It should be no surprise that the Irmo basketball team is playing in the 4A state semi-finals on Saturday against West Ashley at the Florence Civic Center.
After all, it’s the fourth time in six years that the Yellow Jackets have made it this far in the playoffs.
But when the uber-talented Davontae Shuler, currently rated as the #5 point guard in the southeast by ESPN.com, abruptly left Irmo and enrolled at perennial national power Oak Hill (Mouth of Wilson, VA) in early September after being one of S.C.’s top players as a sophomore, very few observers thought the Shuler-less Yellow Jackets would be state championship contenders come late February.
But here they are. Again.
The common denominator to the Irmo basketball team’s success over these past six years, or more precisely, the last 35 years, is Yellow Jackets’ Hall of Fame coach Tim Whipple.
With five state championship rings and a career record of 697-259, including a remarkable 102-10 record over the past four seasons, Whipple’s resume confirms his position as an all-time great in South Carolina prep basketball history.
But the greatest testament to his true superiority as a basketball coach is to simply watch his team play the game. The right way. The Whipple way.
In Tuesday night’s 61-45 win over Carolina Forest, the Yellow Jackets treated their fans – and fans of the game – to a typical fundamentally-sound display of help-side defense, proper spacing on offense, feeding the high post, bounce passes (bounce passes!) that resulted in easy baskets, and a myriad of other essentially basic techniques that have always been common to successful teams – at all levels – but are becoming a vanishing commodity in an era where the prevailing sentiment seems to be that the only good play is a play that makes the cut on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays of the Day.
What you don’t see when watching a Whipple-coached team is players trying to dribble like they are Chris Paul when their skills are more akin to Chris Farley, tossing up ill-advised alley-oop lobs on every 2-on-1 fast break as if Deandre Jordan is on loan for the night, and shot selections that even Steph Curry would find unacceptable.
Instead, Whipple’s teams almost invariably 1) only take good, makeable open shots, 2) treat defense like it is important, not a disease, 3) make passes that result in assists, not turnovers, 4) box out (pretty sure someone just asked what that was), and 5) never, hard as it may be to believe, act out verbally or physically towards referees, opponents, teammates or coaches…a behavior that has become (disgustingly) all-too-routine among players at the high school level.
The result of Whipple’s “old-school” insistence that his players approach the game selflessly, with a focus on fundamentals and poise, not only leads to an inordinate amount of wins (he was won 375 games more than he has lost — 375!), it also serves as a legitimate treat to those fans who appreciate basketball played like the Celtics or Lakers of the mid-80’s…not the Washington Generals!
As a result of his tremendous success both so far this season and over the course of his phenomenal career, Whipple is the Crescent Construction Coach of the Week.
Thank you, Coach Whipple, and please continue your tenure on the sideline for a long, long time.
S.C. prep basketball, and its fans, will be all the better for it.