John Niles Sr., who coached the Bridgehampton boys basketball team to two state championships in the 1980s, died on Saturday. He was 84.
Niles was born in Pennsylvania but raised in Bridgehampton, and attended the Bridgehampton School. He lived in the community until he retired in 1991—after handing the reins of the program to current head coach Carl Johnson—and moved to South Carolina.
Under Niles, the Killer Bees won the New York State Class D championship in 1984 and 1986—and were state finalists in 1985—and became a household name for fans of high school hoops, as they beat several much larger powerhouse schools.
Troy Bowe was a star player for those teams who went on to play Division I basketball at the University of Hawaii. He said that he will remember Niles more for what he did off the court than on.
“He not only just coached us playing basketball, but he opened his house to us,” Bowe said. “We were able to come there any time of day, go swimming in his pool, eat lunch there. He was more like a father figure. His door was always open.”
While teaching and nurturing his players, Niles and his wife, Nancy Ross—who died in 1999—raised five children of their own: Michael, John Jr., Stephen, Michelle Paterson, and Joe.
Bowe added that it was Niles’s dedication and compassion for his players as people that made him and his teammates so willing to give it their all on the court.
“Every player on that team would run through a wall for him,” Bowe said. “I think that’s why we won two state titles. We won two and we lost two during my time, so in my whole high school career, we were always competing for a state title.”
Several other players aside from Bowe continue their basketball careers beyond high school. Julian Johnson (New Paltz), Ron Gholson (University of Bridgeport), and Bobby Hopson (Wagner College) also got to the next level with help and guidance from Niles.
Niles coached Bridgehampton for 10 years, taking over for another legendary coach, Roger Golden, who won three state titles for Bridgehampton during his career, spanning from 1970 to 1980. Carl Johnson, who played for Golden on those state title teams, eventually became Niles’s assistant coach, and says he learned a lot from him.
“Even though the teams I played on started [the state championship tradition], he really took it to another level,” Johnson said. “The Bridgies became the Killer Bees under his watch.”
Niles’s youngest son, Joe, said his father dedicated much of his life to the Bridgehampton community, through the sport of basketball.
“He really loved the community and helping and working with the kids,” Niles Jr. said. “My mom did too.”
Niles Jr.—who played for the Killer Bees during his father’s tenure—added that his father admired the coaching style of Bob Knight, but said he knew how to trust his players when it came to game time.
“He’d ride us hard in practice, but during the game he let us do our thing,” he said.
Niles Jr. said he fondly remembers all the time spent with the team off the court as well, with pool parties and cookouts hosted by his family, and with basketball the ever-present constant thread.
“There was a lot of tradition in Bridgehampton,” Niles Jr. said. “It’s a small school, so it was definitely family oriented. I know my mom and dad fought hard to keep the school open in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Dad just really tried to help everybody.”