Rowan native to be inducted into SC Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 18, 2021

By Mike London

LAURENS, S.C. —  Mark Freeze, a South Rowan graduate, will be inducted into the South Carolina Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame on March 26.

Hall of fame inductions can be drawn-out marathon affairs, but this one won’t be. Freeze, who contributed 40 years of his life to high school athletics in South Carolina, is a quick-witted country boy at heart and he’s never at a loss for words.

“I’ll do my best to liven things up some,” said Freeze, who retired in 2017. “That induction date is usually the third round of the NCAA tournament, but there aren’t any games on March 26 this time. I told them I’d be there.”

How do you get from a Coddle Creek dairy farm to a basketball hall of fame?

It’s been an intriguing ride for Freeze, who graduated from South Rowan in 1973. Among other things, he was Rowan County’s Future Farmers of America public speaking champion his senior year. He won $20.

“In high school, I had no idea I’d become a coach, but what I did know was I didn’t want to be a farmer,” Freeze said. “I wasn’t any good at fixing things, and farmers have to fix things all the time. I was the only boy and I had six sisters. They became teachers. I headed to Appalachian State with the idea of being a teacher.”

He competed in three sports in his days at South, football, basketball and track and field. Just about every athlete did three in those days.

“South was in the South Piedmont Conference and we were the only county school in a league of city schools,” Freeze said. “Kannapolis, Concord, Thomasville, Salisbury, Lexington, Statesville, Asheboro and Albemarle. It was tough for us in football and we did only a little better in basketball. I played against really talented players in that league.”

The highlight for Freeze in his senior basketball season was scoring 21 points to lead a win against Lexington. He averaged 7.8 points, third on the team, for coach Terry Jones.

Freeze didn’t play a sport in college. He believes he could have competed with the northern guys who coach Press Maravich (Pete’s father) was recruiting for Appalachian State when he first arrived in Boone. State hoops was elevated significantly in 1975-76 when Bobby Cremins was hired as head coach. Cremins went after quicker athletes and the Mountaineers had a great team by 1978-79.

“Cremins was bringing in guys from The Bronx that I definitely could not have competed with,” Freeze said. “Appalachian State had some great talent.”

Freeze embarked on his college academic career as an English major

“I took a class that sent me to an elementary school and the teacher handed me a big stack of papers, told me to grade them and bring them back the next day,” Freeze said. “That’s when I knew I wasn’t going to become an English teacher.”

He explored a media broadcasting major next and enjoyed it until it was time to “work the equipment.” That’s when he knew he wasn’t going to be doing any play-by-play.

Appalachian State assistant football coach Fisher DeBerry, a South Carolina native who would later  become a legendary head coach at Air Force, took an interest in Freeze.

“He’s the one who told me that what I needed to be doing was coaching,” said Freeze, who would earn a bachelors degrees in health and physical education. “Fisher DeBerry got me my first coaching job. He told me they needed a coach in Laurens, S.C., and to get down there.”

That was in 1978.

Freeze remembers reporting for his first Laurens football practice wearing a beard and flip-flops.

“The coach I met pointed me toward  a group of jayvee linemen on the other end of the field,” Freeze said. “He told me those were my guys.”

Freeze scoffed at the small town of Laurens when he first arrived.

“I thought it was a one-horse town and I’d be there no more than a year,” Freeze said.

Laurens grew on him. He spent 13 years at the high school, becoming a hoops coaching legend. Along the way, he earned his masters degree from Appalachian State.

“We’d run if it was there, but if it wasn’t, we’d always work for a good shot,” Freeze said, “Discipline on offense and intensity on defense. That’s what we did. We had grinders, kids that played hard.”

In 1991, when he was 36, Freeze made the move to Dorman, a big-time athletic school near Spartanburg.

The biggest attraction was he would be able to concentrate his energy on coaching basketball. He’d been coaching three sports year-round at Laurens and it was wearing him down.

“Even in the old gym at Dorman, we’d pack in 4,000 people for the really big games,” Freeze said.

The games got very large indeed. There are many memories for Freeze, especially from 1994 when Dorman took on Mauldin High and superstar Kevin Garnett three times and won twice.

Garnett was considered by many to be the best high school player in the country. The 6-foot-11 Garnett enjoyed a 21-season NBA career and is one of the great power forwards in history.

After beating Garnett and Mauldin in the state semi-finals, Dorman lost the 1994 state championship game to Irmo in overtime. Irmo had guard B.J. McKie. He became a McDonald’s All-American and the all-time scoring leader at the University of South Carolina.

“We also played Hillcrest when they had guys who went to play for Louisville and Clemson,” Freeze said. “You’d see coaches like Denny Crum in the Dorman gym.”

Freeze coached Dorman for 16 seasons. Between Laurens and Dorman, his overall record was 438-283. He was named region coach of the year 11 times and was chosen coach of the year twice by the S.C. Basketball Officials Association.

He coached South Carolina all-star squads against their North Carolina counterparts in 2005 and 2007. He was president of the S.C. Basketball Officials Association in 1994-95 and served on the board of directors for 15 years.

He capped his remarkable career by returning to Laurens as athletic director.

Freeze’s mother, Ruth, died last August at 94, but he still has many family members in Rowan County. His competitive energy is directed now into filling out NCAA tournament brackets and golf.

A recent golf outing brought him back home, to Warrior, where his high school teammate Rick Houston is a fixture. They encountered Reid Bradshaw, the legendary South Rowan football coach. Bradshaw got South football rolling not long after Freeze graduated.

“We thought Reid was an old guy when he was coaching us,” Freeze said with a laugh. “Now he looks younger than us.”