Lexington boys’ basketball is in the midst of one of its best seasons in school history. It also will be the last for longtime coach Bailey Harris.
On Thursday, Harris told his team after practice he would be stepping down as coach at the end of the season. Lexington plays Berkeley on Saturday in the Class 5A Lower State championship at the Florence Center.
Harris will remain as the school’s boys cross country coach and teach history at the school.
“Seniors, this is going to be my last ride … this will be my last go around. I will go out the seniors,” Harris said as he addressed his team in the locker room following practice.
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Harris, who celebrated 56th birthday Thursday, said he knew before the star of the season that this would be his last year but didn’t know the right time to tell his team. After talking with friends, former players and coaching friends, they encouraged him to do it before the end of the season despite the remarkable run the team is on this year.
Lexington is 29-0 this season and is the lone boys’ basketball team in SC that is unbeaten. The Wildcats set the school record for consecutive victories after their 61-49 victory over Conway on Tuesday.
“Definitely one of the toughest things I have ever had to do.” Harris said. “I didn’t want to be that coach that waited a year or two too long to go out. I still feel like I have a lot in me and this really validated that a lot.”
Mason Carver and Bradley Foulks, two of the nine seniors on the roster, definitely were surprised by Harris announcement but are glad they have a chance to be part of his final year at the school.
“It is bittersweet,” said Carver the team’s leading scorer. “I’m happy for him for sure. He has had a huge influence on me. We go to the same church at Mt. Horab and see him every Sunday. With him, it is more about basketball it is about life. He is like a second dad to me and I could always count on him.”
“It is a great way to go out and I’m proud of my coach and all he has gotten me through,” Foulks said. “He has increased my game and knowledge of the game and groomed me to the player I am today. I am glad to say I had one of the best coaches ever to come through Lexington coach me.”
Longtime assistant Joey Reid also will be stepping down with Harris at the end of the season. Harris said he would give his input about the next Lexington coach if the school’s administration asks him.
Harris has had a decorated career. He was head women’s coach at Coastal Carolina College from 1985-86 and a grad assistant at Furman for one season before arriving at Lexington in 1987. He has only had two losing seasons during his tenure and recorded his 600th victory last season. Going into Saturday’s games, he has 637 wins, tied for sixth most in state history with Chip Atkins. Irmo’s Tim Whipple and Calhoun County’s Zam Frederick are only two active coaches in S.C. history with more wins than Harris.
Harris’ Lexington teams have won 13 region titles, made it to the state semifinals 10 times and state championships on six occasions. The Wildcats won state titles in 1996 and 2000. Harris won at least 20 or more games in a season 17 times, including 10 straight years from 1993-94 to 2002-03.
Harris was inducted into the S.C. Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2013 and in the S.C Track and Cross Country Coaches Association in 2014. Lexington won four state cross country championships in a row from 2010-13.
Many of Harris’ former players have gone on to become coaches including three in the same region with him – River Bluff’s Ben Lee, White Knoll’s Devin Liferidge and Dutch Fork’s Bret Jones. Dorman’s Thomas Ryan also played for Harris and has led the Cavaliers to back-to-back Class 5A titles.
Harris and Ryan could meet in the state championship if Dorman and Lexington both win their Class 5A semifinal games.
“We definitely want to go two more games,” Harris said. “I couldn’t ask for a better group. When you get a group like this that is phenomenal young men that you want to be around every day. I will miss every aspect of high school basketball. There is not a thing about high school basketball that I won’t miss I assure you.”