Socastee High School is getting a self-proclaimed “gym rat” in its new head boys basketball coach.
Now, he only hopes his players will follow suit.
Derrick Hilton, a 1998 graduate of the school and 10-year assistant coach with the Braves, has been given the keys to the program, it was announced during a press conference inside the school’s library Tuesday afternoon.
“I’m a gym rat myself and if they are gym rats they are going to love playing for me,” Hilton said. “I’m the kind of coach who is going to be here, work hard and (be) dedicated. I know what it takes in order for us to win and that’s going to be time and effort, and I’m the coach that’s going to make sure we put that time and effort in.”
Hilton takes over for DeAndre Scott, who stepped down from the position in April after three years leading the program. A pair of South Carolina Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Famers preceded Scott. Tommy Johnson coached there for eight years after longtime coach Dan D’Antoni stepped down after 30 years at the helm in 2005.
Socastee athletic director Tim Renfrow said Hilton, who played for D’Antoni in the late 1990s, was a logical choice.
“Derrick’s always been a strong candidate. He’s been here. He’s waited his turn. He’s worked hard for us for the years he’s been here. He played here. We feel like we’re at a point now where we want to give him the opportunity,” Renfrow said. “We feel like we’ve got this program started back in the right direction. When coach D’Antoni left it was a big void to fill. Tommy [Johnson] came in and bought us some time and DeAndre’s followed him. So we’re back where we feel like we’ve got some good basketball players, some things are moving our way and we just think Derrick’s the guy to take us to the next step.”
The Braves are a young squad that stumbled to a 7-17 (1-9 Region VI-AAAA) record a season ago. With realignment looming, next season Socastee will be a Class AAAAA school.
Despite the struggles, Hilton believes the team is on an upward trajectory.
“Thankfully we’ve got another year under our belt. These guys are going from juniors to seniors or either from sophomores to juniors,” he said. “So I think that year and this summer of maturing will definitely help and I think that we’ve got guys that are willing to work and I think we’re making the right turn and we’re headed in the right direction.”
Having already worked with the players in recent years will help make for a smooth transition, Hilton said.
“I look at it as an advantage because it’s not too much that we’re going to be changing. There might be a few wrinkles here and there, but the guys are familiar with myself and the guys are familiar with some of the other guys on the staff, so I think it will be a great transition,” he said. “A lot of the guys were pulling and hoping that I was going to be able to stay with them and continue to work, and that works out. And with me already being in the program I think it’s going to help and I think it helps give us a little more stability.”
Said Renfrow: “When you’ve been at a place and you know the ins and outs I think it’s huge in most cases. And I think it’s huge here at Socastee, knowing our kids. There’s not going to be an acclimation period for somebody new coming in learning the kids and our school and learning a lot of things, so he’s going to be able to jump right in and go to work.”
Hilton is the second Socastee alumnus to be named a head coach of an area school within the last month. Alvin Green, who played with Hilton in high school and was helping out at Socastee this past winter, was named North Myrtle Beach’s head coach last month. Another former Brave, Monty Carr, is the head coach at St. James.
The friendly rivalry is already on as Socastee principal Dr. Paul Browning proclaimed “Beat Alvin Green!” during Tuesday’s press conference.
That is just one of many familiar rivals Hilton will be competing against.
“I’m looking forward to it. Alvin is like a little brother. We played together for three years. Coach Carr actually was one of the assistant coaches my senior year when we went to the state championship and he actually helped me out. I know Coach (Billy) Hurston (of St. James) well. I know (Carolina Forest) coach (Brian) Brunson from five-star camp and when he coached at Myrtle Beach and I played against him,” Hilton said. “So the coaching carousel around here is going to be interesting and I’m ready for the challenge and looking forward to the matchups with those guys.”
Getting the opportunity was a longtime coming for Hilton, who is eager to take over his alma mater.
“You can’t dream anything like this: the opportunity for me to come back here and – like I’ve said – I’ve walked through these halls, I’ve been in those locker rooms and I’ve been in our players’ shoes. So the opportunity to come here is a blessing,” he said. “I can’t complain. I’m thankful. I’m just very thankful for the opportunity.”