Ian Guerin, a former reporter for The Sun News, has written his first book, “The Beach Ball Classic: Premier High School Hoops on the Grand Strand,” and it will hit bookshelves Monday.
The book chronicles how a local high school basketball tournament started from humble beginnings before becoming one of the largest annual events in the Myrtle Beach area.
The author recently did an interview with The Sun News to reflect on the book.
Question: How did the idea for the book come about and how did you get involved in becoming the one to write the book?
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Answer: [The (Charleston-based) History Press] had contacted me. They knew my connections with kind of being one of the high school guys in the area. They wanted to know if the tournament was still doing well and when we had started talking about the process they made it clear to me very immediately that they wanted somebody to write a book on it and they were leaning toward having me do it. So we kind of talked it through and cranked out a few ideas. This was some very on-the-surface conversation and then it got a little deeper. All told, the process of just the publisher coming to me and me putting pen to paper and signing that contract … it was about a month-long process, all told.
Q: Fast forward to now, how do you feel like the book came out?
A: You know, I learned a lot of things about the process. One of the reasons I wanted to get into sports journalism was feature stories and deeper stuff — not to say that I never appreciated the day-to-day because I formed relationships and got some really good stories out of that — but this was kind of the long goal for me. I wanted to be able to tell some of the bigger, meatier stories, and I think I was able to do that with this project a little bit better. … I was able to talk about the foundation of the tournament and how they kind of put their roots down, but then also tell some of those stories along the way and maybe get in depth on those the way nobody had really done before. That’s what I was going for, and I think for the most part I accomplished it. You know, at the time, just since I turned in the manuscript and we went through the editing phase I’ve found out other stuff about this tournament to the point where — maybe not a sequel — but, you know, maybe there could be something else down the line. This is kind of a living, breathing organism based around so many different people that folks that go to the tournament have never heard of. Maybe one day there could be a follow-up. I don’t know.
Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced as you went through this venture?
A: The biggest thing for me was getting historical perspective. You know, one of the things I wrote in the acknowledgment in the book was that this tournament started in 1981 and I was 2 years old. I didn’t move to South Carolina until 2004 and I didn’t move to Myrtle Beach until 2005. That’s two and a half decades of this tournament going on where I wasn’t around or I had never heard of it. I was just too young to know any better. So there were a lot of different moving pieces that I had to track down. You know, I wanted financial records and those weren’t the easiest things to get a hold of. I wanted to know about some of the power players that were no longer around — whether they had moved out of the area or they had passed away. You know, I had to find ways to talk about these people that had such a big influence but either couldn’t talk to me, again because they had passed away or we couldn’t track them down or something along those lines. But what I found was the deeper into this I got there were more and more people that were connected than I originally thought and there were so many of these volunteers that I wrote about in the book who really had been around for so long that they knew one way or another how to get people on the phone or how to get someone on the phone who could speak to some of this with more authority than me just combing through old news articles.
Q: As you look back at the book now, what you consider your favorite chapter and why?
A: That’s tough. There’s a lot of different pieces. You kind of have to put it into two different categories. As far as the foundation of the tournament and everything there, one of the pieces that I really liked — I liked how it came out and I liked the development of it – and not only how I did it because I think that’s important, but just how truthful it was to find out some of this information was the section about how they were initially recruiting teams. I’m not sure exactly what chapter it’s in, but there was a point where it was kind of a triangle of recruitment that went through Myrtle Beach to Kentucky to Upstate New York and back down to Myrtle Beach, and that was one of those things that had they not done that – and whether they knowingly did that or not – had they not done that maybe the tournament doesn’t last. Because then maybe that foundation of the Kentucky teams, the New York teams and all the teams from the state inside that triangle that really built that tournament up, I don’t think it goes anywhere like it is now. As far as the personal chapters and some of the stories and some of the features I was able to [write about], the stuff on Kenny Anderson was just so powerful because e is one of the few people in the tournament where if you ask somebody they say this is the greatest guy that ever played in the tournament, the best player that ever showed up at Beach Ball. Whenever he showed up, we knew we were getting something spectacular. People will tell you he was the best player, but the highs and lows of that guy’s life before, during and after his time at the Beach Ball was really amazing stuff. It was really compelling. And the fact that he was so open with me about it I think really led to the breadth of that chapter.
Q: With the interviews you did, what were some of your favorite ones and were there maybe some other people that you weren’t able to get a hold of that you would have liked to?
A: The second part’s easy. There were two people that I wanted to talk to that I was denied requests for, for one reason or another. The first person was Kobe Bryant. You know, I think that most people would consider him the biggest NBA player to have ever come through the Beach Ball. What I didn’t know at the time and what we found out a couple months later after I had initially requested and gone through the channels with his agent was that he was getting ready to do his retirement. He wrote the piece for, I believe it was the Players’ Tribune, and he was really quiet that whole summer. So when I was getting denied by that I didn’t realize that that was coming up. It makes a little more sense now. He wasn’t doing interviews because he was getting ready to announce his retirement; he didn’t want anyone to know. The other one was [coach Mike] Krzyzewski at Duke and they just said he didn’t have any time to do it, which, you know, I’ve put in media requests for him for various things over the years and most the time they can be shut down, so I wasn’t really that surprised.
As far as the ones I thought really added a lot to it, obviously the time I spent with John Rhodes. Over the 10 months I was working on this was crucial because had he not opened up and been able to answer some of the questions I had and told me some of the things I needed to know, it probably would’ve taken a lot longer. Also, guys like Roy Williams, who I think one, I spent 45 minutes on the phone; this was after we had talked in person a few times at the tournament over the years, obviously before I signed the contract for the book. But he’s always been open. He was really good about this and the recruiting aspect of the tournament and how he’s been involved with it basically since 1981 in one way or another, you know, making sure that either he or an assistant was here and they were watching guys. There were a lot of them. Bobby Cremins was really good. Kenny Anderson, like I said before, was amazing. So there were a lot of really good interviews along the way.
Q: How was John Rhodes able to juggle being mayor and handling the Beach Ball and keep them separate without getting into a gray area?
A: I think that the gray area with John Rhodes that a lot of people would say is, well, OK how do you manage the biggest sports tourism event that’s ever happened in the city of Myrtle Beach versus running the mayor’s office. For him, a lot of them go back and forth. And so I think that isn’t necessarily maybe as big of a deal to him as it is to outsiders who haven’t spent a decent amount of time thinking, maybe. Because in all reality, both jobs are basically being paid as part-time jobs. You know, I’m not saying he doesn’t get paid well, because he does. He makes $50,000 or so with the tournament and I’m not sure what his salary is with the city. But you know, it’s one of those things where to him, you know, it’s 20 to 30 hours on most weeks on the Beach Ball and whatever he needs to do with the mayor job. You know, he’s in the mayor’s office, from my understanding of his schedule, as best I can tell you, it’s in the office a couple days a week; it’s out-of-office work a couple days a week and Beach Ball the rest of the time. The thing about John Rhodes that I learned probably more than anything else – and I tried to allude to it in the book in several places and really let people know what kind of guy he was – John has always been a juggler. From the time he moved to Myrtle Beach in the early 60s until he got involved with Beach Ball’s very first tournament and then got on the committee the second year of the tournament, he’s always been juggling, whether it was businesses or basketball or trying to get involved with [the] McDonald’s All-American team. All these things that he did before he event took over the tournament – which realistically was happening at a gradual state up until the point where he was named the executive director; ever year was more and more control – so for him, I think it was just a matter of easing into his role with the tournament and then making the most of it. It’d be hard to say he hasn’t done that just because, look, they’re going into their 36th year and they’re bringing in some of the best and brightest players and teams in the country still.
Q: What moment when you were covering the tournament stuck out to you most?
A: I don’t know if it’s maybe just because of the fact that it happened last year, but [Mullins guard] Jalek Felton’s scoring performance in that game against Poca, West Virginia, last year was just something that I’ve never seen on a high school level. I’ve been around high school athletes for years and years and there have been some spectacular things that I’ve seen happen – whether it was football, baseball or basketball, whatever. But for him to say, Raymond and everyone else wants me to go after this scoring mark, and for him to set his mind to it and for his coaches and teammates and everybody around him to be supportive of him to go out there and launch those shots and make them and to do all that stuff that he did was pretty amazing to me. You know, I saw [Frankin (Ohio) guard] Luke Kennard’s game the year before. You know, I’ve seen some of the other really good performances in the last few years. My first tournament that I helped cover was in 2005 so I’ve seen some good ones. But really to me in the decade of games I was going to it was probably Jalek’s 55-point game.
Q: What was it like to have conversations with some of these larger-than-life stars as far as an awe factor?
A: I think maybe a lot of that wore off when you cover Southeastern Conference football for a a couple years; I think some of that is gone. What I appreciated from those guys – and let’s not forget that all of those people have sports information directors or PR people with the NBA teams or the colleges or whatever who are in charge of making sure that those interviews either do or don’t take place. I’m very appreciative of those folks. The Memphis Grizzlies and the Milwaukee Bucks and North Carolina and all of these schools that helped out. There were college coaches, Tommy Amaker, Jeff Lebo that I talked to or quoted for the book. They were all very, very open about an experience that meant something personal to them. So I think that was maybe the bigger thing that I took away from all this is that everything that happened to them – in some cases, 25, 30, 35 years ago – was still at the forefront of their memories and they wanted talk about it and they were open. Some of the line of questioning wasn’t always favorable to them. There’s stuff in the book that maybe people didn’t want out there, but they were willing to talk about it because they knew it was part of history and it was part of the history of the tournament and who they were as individuals. And I think that’s the biggest thing that I took away from those conversations with those guys that are millionaires and multi-millionaires and maybe in the NBA Hall of Fame or the coaching hall of fame one day.
Q: What the biggest thing you learned as you started to peel away at this onion?
A: Probably the dynamics of power and the impression that I got when I first started learning about the tournament just as a reporter for The Sun News was that Dan D’Antoni started it and was always in charge and then John Rhodes took over and was always in charge. But the thing that I really learned when I was peeling away the layers was that there were so many people [were] involved and they spread this kind of – I believe the term I used in the book was an ownership stake – they spread that across so many people in Myrtle Beach and Horry County and South Carolina and in basketball circles all over the country that you had all these people that wanted to see this tournament. They wanted to see it really succeed. There’s kind of a legacy feel like ‘OK, I got what I did out of this tournament. Now let’s make sure that the next crop of players and coaches gets something out of it too.’ And then you start talking about the scholarship foundation that the tournament started, you talk about them allowing Horry County Schools to have a big part in that. I think it went from me believing that this was D’Antoni and Rhodes as dictators to them just kind of holding the reins of all these people that were really making this tournament go. And you can see I closed the book with that for a reason because I wanted people to have that same feeling, I guess, that I did. That while these two guys and a few others were vitally important to this tournament getting off the ground and then succeeding for three and a half decades, that so many people were involved in it from that very first year that without them probably none of that happens.