By J. Coyden Palmer
Donnie Kirksey was a lifelong Chicagoan who helped thousands of basketball players during his career as a coach. Kirksey, 57, died from complications of the COVID-19 virus, the morning of December 28. He was the head boys’ basketball coach at Chicago Vocational Career Academy at the time of his death.
Kirksey served as an assistant coach at DePaul, Chicago State University and University of Illinois-Chicago during his career.
“The UIC Athletic Department and men’s basketball program is saddened to learn about the passing of former men’s basketball assistant coach Donnie Kirksey,” began a statement from UIC Sports Information Director Dan Wallace. “A legendary figure in the Chicago basketball community, Donnie was a beloved member of the Flames Family during his years at UIC from 2010-14. Donnie played a vital role in the Flames reaching the postseason for the first time in nine years in 2013. On behalf of the entire UIC community, our thoughts and condolences go out to Donnie’s friends and family.”
Known as a jovial and fun guy off the court and a stern tactician while on the bench, Kirksey was revered by all in the community. He was often seen at his favorite restaurants on the South Side speaking to all those who knew him. A charismatic guy, Kirksey was the kind of person who made others feel good.
“Donnie brought smiles to the faces of people wherever he went,” said retired basketball coach Rick Harrigan. “He was just a fun guy who really loved and knew basketball.”
The year 2020 has been especially hard on the basketball coaching community in Chicago.
Kirksey’s death comes just two weeks after former UIC Head Coach Jimmy Collins passed away. Earlier this year, former legendary King High School Coach Sonny Cox passed away. This spring, Steve Hudson, who was a large figure on the travel basketball scene and who along with his wife helped hundreds of basketball players achieve college scholarships, passed away from COVID-19.
He played his high school ball at Chicago Vocational. He was excited when presented the opportunity to return to the school. Kirksey was known as a coach who could see any player, see his potential and make him better, said those who knew him.
Coach Kirksey also served as the head basketball coach and athletic director at Hyde Park Academy from 2007-10. He spent three and half years (2001-04) in Los Angeles where he worked for SFX Basketball Group, LLC. While there, he worked with several high-profile professional basketball clients, helping athletes transition into professional life.
Kirksey graduated from Roosevelt University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration – Management in 1985. He was a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. He and his wife lived in the Pill Hill community.
Funeral arrangements were pending at Crusader press time.