ROCKINGHAM — A lot of “program history” has been made for the Richmond Raider basketball team this season, but following Wednesday’s win, the spotlight was on Donald Pettigrew, who reached a personal milestone.
Pettigrew, who led the Raiders to back-to-back state runner-up finishes as a player in the late 1990s, earned his 100th career win as the head coach of his alma mater.
When Paul McNeil Jr. scored a putback with 4:35 left in the third quarter of Wednesday’s 79-50 victory over Hoke County in the first round of the Sandhills Athletic Conference tournament, it proved to be the game-winning basket to etch Pettigrew’s name in the 100-win club.
As the final buzzer sounded, Pettigrew smiled as he hugged members of his coaching staff and high-fived players in celebration.
In 148 career games coached, Pettigrew has amassed an overall record of 100-48, including 22 victories so far this season. Against conference opponents in regular-season play, Pettigrew is 49-24.
His current winning percentage is .680, and he’s coached Richmond to consecutive SAC titles, including this season’s outright title, the first since 2003-04.
When he took over the program at the start of the 2017-18 season, Pettigrew inherited a team run by former coach David Laton’s “the system.”
A fast-paced scheme focused on producing a high output of points, one that saw Richmond lead the nation with 100.8 points per game in 2016-17, Pettigrew wanted to shift the Raiders to a more defensive-minded team during his tenure.
Pettigrew admitted that his first season was challenging, but that both his coaching, as well as the program, has come a long way since his first win on Dec. 5, 2017.
Led by a team-high 17 points from his son Zay Pettigrew, then a junior forward, the Raiders defeated Purnell Swett High School 77-65 on their home court.
“One of the reasons for his success is the culture he’s built with his team,” Rob Ransom, Richmond’s athletic director said. “He’s got a strong family atmosphere with his group and he cares about the kids, and the kids care about each other.
“Bootsy has done a fantastic job and he’s worked very hard. We’re very excited and proud of him, and it couldn’t happen to a finer guy. We appreciate him being our coach.”
Pettigrew’s first season was tough, notching a 7-18 record and a last-place finish in the standings.
By growing his skills as a head coach, relying on a consistent and formidable coaching staff and having talented teams, Pettigrew has recorded a winning record each season since.
He’s also led the Raiders to at least the second round of state playoffs in each of the past four seasons.
In 2018-19 with Zay Pettigrew as a senior, Richmond went 17-12 and placed third in the SAC. A 20-9 record in 2019-20 was the first of Pettigrew’s three 20+ win seasons, which resulted in another third-place finish.
Perhaps the century mark could have come sooner had the 2020-21 season not been shortened to just 13 games because of the pandemic. That year saw an 8-5 mark and the team’s third consecutive top-three finish.
That was McNeil Jr.’s first season, and over the past two years, the Raiders have become state championship contenders thanks to a wealth of talent and depth on the court.
“Coach means a lot to us and we’re so happy for him,” McNeil Jr. said. “He’s the head of the pack and however he wants it to go, that’s what we’ll do because he’s our coach. He’s helped all of us having been in our shoes and he’s helped me be a better person.
“He puts us as a team over everything. We want to accomplish our goal this year of winning the state championship because we’re a family.”
A single-season program record of 26 wins to just 2 losses in 2021-22 fueled a trip to the fourth round of the NCHSAA 4A state playoffs for the first time in a quarter century. Richmond also went 11-1 and finished as co-conference champions.
With the hope still alive to bring home the much-sought hardware this winter, the Raiders are currently 22-2 this year and on a 15-game winning streak.
Frank Harrington, a longtime coach in Richmond County, has been with Pettigrew as an assistant coach since the 2017-18 season. Not only has he seen the team’s head coach, but someone he considers to be family, progress in his role.
“He’s progressed a whole lot and has been really patient,” Harrington remarked. “Bootsy has grown as a teacher and he’s great at letting the kids know what they need to do to get better. But he’s still Bootsy, who has a knack for the game.
“I joined the staff because we had a lot of the same ideas. Now it’s time for us to take care of business. I feel great for him, he deserves it. He loves the kids and I know we’re all glad to have him as our coach.”
In the nearly six complete seasons since he took over the program, Pettigrew remains adamant that defense will lead to the Raiders’ hopeful first 4A state championship this winter.
The No. 1 Raiders will play for the SAC tournament championship on Friday against No. 2. That will be followed by playoff seeding on Feb. 18, which currently has Richmond projected as the No. 2 seed in the 4A East.