When Mike Boynton was named Oklahoma State men’s basketball coach Friday, many in Teal Nation looked on from afar with pride.
Boynton, whose first assistant coaching job was with Coastal Carolina under Buzz Peterson from 2005-2007, earned his first head gig soon after Brad Underwood abruptly left for Illinois following the Cowboys’ loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The 35-year-old was introduced by the school at a press conference Monday.
“I was super excited for him,” said UNC Asheville assistant coach Logan Johnson, who played at CCU from 2005-09. “I just assumed he was going to go over to Illinois with the whole coaching staff. I didn’t even know he was in the running. It caught me off guard actually.”
Fellow Chants alumnus Steven Sexton texted Boynton upon hearing of Underwood’s move to Illinois; however, the response left him reading between the lines.
“I texted him and I was like ‘Illinois, huh? You heading up there?’ He goes, ‘I’m trying to line some things up. We’ll see.’ ” said Sexton, who played at Coastal from 2005-08 and now lives in northern Kentucky as a general manager for a technology company in Ohio. “I kind of got the feeling he was working it towards the head coaching job there.
“I mean, I thought it was unbelievable. It’s well deserved, definitely for sure. He’s a great basketball mind and [he] knows the game and works his [butt] off and relates to the players real well. So it was awesome.”
Super excited for him. I remember him wanting a head job and going after it. He was huge for us in my senior year. We had a really good year and he was a big part of it. I know he’s been focused. I wasn’t surprised. I was very, very happy for him, but not surprised. He’s put his time in. He knows basketball and is great with plays so I’m very excited for him.
Boynton joined the Chants coaching staff in 2005 after serving one year as a graduate manager at Furman following his playing career at South Carolina. Therefore, he was still a young man and just beginning his post-playing career during his years in Conway.
“He would even compete with us on the court,” said Christian Academy of Myrtle Beach head coach Colin Stevens, who played at CCU from 2002-06. “He was such a phenomenal player in college. He helped us even get better on the court, giving us better competition. He just did what it took. And it helped us and I think it brought some toughness to us. He was a young guy and had a good level of toughness and was a heck of a player so he just kind of rubbed off on us too.”
He would say stuff that was almost like it was common sense but it’s like, ‘You know, you’re right, coach. That’s all it is.’ It’s simple. It’s basketball. You work your [butt] off. You play hard and the rest of it would come too.
When describing the former assistant, toughness was a common thread.
“He’s a Brooklyn kid, right? I mean, he’s a New York kid – you know, tough, hard-nosed, just plays hard,” Sexton said. “He would practice with us sometimes or play pick-up [games] with us and stuff. The toughness he brought to the court [was amazing].”
Such was the beginning of his ability to connect with players as a coach, a trait Johnson believes has helped Boynton succeed throughout the years.
“He was really good at building relationships with players – just a guy that all the players didn’t mind going into his office and sitting and talking to him about anything,” Johnson said. “He wanted to [work] hard for the guys because he had that good relationship with them. I’m sure that’s something that’s helped him in recruiting and to continue to move up.”
He was a guy that was going to bring it everyday and push you to be tough and get in the gym extra on your own. We kind of looked up to him, too, because we knew he had played at a high level. You know, he played at South Carolina and was one of their better players there, a starting point guard at South Carolina. He was a guy that we could kind of look to for suggestions on how to play and some players’ kind of things not all coaches see.
Boynton left the Coastal Carolina program when Peterson took a job with the then-Charlotte Bobcats. He then spent a year as an associate head coach at Wofford, five years as an assistant at South Carolina, three years as an assistant at Stephen F. Austin and one as an assistant at Oklahoma State.
Now, he’ll be the face of a Power 5 program.
“It’s crazy. It’s his first head gig. That’s a huge stage,” Stevens said. “A lot of guys work their way up by having a great year as a [Division II] head coach for several years, and then they get their opportunity at the [Division I] level as a head coach or they might have been at a low-major or mid-major and had great years back-to-back so it kind of propelled them to be a coach in the Big 12. But this is his first gig. I think he’s going to do a great job.
“There’s going to be difficulty with anything that’s new and big and exciting, but I think he’ll manage it well. I’m sure he’s going to surround himself with some great people. I’m sure there are already great people there too that are rooting for him to succeed. I’m sure he’ll handle it well.”
I think they’re getting a guy that has a really high basketball IQ and a guy that builds great relationships. They probably know him a little bit as an assistant, but the community is really going to embrace him as a guy they look to and a guy who can bring high-level recruits in because of those relationships he’ll build and the players will look to him as a guy who is tough and knows the game. They’re going to get an all-around good coach and a guy the players will like playing for.
For Johnson in particular, Boynton’s rise is inspiring and hits close to home.
“It’s kind of good to see a guy like that who you know personally – you know and I’m coaching right now – to see somebody in the coaching profession work their way from low-major to mid-major, different jobs and work his way all the way up to head coach is good to see and encouraging for me as well,” he said.
For now, though, it’s Boynton who is getting his big shot, and the guys he used to play pick-up games with inside Kimbel Arena will be rooting him on from wherever they’ve wound up a decade later.
“He’s had a lot of good mentors to work under so I’m sure he’s taken a lot of small things here and there from different coaches that he’ll tie into his head coaching position,” Sexton said. “He’s laid back, but he’s a hard-nosed, work-your-[butt] off, get-up-in-people, play ‘D’ and play-hard [coach]. I think he’s going to do a terrific job.”