Around noon today, the Pillow Academy Lady Mustangs will begin a well-known pregame warmup before their MAIS Overall Tournament quarterfinal game. Just before tipoff, the girls will jog back to the sideline for last minute instructions and give one final chant of “Win.” Their coach, a Mississippi basketball icon, has plenty of experience in just that.
Pillow Academy head coach Durwin Carpenter has recorded 1,072 girls basketball victories, more than any other active coach in the state. In fact, the only coach to record more girls basketball wins is Doyle Wolverton who retired in 2014 with 1,245.
Carpenter, a Holcomb, Miss., native, played high school basketball for John Rundle High School in Grenada. He then played two years at Holmes Community College before transferring to Delta State where he played one year.
There was little question for Carpenter on his career path.
“I majored in education. I just enjoyed sports,” said Carpenter. “When I first started out, I helped coach everything -football, basketball, baseball, softball and track. I loved being around kids and working with young people.”
He spent one season at Grenada Lake Academy before moving to Central Holmes Academy in Lexington. During his tenure at Central Holmes, Carpenter served as athletic director, head football coach, head boys and girls basketball coach, track coach, head baseball coach and head fast-pitch softball coach. It wasn’t long before he determined his affinity for coaching girls basketball.
“I decided that I enjoyed coaching girls more than I did boys,” said Carpenter. “It just seemed I really liked working and teaching the girls how to play basketball.”
Carpenter took the fledgling girls team of sophomores and juniors and quickly turned them into a program which was very competitive and highly respected. He accumulated 357 wins in his 20 years with the program.
Other schools took notice and in 1994 Carpenter was recruited to Pillow Academy. He brought his daughters Angie and Dana with him, however the transition wasn’t an easy one. Carpenter’s first year at Pillow marked his daughter Angie’s senior year. In their final year at Central Holmes, Angie and her father had earned a State A championship. The point guard left behind teammates and friends to become the lone senior on her and her father’s new team. It didn’t take long for the pair to find success again. The team went 31-6, Carpenter’s first year and won the North AAAA title. They finished third in the overall tournament.
Dana, who was an eighth grader when the family relocated to Pillow, would move up to take her sister’s spot as a freshman for the 95-96 season. The next year, the team would make a historic 37-0 run and secure the school’s first Overall Tournament title. Dana played all four years for her father helping earn the second Overall Tournament championship as a sophomore. She later returned to join him on the sideline as an assistant coach for the 2012-2013 season.
Carpenter has turned Pillow into a girls basketball powerhouse. The MAIS Hall of Fame coach has amassed three Overall Tournament championships (1997,1998, 2005), five second place finishes, and ten state titles (eight state AAAA Division I titles, one State AAAA Division II title at Pillow and one State A at Central Holmes). There are more playoff appearances than you can count and 715 total wins.
He has also inspired a level of loyalty that is hard to find elsewhere.
Mignon Hodges, Carpenter’s current assistant, is in her second stint in the position. She first joined the Pillow staff from 2000-2008 before taking time off after her daughter was born. She rejoined the staff in 2013 and has been a fixture since. After nearly 20 years, the two have developed a special bond.
“We’re best friends. Coach Carpenter will do anything for me,” said Hodges. “We’re a good team.”
Hodge’s daughter, a sixth grader, joins her on the bench keeping stats for the team. The seat is a familiar one to Carpenter’s newest assistant Holly Ann Singh. Singh began her career as a Lady Mustang in the very same role, then played for Hodges as a middle schooler before joining the varsity team. The former standout forward, who was part of the 2009 and 2011 championship teams, returned as an assistant in 2016. She says that not much has changed in the 26 years that Carpenter has been at Pillow.
“We still have the same pregame rituals, practice, post game (rituals). We even run some of the same offenses,” Singh laughs.
But the old adage holds true.. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
And from the looks of his win column, it definitely is not broken. This year’s team is 25-11 and making a run for another title. They matchup against longtime rival Jackson Academy today. Jan Sojourner, head coach of JA’s girls team, is not only used to the battles between she and Carpenter but she welcomes them.
“Everytime we matchup against each other, he always brings out the very best of my basketball team because his team’s are always so competitive,” said Sojourner. “It’s a real honor for me to coach against him. I see him as a true legend. I enjoy competing against a man of his character and what he’s given (to the sport).”
Sojourner, who holds the record for the third highest number of girls basketball wins in Mississippi history with 953 in 40 seasons, is a notable name in basketball herself. However, she considers herself privileged to compete against him.
“He has such a kind spirit about him and is so helpful. He’s always willing to go the extra mile to help you in areas and it doesn’t have to be basketball, just other areas you may have in your life,” said Sojourner. “If you wanna ask some questions on things that he might can help you with then he is always going to go the extra mile to help you in those things.”
Everyone agrees that Carpenter’s success is deeply rooted in his relationship with his players.
“I know that he shows all the time how much he cares about his players,” said Sojourner. “You can see that every time he interacts with his players and you can see how much they care about him.”
Hodges concurs. “He expects a lot from girls and he holds them to a very high standard and they know that and they love him.”
“He truly treats each one of these girls like his daughters,” adds Singh.
Yet with all of the accolades and the praise from his former players, staff and friends, Carpenter refuses to take much credit for his success.
“I know I get a lot of credit but these girls that I’ve been fortunate to coach are what make everything so easy for me,” Carpenter said. “My family and my assistant coaches have helped me. They deserve a lot of the credit, also.”
He also credits the support of the communities he has worked in and his family especially his wife who has with him the entire journey.
“(Of) all these trips and wins or whatever has taken place, my wife, Judy, has missed very very few,” said Carpenter. “She has been there for me, supporting me. It’s been our life since we got married.”
With more than a thousand wins spanning four decades and a ton of hardware in the trophy case, Carpenter’s most memorable moment of his career isn’t a particular play, win or loss, or call gone wrong. It is the experience of being able to share the court with Angie and Dana.
“Yea, there have been a lot of championships, but the highlight of my career is being able to coach my daughters and (Dana) coaching with me,” Carpenter said. “Being a part of them winning state championships and overalls (and) seeing the look on their faces. All the hours we got to spend together and being able to win together was unbelievable.”