High School Sports

Lowcountry fixture Basirico standing on verge of 500

As each milestone victory in his coaching career has approached, Hilton Head Prep boys basketball coach Rich Basirico has said some variation of the same thing.

He hasn't been counting.

But history never stops counting, and the wins kept piling up, year after year, game after game.

The Dolphins' next victory will be No. 500 for Basirico, and it could come tonight, when Prep plays host to SCISAA Region 3-AAA opponent Porter-Gaud.

Thomas Heyward Academy coach Philip Rhodes, who has faced Basirico dozens of times in 22 seasons coaching the Rebels, had a front row seat for Basirico's 400th victory -- it came at the Rebels' expense on their home floor Feb. 7, 2006.

In fact, Rhodes has seen plenty of Basirico's victories, just like nearly every other coach who has spent significant time coaching in the SCISAA ranks during the past three decades.

"He's the kind of coach that we say he can take your'n and beat his'n or he can take his'n and beat your'n," Rhodes said with a laugh. "He can take the level of the talent and raise it. He finds a way."

More than the 499 wins, the 11 conference titles or the five state championships, though, Basirico's attitude after the final whistle has always earned respect from his peers.

"The biggest thing that stands out to me the most about Rich is not only is he a great coach, but a lot of great coaches let it go to their head," Rhodes said. "It never goes to Rich's head. He's as humble away from the court as he is on the court. I think that's what I respect about him the most."

A native of Long Island, N.Y., Basirico arrived in the Lowcountry in 1979, eager to cut his teeth as a head coach at May River Academy in Bluffton. In his first season, the Patriots won 21 games -- 15 more than they had won in any previous season -- and they won back-to-back state titles the next two years.

For Bluffton High School athletics director Dave Adams, whose first job as a head football coach was at May River Academy beginning in 1978, it was apparent then that Basirico would have a long, successful run as a coach -- but Adams never dreamed his contemporary would stay in one place for his entire career. Adams imagined Basirico would jump to a large high school, perhaps even graduate to the college coaching ranks.

But Basirico made only one move.

When May River Academy merged with Sea Pines Academy in 1985 to become Hilton Head Prep, he went to the south end of Hilton Head Island, and he has been there in some capacity ever since.

Many of the milestone victories almost never happened, though. In 1993, after compiling a 286-87 record in 14 seasons, Basirico stepped down as basketball coach to concentrate on his other duties at Hilton Head Prep -- he was athletics director and head of the middle school at the time -- and spend more time with his family.

His hiatus lasted six years, and he returned to the sidelines in November 1999 and has been there since.

"I was upset to see him give up the basketball for those few years in there," Adams said. "I was glad when he got back into it. When you meet some people, early on you know who they are. Rich Basirico is a basketball coach."

Over the years, though, he became so much more to many of his players.

Bill Layman, now in his second turn as an assistant under Basirico, played on only one of Basirico's teams -- his first one at May River Academy -- but the coach made a lasting impression. So much so that Layman later made Basirico the best man in his wedding and asked him to act as godfather to his oldest son, Matt, a senior guard on this year's Dolphins team.

"Outside of my own parents, he has without question had the biggest influence on my life," Bill Layman said. "My dad passed away last year, and if there's something I can't figure out for myself, he's the first person I call.

"He has that kind of relationship with all his former players," Layman added. "Every player he's ever had means the world to him."

Throughout his career, Basirico has said his primary focus was helping his players develop into better people, that the wins and losses were simply memories created as a byproduct of that endeavor.

His next win will provide one more memory, one more milestone to reflect upon when his career finally ends, but he's reluctant to take credit for any of them.

"I really don't think coaches win basketball games," Basirico said. "It's interesting in the world of sports there are all these milestones for everybody, and for some reason with coaches they attach wins to it. I can honestly tell you I haven't made the first basket or gotten the first rebound, dove on the floor, taken the first charge. As coaches, if we're fortunate and we're blessed to have good kids to coach and surround yourself with wonderful assistant coaches, if you're fortunate enough to pull it off ... but we don't win games.

"It's our responsibility to put them in a position to be successful."

That's something Basirico has done far more often than not -- 499 times, to be exact.

But who's counting?

BASIRICO BY THE NUMBERS

73.2 -- Basirico's winning percentage in 26 seasons as the boys basketball coach at May River Academy and Hilton Head Prep. His career record is 499-183.

19.56 -- Average victories per season for Basirico's boys teams entering this season. With 10 wins this season, the Dolphins are on pace to top 20 wins for the second consecutive year.

5 -- State championships Basirico has won as a coach. He led May River Academy to titles in 1981 and 1982 and coached Hilton Head Prep to championships in 1987, 1989 and 1991.

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