Four hundred career wins is a rarity among prep basketball coaches, a testament to longevity, attention to detail and great players.
Two area milestones in the same season is even more remarkable, about as uncommon as a late-January blizzard disrupting the Carolinas. At least one of those is happening this week and perhaps another.
“It just shows the prolonged dedication these two guys have in their sports,” said county athletic director Jason Suggs.
Like a fine wine, Fairmont’s Michael Baker has only gotten better with age, while Danny Graham, a name synonymous with success at Lumberton High, continues to have the same fire during a timeout he’s shown since coaching his first season in 1994.
Monday’s victory over West Columbus was Fairmont’s eighth straight and No. 399 for Baker, all with the Golden Tornadoes. His first chance to join the elite 400 club is Friday at East Columbus.
“I don’t keep track of them, I just coach,” Baker said. “This is home for me and I’ve always felt like I’m just doing my part in helping the next generation of athletes.”
Graham’s four wins away from the prestigious mark after Monday’s victory at Hoke and has directed the Lady Pirates to nine winning seasons in 11 years since capturing the 4A state championship — Robeson County’s last major sports title — in 2001.
He’s won six Shootout championships, the most by any active coach.
“I’ve been coaching a long time and I still love it,” Graham said. “The kids mean everything. If 400 happens this year or next, the players deserve all the credit.”
Baker, now in his 24th season, has been especially dominant since returning to the bench following a seven-year break in 2010. During the stretch, the Golden Tornadoes have managed a sparkling 81-16 record with three conference championships and an East Regional final appearance.
“The community adds to the excitement for us, following our players and coming to all the games,” Baker said. “When you got that kind of support, the younger kids see that and want to stay involved. We’ve tried to play the game the right way with a little bit of fun and some discipline thrown in there.
“The success we’ve had at Fairmont has been a combined effort between the school, the community and our coaching staff.”
In July, Baker will lead the East All-Stars inside Greensboro Coliseum during the North Carolina Coaches Association East-West Game, another feather in the cap for the former Roanoke College star.
Since his playing days, Baker’s spent the last 30 years as an educator and has no plans to retire.
At least not yet.
“When I feel like I don’t want to do it anymore, I’ll step away,” Baker said. “I’m too demanding. I’m here early in the morning and I leave late at night. I only know one speed and that’s full speed.”
Currently, Fairmont’s in line for a top 2A playoff seed as the Three Rivers Conference’s first-place team. The Golden Tornadoes have blistered their way through league competition and have won their last three contests by an average of 45.6 points per game.
East Regionals are in Fayetteville again and depending on matchups, Fairmont should be locked in for multiple home games during the early rounds. The Golden Tornadoes have lost just three times at home in the last four seasons.
“Right now, we don’t have any star players and every night it’s somebody else who’s producing,” Baker said. “We’re athletic and talented enough to make a good run, but so many factors go into it. I told them years ago, if we can make this thing come through Fairmont, we can get to regionals.”
With only one senior in his starting five, Graham’s preparing for the future. Lumberton’s stocked with talent led by budding sophomore stars Mariah Locklear and Randi Bullard.
“It’s different coaching a team filled with sophomores, but they’ve come a long way,” Graham said.
Reach Brad Crawford at 910-272-6111 or on Twitter @MrPalmettoSDS.