Long-time high school basketball coach and Vance County native Wilton Baskett died Saturday. He was 62.
Baskett retired in March 2020 after 37 years of coaching and teaching, much of that time with Vance County Schools. Baskett was head basketball coach at Northern Vance High School and won his 400th game with the Vance County Vipers last season.
A graveside service will be held at 1 p.m. on Jan. 14, 2021 at Jones Chapel Baptist Church in Norlina. A viewing will be from noon to 4 p.m. on Jan. 13, 2021 in the chapel of Davis-Royster Funeral Home in Henderson. He was born in Vance County to Almorine Brandon and the late Nathaniel Baskett. Survivors, in addition to his mother, are children Wilton E. Baskett II and Amy L. Baskett and their mother, Linda R. Perry.
Friends and colleagues remembered Baskett during Monday’s Town Talk. He was a friend and mentor to many throughout his 30-plus years of coaching, including Joseph Sharrow and Chad Wilson, current athletic director and men’s basketball coach, respectively, of Vance County High School. Baskett’s son, Wilton E. Baskett II, joined the program and said his father loved the game of basketball. Just as importantly, he loved that the game could expose young people to much more beyond high school, from playing college ball to being a successful adult.
Wilson told Baskett’s son that he would work to carry on Coach Baskett’s legacy on and off the court. “Your dad was way more than just a coach to me,” Wilson said to the younger Baskett. Wilson was a player for Coach Baskett at Northern Vance High School, and said that he was a positive male figure in his life when he needed one. “It’s just been a wonderful blessing on my life,” Wilson said, to have worked with Coach Baskett. “More than anything,” Wilson continued, “for putting faith in me. Wilson graduated from Northern Vance and went on to play at Louisburg College and Livingstone College. Wilson credits Coach Baskett for giving him the confidence to go beyond high school and then to come back to become a coach himself.
Wilson took over as head coach of the Vipers following Baskett’s retirement. He coached at Vance-Granville Community College for three years before returning to his high school alma mater to be a varsity assistant and coach of the JV team.
Now athletic director for Vance County High School, Joseph Sharrow was athletic director for Baskett’s cross-town rival Southern Vance. “I have nothing but respect…for Wilton Baskett and his wonderful family,” Sharrow said. To be able to remember him “as a friend and former colleague is an honor.”
Sharrow recalled when the two high schools played each other in the 2018 conference final. “He must have gotten them in the gym over Christmas because “they went on a tear in January,” Sharrow said of that Northern Vance team. “Little did we know it would be the last time the two schools would play” each other, he said. The following year the two schools were consolidated to create Vance County High School. Sharrow became athletic director and Baskett the men’s basketball coach, a relationship they shared for two years before Baskett retired.
Baskett’s 400th win came as coach of the Vance County Vipers. When he retired in March, he had accumulated 402 wins. Win 400 came in a matchup with East Chapel Hill High School on Feb. 4, 2020.
More story below. Click Play for TownTalk Tribute to Coach Baskett.
Sharrow last spoke with Baskett in November and said his friend and colleague seemed to be enjoying retirement. “It was great to be able to talk with him,” he added. The somewhat unusual relationship between Baskett and Sharrow – first as opponents of inter-county rivals, then as colleagues working together to bring the two schools’ programs together under a single county high school – made for a winning combination. The Vipers won a conference championship in their first year, Sharrow said. Add to that the 400-victory milestone also was great, but Sharrow was quick to add that Baskett wasn’t looking for individual attention. “He (coached) because he loved the kids. He knew he had a gift for making a difference in people’s lives and I think that just says a lot about Coach Baskett.” For everybody else, achieving that 400th win was an enormous milestone, Sharrow continued. “For him, it was just another day at the job. That was the kind of guy he was.”
David Hicks was athletic director at Northern Vance during the time that Baskett was head coach. Wilton had a system for basketball,” Hicks recalled during an interview on Monday. “He had a knack for being able to get guys to buy in to what he wanted to do,” he added. “He was demanding of his players and students in a good way.”
Greg Ackles coached the Southern Vance team that faced Baskett’s squad in that conference final in 2018. Now the coach at Wake Forest High School, Ackles spoke with Trey Snide on Monday’s Sports Talk. Asked about a favorite memory of Coach Baskett, Ackles said: “The best thing was also the most frustrating thing, and that was coaching against him.” As a coach, you have to believe what you do is going to work, he added, saying that Coach Baskett stuck to his philosophy of running a few plays but running them well. To this day, Ackles said that Northern-Southern matchup to claim the conference title is still the best game he’s been a part of as a coach.
More story below. Click Play for SportsTalk Tribute to Coach Baskett.
Was his father tough? “He could see more in you than sometimes you saw in yourself,” Baskett said of his father. “His goal was to bring the best out in you because he saw the best in people. He saw your potential and I think tough meant that you still had work to do…tough was if he expected something out of you or if he expects you to be able to do something. He was tough on you because he knew you were capable…he wanted you to believe in yourself.”
But for all his toughness, Coach Baskett did a lot off the court to help his players continue to play after high school. He helped prepare highlight reels and more, Hicks said.
One “extra” that Baskett did was take a group of young men to Catawba College every summer for basketball camp, Hicks said. “He had kids falling out of the ceiling wanting to go to camp…He would have open gym for try outs and you couldn’t get in. There would be 75 guys in there on all six courts.”
The “Wilton System” paid off over the years. Baskett’s teams won five regular season conference titles, six conference tournament championships. He received conference Coach of the Year honors three times, the most recent being 2018, the year his Northern Vance High Vikings topped rival Southern Vance.