Head coach Matt Lynch, left, with University of South Carolina Salkehatchie assistant coach Christian White. | University of South Carolina Salkehatchie

For head coach Matt Lynch and his University of South Carolina Salkehatchie men’s basketball team, it was a blowout that was a season in the making.

Lynch, in his first year as head coach, saw his team score basket after basket to open Friday’s game against Caldwell Tech, a team that came into the contest ranked 18th in the country in Division I junior college and riding a 21-game winning streak. But with the home crowd at the “Salk Palace” in Walterboro, S.C., roaring, USC Salkehatchie jumped out to a 23-1 lead.

The subsequent 81-54 win clinched a No. 7 seed in the Region 10 conference playoffs that start March 14 and left USC Salkehatchie at 16-13, and with one regular season game left. This assures Lynch a winning record this season. (Update: Salkehatchie ended the regular season on a high note, beating Denmark Tech, 84-59, to improve to 17-13, including 14-4 at home).

It’s an impressive effort for someone in their first head coaching job, made more impressive by the fact that Lynch had to build the program from scratch. And he did it all as the only out gay men’s college basketball coach in the country.

“We didn’t win a game in October (0-8) and then we didn’t win a game on the road until January,” Lynch told Outsports. “There is an old saying that says ‘You grow through what you go through.’

Matt Lynch, right, with assistants Christian White, left, and Maurice Crowder.

“”We’ve clinched a spot in the conference tournament and are playing our best basketball in March. I am just thrilled to be able to do what I do and I am just so thankful that I get to coach these guys every day.”

Lynch took over a Salkehatchie team that canceled its last season and he had to build the team from scratch. That meant recruiting every player, finding them a place to live, making sure the facilities were up to snuff and raising money for a program on a shoestring budget. At various points, Lynch, 33, was a carpet-layer, painter, rental agent, publicist and fund-raiser, all while assembling a far-flung roster, many from overseas. And then he had to find the time to coach the team.

“One of the things that most excited me about this opportunity was that it appeared to be a nearly impossible challenge,” he said. “No players signed, no games scheduled, no budget, and a court that is 7 feet short of regulation size. We were able to sign 14 first-class human beings and then build from there. Then we added two volunteer assistant coaches in Maurice Crowder and Christian White who have been extremely vital to our culture being where it is at now.”

The one unique facet about Lynch that sets him apart from other men’s coaches is his orientation and yet that has become a non-issue, in a good way. He told his team about being gay last summer and that was that. As I wrote in November:

At a team retreat this summer at a rental home Lynch owns in Wilmington, N.C., he decided he needed to address it for the sake of transparency. The team was passing around a basketball as part of a bonding exercise and the person holding it had to talk about themselves in as much or little detail as they wanted.

When Lynch’s turn came, he spoke about his life growing up in Erie, Pa., and his basketball journey for about 25 minutes (his players swear it was more like 45). Then he got to the part of talking about his sexuality.

“This next part of the conversation pisses me off that I have to tell you I’m gay,” Lynch said to his players. “Not one of you had to say you were straight. It’s just me being transparent.”

Lynch told them that he didn’t need their support nor approval, though he would welcome either. “It’s no one’s business who I put my head down next to at night,” Lynch said. The subject has not come up again.

Whatever happens in the playoffs, Lynch first season as a head coach has been a success, something he acknowledges with pride.

“This season has been perfect,” he said. “Maybe not in the sense of wins and losses, but in the terms of growth. I have grown, my guys have grown, and the program has grown.”This season has been perfect. Maybe not in the sense of wins and losses, but in the terms of growth. I have grown, my guys have grown, and the program has grown.”

Note: The New York Times ran a story on Lynch and his success.