and let's face it, we are -- you've got to look beyond the wins, unbelievable streaks and titles.

To understand the Clemons Effect -- to understand why his name will forever be associated with Merced basketball and the floor it's played on -- is to understand the lives he touched in two decades of service.

Roughly 50 found their way back to Merced on Friday to see the king receive his court.

There were former players like Geoff Washington Sr. and Richard sitting at halfcourt, greeting old faces as they blew through the door.

Washington and Richard played on Clemons' section championship teams in the late 1980s and early '90s.

"It was never about basketball," Washington said. "He taught us about life. He taught us to respect our opponent.

"When I see him around town, it's still not about basketball. He'll ask, 'How's your family? How's your son doing?' "

THERE was longtime colleague Ron Moe, who served as a junior varsity coach under Clemons for most of his tenure.

And of course, there was current Merced coach Marcus Knott and his top assistant Curtis Barron, both of whom presented Clemons with his replica plaque.

"This is a great and deserving honor," Knott said, "but it cements what we already know about him.

"He's important to the tradition we have here. In a lot of ways, he built the tradition we have here."

On Friday, Merced completed the coronation process. They presented the king with his court.

But truth be told, Clemons already had one.

His royal court was seated in pockets throughout the crowd, applauding the man who helped shape their adult lives.

Hail the king.

James Burns is sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at (209) 385-2417 or via e-mail at