ROCKINGHAM — Donald “Bootsie” Pettigrew’s name has been mentioned often when conversation asks who should be the NCHSAA’s 4A head boys’ basketball coach of the year.
A grin and a waving hand gesture by him when asked about it tells anyone all he or she needs to know — personal accolades aren’t something that Pettigrew is concerned about.
While he deserves to be in the conversation, as he’s led the Richmond Raider basketball team to its first state title since 1997 accompanied by many record-breaking performances this winter, Pettigrew has just one ultimate goal.
He wants to finish what he helped start nearly three decades ago as a three-year starter for the Raiders.
A 1997 graduate of Richmond, Pettigrew was part of two of the program’s best teams his junior and senior seasons.
The Raiders and former coaching legend Tom Baucom went to back-to-back 4A state championships, but finished as the runner-up both times.
As a junior shooting guard in 1995-96, Pettigrew and the Raiders fell to Dudley High School 76-68 in overtime.
A season later with Pettigrew now running the point, Richmond was within a possession of bringing home the hardware, falling 82-80 to Independence High School.
Now Pettigrew will return to the same arena on Saturday, the Dean E. Smith Center at UNC Chapel Hill, to try and lead this year’s Raiders to Title Town.
Pettigrew spent 16 seasons as an assistant coach for the Raiders, first with David May and then with David Laton. May, who led the Raiders to their most recent regional championship appearance in 2000-01, brought Pettigrew on staff in Nov. 2001.
When Laton took over in 2009, Pettigrew stayed on until he was hired in June 2017 as Richmond’s next head coach.
Under May and Laton’s tutelage, Pettigrew said he learned a lot of the ins and outs of coaching he still uses today.
“Coach May taught me a lot about worth ethic and I really learned how to manage a team,” Pettigrew said as he watched the Raiders practice on Monday. “I thought I knew how to run sets as a player, but it’s so different as a coach.
“When I was with Coach Laton, the biggest thing he taught me was patience,” he added. “Little things like when to address issues and when not to fuss. Both coaches are great friends and great mentors.”
Admitting that he “never thought I’d be (at Richmond) this long,” Pettigrew said he never thought of being a head coach until the opportunity came up after Laton’s departure in 2016.
At the age of 44, an astounding statistic is that Pettigrew has devoted 24 years of his life to the Raider basketball program as a player, assistant coach and head coach.
“This is my calling,” Pettigrew said. “And it’s so much more than just coaching. It’s about helping the kids and being a mentor to them. Helping change their lives for the good, that’s what it’s about.”
He added that seeing former players like Patrick McLaughlin, Alex Quick, Nygie Stroman and Jarvis Tillman succeed at playing college ball and in the classroom is something that makes him really proud.
One of Pettigrew’s teammates during the historic run in 1995-96 was Teddy Moseley, the current head coach of the Lady Raiders. Classmates and teammates, Moseley and Pettigrew have been friends since playing rec sports in Rockingham.
The two were teammates at Rockingham Junior High School in the early 1990s, a team coached by current Richmond principal Jim Butler. Moseley, a year ahead of Pettigrew in school, was a point guard who played college ball at Francis Marion.
Although they went their separate ways professionally before reuniting at Richmond six years ago, Moseley said their friendship never wavered.
“It’s been great coaching beside him,” Moseley said. “Bootsie has been in this program for so long that you can’t say Richmond Raider basketball without saying his name. He’s had success as a player and now as a coach.
“He’s made his mark on the program, and I’ve learned a lot from him,” he continued. “He’s been in my corner the whole time and I can’t say enough about him as a coach and a friend. It’s cool to see it come full circle — no one is more deserving than him because of what he’s put into this program.
“I’m really proud of him and of course I’m rooting for him and the team on Saturday. For him to be a part of all three teams to go to the state championship, it’s pretty amazing.”
Even 26 years after the Raiders came up short to Independence in the 4A title game, Pettigrew still feels pangs of regret mixed with some of the happiest memories of high school.
“I hadn’t watched the film of that game until last summer when my teammate Sam Breeden and I sat down together,” Pettigrew recalled. “There were a lot of should-have, would-have, could-have feelings, but more importantly I have so many great memories.
“The whole team is still close even after all these years. That’s what I’m trying to teach our players now — to enjoy the moment and enjoy each other because these times don’t last.”
Following the loss in 1997, Pettigrew remembers how his childhood friend and fellow graduate Derrick Watkins gave him some advice that is still paying dividends today.
“I was really emotional and Derrick came to me and told me that because basketball was so important to me, God would always make sure the game wouldn’t do me harm,” Pettigrew shared.
“And now I’ve got something really special in being able to coach basketball at my school. The family atmosphere we’ve created is amazing.”
Butler first met Pettigrew when he was eight years old, serving as his rec ball coach. Calling Pettigrew the best player in the league, Butler joked that Pettigrew made him look like the John Wooden of rec sports.
Their paths crossed again at Rockingham Junior High, where Butler was Pettigrew’s coach for three more years. Noticing Pettigrew’s “next level love and enthusiasm for the game that sets great players apart,” Butler named him team captain.
Now nearly 30 years later, the same attributes Butler saw in the teenage version of Pettigrew are being showcased as the Raiders’ head coach.
“He was talented and also the hardest working player even as a kid,” Butler commented. “That love and enthusiasm that you get from a young kid can still be seen in the man he is today. He gives it everything he has.
“On the court, you see his players give him everything they have. They do it for each other. I am so proud of what he is doing with this team. But take away the wins and losses and I would still be proud of the man he has become. If you know Bootsie, you love him, and I know him very well.”
Butler said the simple answer to how Pettigrew remains an asset to Richmond Senior and the community is his basketball experience as a player, assistant coach and head coach. But sometimes it’s the intangibles that make the bigger impact.
“Coach Pettigrew has so much heart. He has the biggest heart of anyone I have ever met,” Butler said. “With that big heart, he loves his players, coaches, managers, fans and co-workers. He loves his family. He loves being a Richmond Raider. If the Raiders love him back just a fraction of what he feels for them, they will be rich indeed.”
Only one victory separates this year’s Richmond Raider basketball team from feeling the elation of being crowned a state champion that escaped Pettigrew twice as a player.
The whirlwind weekend has been filled with lots of congratulations, but Pettigrew and the team zeroed back in on the ultimate goal during Monday’s practice.
The message? Go be great and bring home what the team has worked so hard for the past 12 months.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet, it’s still an unreal feeling. I was talking to my dad the other night and it’s still crazy to think about,” Pettigrew closed. “But we’re not here to just make it. We’re grateful, but we’re here to finish the deal to make history.”
Ironically enough, Pettigrew was named the All-District 4 Coach of the Year on Monday, released by the N.C. Basketball Coaches Association.
Richmond (28-2) will face Myers Park High School (27-4) for the 4A state championship on Saturday.
In what will be a rematch of a 78-37 loss by the Raiders to the Mustangs in their second game of the season, tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. at the Dean Dome.
The Richmond Observer will publish more information about the 4A state championship and additional features this week.