Hometown Sports

March 06, 2023

*How Conway Followed Hopkins into Upper Echelon of State’s Hoops Landscape*

Mike Hopkins talked about banners and current players, past successes and even a few struggles along the way.

And, then, he ended the next question before it was done being asked.

What did making the Class 5A lower state final mean to him? “Nothing,” the Conway boys basketball coach said without so much as a pause.

The 18 years Hopkins has led the program are certainly more than he would have ever guessed, and they’ve included both lows and highs.

Recently, though, it’s mostly been all about the latter.

The Tigers have had nine consecutive winning seasons, and on Monday they’ll play in their second state semifinal in four seasons - after not qualifying for one during the previous 50 years. The third-round victory over River Bluff on Wednesday was the team’s 10th playoff win in the last six seasons, more than any other boys program in Horry County during that span. And Conway finished the regular season as the No. 2 team in the South Carolina Basketball Coaches Associations Class 5A rankings.

For everything that’s happened to this program, for all the players who have come through and a bunch of playoff losses that ultimately stretched some 20-plus years (well into the opening half of Hopkins’s tenure), Conway basketball is on as solid of footing as it’s ever been.

Yes, things are pretty good in Tigerland.

Hopkins, meanwhile, is getting pretty good at deflecting.

The former NCAA Division-I head coach and high-major assistant echoes something longtime Indiana coach Bobby Knight told him in 1994 during an early season tournament.

“Good players make good coaches,” Hopkins remembered the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee saying.

Those around Hopkins now call hogwash.

“He does a phenomenal job. He holds those kids accountable and they play the right way,” Tigers Athletics Director Anthony Carroll said. “Defense is our key. And he gets those kids to give it everything they’ve got. They love their coach. He can talk about good players making good coaches. But he’s a dang good coach.”

*South Florence's Williams Makes Final Match Count With State Title*

Things happened so quickly, Kennedy Williams wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.

Williams, a South Florence High senior, was facing North Augusta’s Giana Nault for the 285-pound 4A state wrestling crown Saturday at the Anderson Sports & Entertainment Center.

Normally, Williams is a thrower in matches, she said. But this time, she took the words of her coach to heart.

“When she went to shoot on me, she put her right leg forward, at that’s an opportunity to go a do a single snap shot,” Williams said. “I got her down.”

Just 33 seconds in, Williams earned the pinfall to not only capture the first girls’ wrestling title in Bruins’ history, but the first on in the history of the young wrestling program overall.

The sudden ending to the match came as a bit of a shock to Williams to say the least.

“I was kind of like, ‘That was quick,’” she said. “…I expected it to be longer and for it to be that short, I was in shock in the moment.”

But as it started to sink in, Williams turned her attention to her opponent, she said.

“I helped her up and gave her a hug because she told me she was a sophomore and it was her first year,” Williams said. “…I told her after, ‘You have two more years, you got this.’ I just encouraged her.”

Williams shook the opposing coach’s hand as well and then celebrated with her own after a nerve-wracking day that ended in triumph.

The Bruins senior was quick to heap praise on her coaches, teammates, family and everyone that got her to where she was, she said.

“I’m of course happy; I’m grateful,” Williams said. “I really couldn’t do it without my teammates, my friends, my family and of course God.