For many who live on the Grand Strand, going to the Beach Ball Classic is an annual practice.
Some attend to watch some high-level high school basketball the day after Christmas through New Year’s Eve. Others go simply for the social aspect of the event, which over the years has become a place where the who’s who of the area assemble.
However, probably very few of the attendees – including hundreds more who travel to the tournament to support out-of-town and out-of-state teams playing in it – know the whole story of how what started as an idea from a local high school basketball coach morphed into such a spectacle.
Ian Guerin, a former writer for The Sun News, provides that insight and more in the book “The Beach Ball Classic: Premier High School Hoops on the Grand Strand,” set to hit bookshelves Monday.
While the book contains many anecdotes from former well-known stars and coaches – some who have been involved in major college basketball and/or the NBA – those are simply stories within in the story.
The main plot of the book is that of how in 1981 Socastee High School coach Dan D’Antoni embarked on a simple idea of starting a basketball tournament that would draw top teams from all over the United States, a notion that years later transformed into a behemoth of an event.
In order to do so, he needed help.
With an assist from the manager of a local mall and a Socastee grad, Terry Thompson, D’Antoni was able to get the tournament going. Several others, including the late Buddy Rogers, played a large role early on.
Another was a man who would go on to be the centerpiece of the tournament in the long run.
Enter John Rhodes, a local restaurant operator and friend of D’Antoni’s who wound up playing a much bigger role than he would have ever imagined when he agreed to provide a sponsorship package through his seafood restaurant.
The book tells of the trials and tribulations the two – and countless others – went through en route to making this dream a reality. It required plenty of hands on deck – many of whom simply volunteered – and connections.
With each connection, more connections would be made. When the tournament brought in one big name-school, it led to other big-name schools. Pretty soon, the tournament was able to target not only big-name schools, but also schools that featured sole players who were some of the best in the country. Some would go on to become NBA stars, including the likes of Vince Carter, Kobe Bryant and Kenny Anderson, to name a few.
With the players came the big-time coaches. Pretty soon, the Beach Ball became a hub for top-level high school basketball and recruiting.
According to the book, between 1989 and 2015 there was only one NBA Draft in which a Beach Ball alum was not selected.
But the story wasn’t always so rosy. The book details how at one point early in the process D’Antoni and Rhodes had to take out personal loans to keep the tournament afloat. That was just one of the challenges they took head on.
The book highlights how the men simply fought to make the Beach Ball work.
It details how D’Antoni eventually handed the keys to the tournament to Rhodes – who later became Myrtle Beach Mayor and has juggled both jobs for many years – while taking a job in the NBA. Rhodes also plans to pass down the responsibilities eventually, having already carefully picked a successor in fellow Beach Ball contributor Chad Smith. But – despite having a serious health scare in 2012 that’s detailed in the book – Rhodes is in good health and plans to run it as long he can.
All involved – or formerly involved – still keep a close eye on the tournament and hope it can continue to expand and excel like it has over the years while continuing to be what the book chronicles as an important motor for sports tourism – among other things – in Myrtle Beach. “The Beach Ball was cool before sports tourism was cool,” Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Brad Dean was quoted in the book.
Overall, the book tells the story of a tournament that became more of a fraternity or family. It’s become a place where – whether at Socastee High, Coastal Carolina College or the current site, the Myrtle Beach Convention Center – people want to be in the building because they may just witness something they’ve never seen before, like many of the anecdotal stories told in the book.
If you love basketball, you’ll love the book. If you aren’t a basketball fan but simply like the Beach Ball Classic, you’ll find the story fascinating.
Any others who can appreciate a long-shot success story will likely enjoy the read.