Mike Boynton Hits the Ground Running Today

Mike Boynton found out Monday night that he was going home. The former Gamecock basketball star got the call he was dreaming about – new USC head basketball coach Darrin Horn asked him to join his staff. Read inside for GamecockAnthem.com's in-depth interview with Coach Boynton.

The last couple basketball seasons have been tough ones for Gamecock supporters. Dave Odom announced his retirement mid-season in January, but the season dragged on for two painful months before the end finally came. The hiring of new coach Darrin Horn fresh off a run to the sweet 16 began to help re-ignite the enthusiasm of the fans. Mike Boynton knows exactly what else South Carolina fans need: that feeling that only comes from your team winning. He stated with passion, "The last time I played a game (at USC) was in the NCAA tournament. It was a lot of fun. I remember the feeling around the campus, the feeling around the community, the state, about what was going on in the basketball program and I'm looking forward to being on the coaching side of the same type of success. Coach Horn, his energy and passion, the way he goes about things and the success that he's had - I can't imagine a situation being more beneficial to the university, and now for me, to be a part of it."

It took a while for Boynton to get the call he was wanting. He first met with Horn about a month ago. "I told him about my feelings about the program and the excitement level I thought it would be with him coming along now, and beginning to move the program to a consistently successful level," Boynton recalled. Horn and the other WKU staffers faced some challenges in making the move to SC, getting settled, etc. Weeks passed without contact. But then Horn called back last week and wanted to talk again, this time about specifics. "That's the first time I really started to get the feeling like it was something that could certainly happen."

Monday night the call with an invitation came, and he quickly accepted. "A month later and here we are. It's a perfect time. You know, my excitement level about the program is as good as anybody could ask."

The attraction of returning to Carolina as a coach is a strong one for Boynton. He cites the advantages of being a coach at his alma mater. "I'm doing it with a lot of pride, with a lot of excitement. I'm going to go all out," he said. "I think it's an advantage to me, just like it was for Coach Horn to coach at his alma mater. So from the success that he's had walking into that building, playing on that court and (then) coaching on that court that he had played on, wearing the uniform that he wore, I'm going into a similar situation. Going into that place when there's 17,000 people in there, wearing that uniform where people were cheering for you and calling your name out, that's definitely going to give me an advantage at how I approach the job and what kind of pride I have in making sure we get it done."

Boynton is only 26, but he's on the fast track for success as a coach. His first year at Carolina will only be his fourth year as a coach, fifth counting a year as a grad assistant. He spent the 2004-05 season as graduate manager at Furman, then had two seasons under Buzz Peterson at Coastal Carolina, before being named associate head coach last season at Wofford University.

Boynton expressed his gratitude to Wofford Coach Mike Young on his last day as a Terrier. "Bringing me in at 25 years old and having enough respect and enough faith in me to name me as associate head coach, and giving me all the responsibilities that came with that," Boynton marveled with gratitude as he spoke. "It's not just about titles, but the responsibilities that come with that title. He allowed me to work and allowed me to develop as a coach. And obviously put me in a position to do what I'm about to do to continue my coaching career at my alma mater."

He'll be the youngest of a young staff at Carolina, but he finds the youthfulness a positive. "We're going to use that in our favor," he said. "The fact that we'll be able to get out and practice with our team is probably not something many can say. Our coaches are not too far removed from their playing days and can still relate to what the guys are going through - guys that understand, and still have a burning desire to succeed."

Boynton is looking forward to joining Horn's staff. While the rest of the staff all came together from Western Kentucky, Boynton is the newcomer. "I haven't got a chance to know those guys well," he said, "but I know well enough that if they are in the NCAA tournament, no one just put them there. They put in a tremendous amount of work and a tremendous amount of hours to get that program to an NCAA tournament caliber level. I'm looking forward to all of us doing that here."

"I didn't know Coach Horn at all" before meeting him to discuss the job, Boynton said, but he did know one of his new co-workers. Scott Cherry and Boynton's former boss Buzz Peterson are from what Boynton describes as "the same basketball family" – they are both alumni of the North Carolina Tarheels, known for their tightness as a coaching clan. "I've known Scott for a couple of years now."

As the headline states, Boynton will hit the ground running today. "We'll sit down as a staff and I'm sure we'll go over responsibilities for each individual, and collectively what our goals are and what we want to do." While his primary responsibility will be recruiting, Boynton says, "One of the things that was impressive to me about Coach Horn is that he wants guys who are well rounded that can do a number of different things. We do understand that recruiting is very important. I come in with an understanding that recruiting is going to be a primary responsibility of mine."

He talked at length about the recruiting experience he has already gained and the other coaches he learned from along the way. Seeing recruits he helped bring in play a key role in turning around a moribund program down at Conway was satisfying to the young coach. "At Coastal Carolina with Buzz, I kind of feel a sense of pride in knowing that I was part of turning that program around," he said.

Speaking of his last year at Wofford, he said, "Just last September Coach Young gave me a lot of responsibilities. Obviously being the associate head coach and pretty much his top guy in terms of getting out on the road and making contacts and seeing people and all that. So, you know, I've had quite a bit of experience on the road. We've got a class coming in here next year that we think are going to be pretty good, along with the guys that they have returning. But, Coach Young was fantastic for me in terms of showing me the ropes and giving me the ability to go out and just get after it."

The new again Gamecock spoke confidently about the recruiting experience he gained at his three previous stops, but acknowledged that he is stepping up to the big leagues now. "I'm looking forward to that challenge, taking it to another level, recruiting a different caliber of player," He stated. "We want to keep kids that are in-state at the University of South Carolina. We'll also step out and reach out to other states."

The NYC native hopes to revive another successful Carolina tradition started by the legendary Frank McGuire and attract top shelf players from the Big Apple down to play in the palmetto state. He said he'll go down to Georgia, and "…up to New York" where he has already developed contacts, and try to get players from up there. "We're going to have some work to do, but we'll be able to do it," he stated confidently.

Having coached at three other schools in South Carolina helped to develop his relationships with key AAU and high school coaches in the palmetto state and neighboring states, but he says some of those relationships go back even further. Asked if he had a good relationship with legendary SC AAU Ravens coach Deon Bethea and other AAU and high school coaches, he said, "Absolutely. My relationships with (some of) those guys go back from my playing days. I've known Deon since I was playing at Carolina, and I've known some of the high school coaches around the state for quite some time now. And those relationships will certainly, I hope, help as I move into this new stage in my career at South Carolina."

Talking about the challenges the new staff faces, Boynton acknowledged, "We obviously have some holes to fill on the roster, but the work we put in will make up for the lack of experience, and that will not be something that will cost us in the end."

"There's some good players on the roster, and I think Coach Horn's style actually lends itself to being pretty successful with the type of players that they do have," he said. "Not having a dominant center is certainly something I'm sure we're going to address in recruiting. It isn't the worst thing, because of the way he plays. He likes to get up and down and create a fast tempo, where you score a lot off your defense. So, you're not necessarily confined to having to walk it up and try to dunk in the side to get some baskets. I think from watching his team (at WKU), the way he coaches will lend itself to being pretty successful with the type of kids (Carolina has)." Speaking of talented players like Mike Holmes and Devan Downey, he stated, "I think those guys will be very successful playing under that system."

Boynton laughed as he acknowledged he would have done well as a player himself under Horn. "I would have enjoyed it. I can't argue with that, but, you know, things happen the way they happen. You just kind of build and you go on. I enjoyed my time. Honestly the ending was a whole lot of fun as we were in the tournament that last year, but my whole time there, my experience was remarkable. And that's one of the things certainly that we're going to communicate to today's players. I've been there. I know what it's like when you get 17 thousand people in that Colonial Center. There aren't many places better than that to play in."

The newest Gamecock coach sent a shout out to the Gamecock Nation about his homecoming: "I'm looking forward to it. I hope to see them all at the Colonial Center come November. But, I'll be there (now) and get things going."

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