WEST COLUMBIA, SC — When DeAndrei Carson took the helm as coach of Pine Ridge Middle School’s boys basketball team, he had big shoes to fill – his late father’s.
Rich Gibson, better known as “Coach Rich,” was a beloved coach, mentor, and father figure at the Lexington Two middle school and around the Pine Ridge community until his passing in November 2022. He had spent decades coaching football and basketball, including in local middle schools as well as in league play, some of that time spent working alongside his son.
Carson said he had been assisting and working at Pine Ridge with his father and Airport High School teacher and coach Travis Barnes. With his father’s passing, stepping into the lead coaching role seemed a natural fit.
“I learned so much from my dad, from being sure to have open communication with players and parents to building a disciplined team,” Carson said. “Our last season together he actually made me stand up and coach the team during games. He was preparing me, and us, for this moment.”
The boys basketball team just wrapped up an undefeated regular season, with a 12-0 record and two titles: District Champions and PAC Regular Season Champions. The team’s assistant coaches include Stephen Lauro and Charles Johnson.
The Pine Ridge team begins its playoff run on Thursday, February 8, against Chapin Middle. The game will be played at Pine Ridge Middle, with tipoff scheduled for 5:30 p.m.
At practice this week, Carson said they’re focused on staying humble.
“Being undefeated and District Champs is huge,” Carson said. “This team has worked very hard, and they continue to want to get better. As a coach, that’s what you want – for your team to believe in you, buy into your system, and work hard. These guys have done that.”
Carson added, “I’m thankful I’ve been able to be part of a chapter in their lives that they’ll remember forever.”
Carson said he’s proud of the tradition his father built at Pine Ridge. The school is honoring that, too, putting the finishing touches on an outdoor basketball court being built in Coach Rich’s memory. It was paid for in part by a school-sponsored kickball tournament that raised more than $2,000 for the two goals.
“My dad laid a great foundation for the boys program here at Pine Ridge Middle,” Carson said. “It feels absolutely amazing to add on to what he has built.”