- Horry County Schools
Socastee High Renames Basketball Court for Legendary Coach D’Antoni
On Friday, December 2, Socastee High School renamed its basketball court for former coach Lewis Joseph “Dan” D’Antoni II.
Born in Mullens, West Virginia, on July 9, 1947, D’Antoni played basketball as a point guard for Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, while pursuing his bachelor’s degree there.
After graduating in 1970, D’Antoni began work on his master’s degree from Marshall while serving as the head coach of their freshman basketball team and later as the assistant coach of the varsity squad.
D’Antoni moved to Horry County in 1972 after completing his master’s, becoming a guidance counselor at Myrtle Beach Junior High School (now Myrtle Beach Middle) and later at North Myrtle Beach High School. In 1975, he became a P.E. teacher and the head basketball coach for Socastee High School, a title he held for 30 years.
In 1981, D’Antoni founded the Beach Ball Classic, a national high school basketball tournament designed to bring more attention to basketball on the east coast, especially to South Carolina players. This annual tournament, held during the winter holiday time, has seen several players who went on to play professional basketball, including NBA veterans such as Rasheed Wallace, Raymond Felton, Vince Carter, Kobe Bryant, and Myrtle Beach native Ramon Sessions.
For the majority of its history, the tournament consisted of eight teams: four from South Carolina, and four from out-of-state. In 1998, a second tournament began for high school girls' basketball teams called the Holiday Invitational. In recent years, the boys’ tournament split in two, with one set of eight teams from traditional high schools and another set of eight from independent/prep schools.
D’Antoni hoped the tournament would draw college coaches and recruiters who would offer scholarships to local students. Beyond those scholarships from colleges, the tournament itself has awarded over $300,000 in scholarships to Horry County students since 1989, thanks to its annual raffle.
That first year, the tournament was held at Coastal Carolina College (now University) because Socastee’s gym had burned down in 1977 and had not yet been rebuilt. The gym was finally finished in 1982, however, allowing the tournament to take place there for the next decade, bringing the school significant notoriety. However, in 1994, the tournament had outgrown the school’s space, so it moved to the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, where it continues to this day.
The late John T. Rhodes was not only the first executive director of the tournament but also the mayor of the city of Myrtle Beach from 2006 to 2017. In his forward to Ian Guerin’s 2016 book The Beach Ball Classic: Premier High School Hoops on the Grand Strand, Rhodes says D’Antoni’s vision led to the tournament's success and claims it “was the start of sports tourism in our city.”
D’Antoni retired from high school coaching in 2005, but his coaching career didn’t end then. His brother Mike, who was then the head coach of the Phoenix Suns, hired D’Antoni as an assistant coach for the NBA team. D’Antoni followed his brother to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012.
In 2014, D’Antoni returned to his alma mater to serve as Marshall University’s head basketball coach, where, in 2018, he led the team to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1987. Currently 75 years old, D’Antoni still coaches for Marshall’s “Thundering Herd.”
D’Antoni has received many accolades over the years, including being inducted into the Marshall University Athletics Hall of Fame in 1990 and into the South Carolina Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2016.
Now, after renovations in its gym, Socastee High is renaming its basketball court after D’Antoni, calling it the Coach “D” Court. This renaming is to honor not only his time of service there and the attention he brought the school and the area with the Beach Ball Classic tournament, but also his successful coaching record there—including 524 wins, 12 region championships, and eight region tournament championships—and his love for the court during his time there.
According to friends and colleagues, D’Antoni valued the gym at Socastee High and treated it like it was his home. He swept the floor himself every day, at least twice a day, and kept a tally of every time he swept the floor. By the time D’Antoni retired, he had swept the gym over 14 thousand times. That’s an average of around 475 times per year for the 30 years he coached there.
He put that much energy into his players, as well. Derrick Hilton has been the Socastee head boys basketball coach since 2017, and he was one of D’Antoni’s players in the 1990s. Hilton says, “Coach D is one of the foundations of Socastee High School. He was a teacher, a coach, and he was also a mentor to a lot of students that have been here throughout the program.”
Regarding D’Antoni’s impact on Hilton’s coaching, Hilton says, “Coach D did a lot for me growing up as a young man, helping me get off to college and continuing my college career to play basketball. Now I’m fortunate enough to come home, give back, and do what I learned from him. I saw what he’s built and what he was able to do as a person and as a coach for the school and the community, and that’s what I base everything off of—trying to do the same thing and follow in his footsteps.”
Alvin Green is Socastee’s head junior varsity basketball coach and an assistant varsity coach. He says his first interaction with D’Antoni was when “Coach D” told Green as a student that he was going to put Green on the varsity team, but D’Antoni warned Green that he would have to compete against D’Antoni’s sons who played the same position as Green. Green remembers replying, “I don’t care about your sons. I’m gonna play hard. I play to win, and you’re going to have to figure it out.” Green says that, after that interaction, D’Antoni “held me accountable all through my high school career. He changed my life in many ways and gave me hope and a vision of something else besides high school. I never even thought about college until Coach D.”
Regarding D’Antoni’s coaching style, Green says that D’Antoni “showed me tough love at times. I may not have liked things that he said to me, but I had to take it. I say those same things to my guys now. All the hard practices, road trips, and little talks he had with me on the side just resonate with me and made me into a better person.”
Stan Parker agrees with Green that D’Antoni showed tough love, saying, “After practice, he always wanted to play people one-on-one, and he wouldn’t let you score. He wouldn’t let you get a rebound. He was teaching you to be tough.” Parker was one of D’Antoni’s first players at Socastee, graduating in 1978. He’s also a former president of the Beach Ball Classic.
Parker remembers when D’Antoni came to Socastee during Parker’s sophomore year, saying, “Socastee had never had a really successful basketball program. People told [D’Antoni], ‘If you go there, you’re going to a graveyard. It’s the kiss of death.’ He didn’t know what he was getting into because he came over here and had a bunch of guys that wanted to play. The first year we were so-so, our junior year we were very good, and our senior year we only lost four games.” Parker attributes that success to D’Antoni as a coach.
D’Antoni’s oldest son Matt says that having the court named for his father is very special to them both and that D’Antoni “poured his heart and soul into this school and team.”
Due to his coaching duties at Marshall, D’Antoni was unfortunately not able to attend the ceremony in person, though he did participate via video call. The ceremony took place at halftime during Socastee’s varsity boys' basketball game against Waccamaw High School. Socastee went on to win the game, 57–49.