Irmo is playing for more than the state basketball title

Special to The StateFebruary 28, 2013 

Longtime Irmo coach Tim Whipple cheers on his team.

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Tim Whipple will be looking to add to his legacy among the elite coaches in South Carolina when Irmo plays Goose Creek in the Class 4A boys basketball state championship game Friday at Colonial Life Arena.

Whipple, who has more than 600 career wins, is aiming for his fifth state title in his 32 years at Irmo. It is his eighth appearance in the championship game.

He also could accomplish something he has never done before – have an undefeated team. He had a run in the 1990s when he appeared in five of six state championship games, but the best record during that time was in 1995 when the Yellow Jackets, led by BJ McKie, finished 28-1.

But don’t count Whipple or his team among those talking about making history.

“It’s not very often you are able to go undefeated,” Whipple said. “This has a chance to be a really special year. Hopefully we can maintain our focus one more week. We haven’t discussed being undefeated at all. The guys have approached everything extremely well and met every challenge. This last game is really going to define our season, but we’re going to approach it like we have the 28 other games.”

This Yellow Jackets team has been like many others – but also a bit different. The first championship team featured Pat Marshall and Marvin Orange in the starring roles before moving on to the two state titles Irmo won with BJ McKie playing a key role.

Two years ago, it was the efforts of Jordan Roper, David Frazier and twins Jeremy and Josh Clinkscales that provided the spark.

This year’s team has standouts in seniors Justin McKie, BJ’s son, and Detrek Browning but they go 10-deep. During the four wins in the playoffs, Whipple had different players contribute in crucial situations. In their toughest game – a third round three-point win over South Pointe – senior Alex Quillen delivered nine consecutive points in the fourth quarter that kept Irmo in line for making history.

“With our really good teams, we’ve had good depth and that’s what made them good teams,” Whipple said. “We don’t have that one dominating player that maybe we had in the past. In all aspects of the word, we are a team. We’ve had a different hero every week.”

That depth has created some intense practice sessions.

“Many times, things would get a little testy in practice,” Whipple said. “It’s good competition, a lot of pushing and shoving and a lot of times, they would get angry with each other. I thought that was good because it gave us an edge. That edge helped us compete in games.”

McKie, Browning and Quillen played on the 2011 championship team. Their roles will be different tonight.

“It’s not mentioned at all,” Browning said of the chance to finish the first unbeaten season in Irmo history. “The last game, obviously is the most important game. We’re just ready to play and once it’s over hopefully people can talk about us being one of the best teams ever at Irmo.”

The Yellow Jackets (28-0) have had the target on their back for some time now and have seemed unfazed by the attention. They jumped into the USA Today national rankings earlier in the season and currently are 21st in the country.

They have one goal and one mission.

“Coach Whipple has coached so many great teams with so many great players I don’t think you can flat out say we’re the best one ever if we finish the season undefeated,” Justin McKie said. “I think having the target keeps us going and makes us realize everybody wants to knock us off. We have to do it one more time and we’ll accomplish something very, very special.”

WHIPPLE’S CHAMPIONSHIPS

Record of the Irmo boys’ basketball team in the four state title years under coach Tim Whipple:

1990-91: 29-2

1993-94: 31-3

1994-95: 28-1

2010-11: 27-3

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