Vocational coach Donnie Kirksey, a fixture of Chicago basketball for 40 years, dies at 57

Donnie Kirksey coaching at Hyde Park in 2009. | Sun-Times file photo

Kirksey, who died on Monday, struggled with COVID-19 over the past two weeks according to friends and family. This would traditionally have been a week full of high school basketball, with holiday tournaments all around the state. Donnie Kirksey would have been at the center of it all, coaching and catching up with old friends.
Kirksey, 57, died on Monday. He had struggled with COVID-19 over the past two weeks according to friends and family.
“It just took him out,” Clark assistant coach Donovan Robinson said. “He seemed to be doing better recently though. Donnie is the godfather to my son. He spoke to people just last night and was on Facebook Live with a church service.”
Kirksey was dean of students and head basketball coach at Vocational. But his friendships and influence on the game reached across the city and the country.
“We met through [Juwan Howard],” DePaul Prep basketball coach Tom Kleinschmidt said. “He raised Juwan and we were extremely close. Donnie took me under his wing too. We kind of went our separate ways for a while but the last few years we were back in contact daily like I was 18 and we were at 87th and Stony. He was working out my kids because I can’t because of the rules.
“I feel so fortunate that the last few years it has been like old times. We were talking all the time and texting and pulling for Juwan. I just spoke to him on Christmas and he said he was feeling better. He said he was nervous and scared but feeling better.”

DePaul Prep coach Tom Kleinschmidt, Michigan coach Juwan Howard, Vocational coach Donnie Kirksey and Rod Strickland last year.

Kirksey was an assistant coach at DePaul, UIC and Chicago State. He was previously the head coach at Julian, Dunbar and Hyde Park. His run at Hyde Park was incredibly successful. He guided the program to a 71-18 record from 2007-2010.
“He was a great coach and mentor to a lot of kids,” Kleinschmidt said. “And not only on one side of town, throughout the area. Everyone loved him. He was honest. You didn’t always like to hear it but if you could handle it you got better.”
Kirksey also spent time as a grassroots representative for Nike. He was close with former Thornwood star and Bulls player Eddy Curry.
“What I loved about Donnie most is that he didn’t want any recognition,” Kleinschmidt said. “A lot of guys would pound their chest. He was the total opposite of that. He helped a million kids and wasn’t worried how he got recognition, none of that crazy b.s. you see from a lot of guys. That’s why he is still close with guys 30 years later.”
Kirksey was a combined 132-106 in his nine years as a high school coach.
“Donnie was really involved with trying to fix that situation at Lincoln Park last season,” former Von Steuben basketball coach Vince Carter said. “He tried to improve every place he was. That was Donnie with everything. If someone was having a hard time he would call them and tell them what was going on. He would tell you if he thought you weren’t doing something the right way and how to fix it. He was always lending an ear.”
Some remembrances of Kirksey from Twitter:

Our Flames Family is saddened to learn that former @UIC_MBB assistant coach Donnie Kirksey has passed away. A legendary figure in the Chicago basketball community, DK was on our bench from 2010-14 and helped #UIC reach postseason in 2013 for the 1st time in 9 years. RIP, DK pic.twitter.com/aTTEhzVZCS— UIC FL MES ATHLETICS (@uicflames) December 28, 2020

So sad to hear about the passing of Chicago legend Donnie Kirksey. A good man, a good friend who impacted so many lives as a mentor & a coach. #RIP “DK”. Thoughts & are with his family. pic.twitter.com/gLzxxCc8Bh— LaVall Jordan (@LaVall_Jordan) December 28, 2020

I first met Donnie Kirksey 40 years ago..he was just a kid but wow was he connected…he knew everyone and I’m talking everyone..as the years went by it was touching to see how many players-especially in the Public League and Chicago schools trusted and respected him. I’m sad.— chuck swirsky (@ctsbulls) December 28, 2020

RIP bro.My heart breaks for Donnie’s family, and for our Chicago basketball family.Thanks for helping so many kids, including my son.Donnie Kirksey: Vocational coach, a fixture of Chicago basketball for 40 years, dies – Chicago Sun-Times https://t.co/VZd8bNwabi— Arne Duncan (@arneduncan) December 28, 2020

So sadden to hear the news about my friend, colleague & running-mate at UIC, Donnie Kirksey. DK passed away this morning. He was a wonderful person who always had a smile & a kind word for everyone he met. God bless his wife Dionne & rest of DK’s family. A true loss. RIP DK pic.twitter.com/MbL7y5BZd3— Al Biancalana (@AlBiancalana) December 28, 2020

Sad Day for Chicago Basketball. Donnie Kirksey passed away this morning. pic.twitter.com/7uu6KQbD9l— Mac Irvin Fire (@TheMacIrvinFire) December 28, 2020

Broken this morning as I learned of the passing of Coach Donnie Kirksey. Just spoke to him on Xmas and told him I loved him. A Chicago legend who will never be forgotten. More than a Coach, a dear friend and mentor. Rest Easy DK. ⁦@JuwanHoward⁩ ⁦@rodstrickland74⁩ ⁦ pic.twitter.com/9HRaWUu2Kb— DePaul Prep MBB (@DePaulPrepMBB) December 28, 2020

The WY basketball program would like to send our condolences to the family & friends of Coach Donnie Kirksey. A true giant in Chicago who dedicated his life to helping so many players. Rest In Peace DK pic.twitter.com/LwQXlYYO4z— Slaughter House (@get_slaughtered) December 28, 2020

Condolences and prayers to the Kirksey family and to all who have been fortunate to meet , know , and be friends with Donnie Kirksey .Good man & a better friend to so many . Appreciate U Coach ❤️ — Illinois Wolves (@WolvesILL) December 28, 2020

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