Irmo head coach Tim Whipple holds the 2022-23 state championship trophy. (Photos by Dylan Jackson)
There’s nothing that Irmo’s boys basketball coach Tim Whipple hasn’t accomplished during his 42 years as head coach.
But his proudest achievement isn’t the 800-plus wins Whipple has accumulated nor the six state championships, the most recent of which came in early March.
“I think that my biggest accomplishment is building relationships with the kids,” Whipple said. “The thing I get more joy out of is being involved in the lives of former (or present) players.”
Building those connections with players has been a point of emphasis throughout Whipple’s time at the Class 4A school.
“He’s developed relationships,” said Ray Canady, former Irmo athletic director. “That’s the biggest takeaway from listening to him talk about his players and where they are now.”
Whipple’s early approach to coaching works to build that trust. Players enter the Irmo basketball program beginning in seventh grade. Player development is a top priority from that point on.
“If you’re going to be successful in any job that you do, I think it starts from the ground up,” Whipple said. “… You start with younger kids, … and they understand what’s expected of you: the accountability that is involved, the work ethic. You start laying that groundwork for what they’re going to be able to do in the future.”
But there’s as much of an emphasis on character as basketball talent for Whipple.
“We find kids that are of character, that are good kids,” Whipple said. “Then we try to find the best basketball players out of those high-character kids. And I think that’s what we build our program around.”
Madden Collins, a junior guard, said Whipple is an effective communicator.
“We’re willing to make mistakes,” Collins said. “Because we know that if we learn from our mistakes, we can get it back.”
That mentality is conducive for growing.
“(Whipple’s) trust gave me a confidence to help me play,” Collins said. “He wants us to do our best, do our best at all times.”
That focus on player development culminated in a state championship for Irmo this past season.
Whipple’s career hasn’t been without rough patches.
“When we first started back in the 80s, we had a few lean years,” Whipple said. “Nothing too bad. But when we really had a dry spell was a few years into the early 2000s.”
Irmo had come off a seven-year stretch where the team appeared in six state championships.
“Our enrollment fell,” Whipple said. “So the quality of the player dropped a little bit because of that. We were able to maintain for a few years, but we hit a little drought there.”
Whipple is always evaluating how he can be better – especially in those droughts.
“I always feel like it’s my responsibility to find a way for our (kids) to be successful,” Whipple said. “That means I have to always look in the mirror.”
Pressure always builds when there’s a lack of on-court success, according to Whipple.
“The pressure I put on myself is enough,” he said. “There was a little pressure from outside people that didn’t like the fact that we weren’t winning (in the early 2000s). But that happens in coaching. There’s always somebody that’s not happy with what’s going on.”
You must remain confident to withstand those hard times, Whipple said.
“I always have confidence in my ability to do things,” he said. “The people that are complaining usually are the ones that understand the least about what it means to be successful.”
Whipple says he has been lucky to have had his level of success.
“There are talented coaches that work just as hard as I do,” said Whipple. “(They) put in just as much time, do everything the right way, are people, great people, that have never had an opportunity to play in a state championship game, let alone win one.”