High School Sports

Longtime Hilton Head Prep coaches switching jobs

When longtime Hilton Head Prep boys basketball coach Rich Basirico and headmaster Anthony Kandel approached Dolphins girls basketball coach Bob Sulek last week, they brought with them an unexpected proposition.

What would he think about stepping down as coach of the girls team -- which he has coached to seven SCISAA Class 3-A state titles in 13 seasons -- to take over the boys program Basirico has presided over for 26 years?

"As they put it, it would be one legend replacing another legend," Sulek said. "I didn't say yes right away. I didn't think I could replace Rich. Those shoes are too big."

But those shoes now belong to Sulek.

Basirico told his team Thursday he is stepping down as Prep's boys basketball coach and handing the reins to Sulek. He will remain at the school next year as the athletics director and assistant headmaster.

Tara McKnight, a former Prep star who went on to play at the University of Virginia, will replace Sulek as the girls coach, Basirico said.

Both coaches will have tough acts to follow.

Basirico has been a coaching staple in the Lowcountry since he started out at May River Academy, which later merged with Sea Pines Academy to form Hilton Head Prep. He has compiled a 507-189 record and won five state titles.

"I don't think there's ever the right time to do it, but I've been a head coach for 26 years, and I've been blessed to live out a dream that I had as a young boy," Basirico said. "It's been a wonderful experience for me.

Although his tenure is not as long, Sulek's record at Prep is equally impressive. He has gone 338-49 and won seven state titles in 13 seasons.

But now he's going back to his roots.

The shift to boys basketball won't be unfamiliar territory for Sulek, who spent his entire career coaching boys basketball before moving to Hilton Head Island and taking over Prep's girls team prior to the 1998-99 season. His son, Noah, will be a freshman at Hilton Head Prep next season, which Sulek said factored into his decision to return to boys basketball.

He also met with his team Thursday to inform the players of the changes.

"Very bittersweet," Sulek said. "It was very hard. It's perhaps even harder for the girls, because they don't know Tara yet."

Sulek promises they will like what they see.

McKnight played for Sulek for four seasons at Hilton Head Prep before walking on to play for the University of Virginia, where she still resides. McKnight, 26, eventually became the team's captain and won the Bob Williams Award for outstanding athletic and academic achievements.

Sulek said McKnight won't return to Hilton Head Island full time until June, but that she plans to visit in May to meet her new team.

"They're getting the gym rat of all gym rats," Sulek said. "We've never had a kid in the history of the school put in as many hours to the game as she did."

Basirico said it takes that type of players to build a successful program and allow a coach to sustain the kind of career he enjoyed.

"I was blessed and fortunate to have a terrific group of guys this year and for my whole career," Basirico said. "I coached because of the type of guys I was able to coach.

"Can everybody say they lived out their lifetime dream?," he added. "I can honestly say I did."