High School Sports

Too good to be true? Title-winning hoops coach to lead this tiny Grand Strand program

Former Hemingway High School co-interim head coach Pat Lewis, center, talks to his players during the 2016-17 Class A state championship game.
Former Hemingway High School co-interim head coach Pat Lewis, center, talks to his players during the 2016-17 Class A state championship game. SCHSL screen grab

Patrick Lewis decided to bet on himself.

A year after helping lead the Hemingway High School boys basketball team to the 2016-17 Class A championship as a co-interim head coach, the Tigers alumnus felt that going back to being an assistant would be a step backward.

He decided to take a year off and wait for the right opportunity to come.

"I felt like after we had won the championship and I was one of the head leaders, it was kind of like disrespectful to go back to being an assistant coach again after they had trusted me to lead a team to a championship and we accomplished that," said Lewis, whose opportunity came recently when he was named head coach of a South Carolina High School League Class A upstart program based in Horry County, Coastal Leadership Academy.

Despite having several offers to be an assistant coach, including one at his alma mater, Hemingway, under new coach Emmanuel DeWalt, Lewis kept a keen eye on what was happening at other programs. It just so happened that Coastal Leadership Academy was looking for a coach as athletic director Daniel Pfister was planning to focus on other duties than coaching hoops.

Pfister finished out last season and after was prepared to find someone else to lead the program, which this winter will be making its endeavor into Class A basketball through realignment.

"He wanted to step down and I went for the interview and it went good," Lewis said.

Pfister said he was overjoyed that such an accomplished coach approached him about the opportunity. "He sought us out," the AD said.

"I thought it was one of those too-good-to-be-true moments, looking at his resume," Pfister said. "But, you know, he was tired of being the assistant coach and him winning a state title as an interim coach, I definitely don’t blame him for wanting to be a head coach."

Pfister said that Lewis was never fazed when the two talked about the obstacles that lie ahead for the upstart program.

"He’s willing to take on that challenge," said Pfister, whose sanctioned programs for the 2018-19 school year will include boys basketball, volleyball and boys and girls cross country. "His references are great, both on the court and outside of basketball, so I’m excited to see what he can do."

Pfister was also impressed by Lewis' eagerness to commit fully to the program and the students.

"What really struck me as a pleasant surprise was the work he’s willing to do outside of practices and outside of the game," Pfister said of Lewis, who will not be required to teach at the school but also will serve as head cross country coach. "He’s very on board with fundraisers. He understands the time commitment it takes off the court. He’s willing to do the tutoring sessions, make sure students are where they need to be grade wise before they start playing. And that is not something every coach will get you."

Lewis' playing days included a 2002-03 state championship at Hemingway, a collegiate career at Cape Fear Community College and a stint with the South Carolina Warriors, a former ABA team rooted on the Grand Strand that folded after two seasons.

As a coach, Lewis has served as an assistant at both Lewisville and Hemingway. Come this fall, he'll get his first opportunity as the main man with CLA.

"It’s big now, man," Lewis said of the opportunity. "We’re just going to get all the players together and go run with it and take it to the next level. A lot of people really don’t know about us, so we’re trying to take it to a higher level."

Lewis said he's had just one practice with the players and overall doesn't know much about the talent pool he'll have at a school whose enrollment is about 150, according to Pfister. Regardless of talent, Lewis said the drive to be successful is a must.

"You’ve got to really want it like day in and day out. Outside of like what we do - when I hold practices with the kids I try to do that - it’ll be up to them to keep working on their own time outside of team practices and team film sessions," Lewis said. "It’s going to take them when they’re at home or when they’re together with their friends or teammates to do the extra work. It’s going to take more than the regular school practices to be elite."

Lewis said he's ready to hit the ground running, both literally and figuratively.

"I want to install a good up-and-down pace," he said. "We’re going to push it a lot, [play] some intense defense - get everybody to buy into that early. We’re going to push it, man."

CLA enters SCHSL play in Region VI-A, which includes Creek Bridge, Green Sea Floyds, Lake View and, yes, Hemingway. Lewis said he hasn't gone as far as to circle his team's meetings with the Tigers on the calendar, but he did admit going against his alma mater will be quite an experience.

"I think it’s going to be very exciting and competitive," said Lewis, who still lives in Hemingway but plans to move to Myrtle Beach ahead of the 2018-19 season. "As of right now I’m going to look at it as like any other game, but when we meet it’s going to be really exciting."