Billy Ray Lickert, the 1957 Mr. Basketball recipient who went on to have an All-America career at the University of Kentucky, died early Wednesday. He was 78.
Lickert, who played at Lafayette High School, became the second Mr. Basketball winner to die in the past week. Jim McDaniels, the 1967 winner out of Allen County-Scottsville who went on to have a prolific career at Western Kentucky University and in the American Basketball Association, died last Wednesday.
Lafayette High School Athletic Director Michael Kinney and Lafayette boys’ basketball coach Michael Mendenhall both confirmed Lickert’s death to the Herald-Leader.
Lafayette won the Sweet Sixteen championship in 1957. Lickert led the Generals with a game-high 26 points in a 55-52 victory over Eastern in the finals that year. His mark of 1,619 points at the school was the program’s all-time high until Jackson Davis, who currently plays at Eastern Kentucky University, passed it on Dec 10, 2013.
Mendenhall did not know Lickert personally but spoke with him a few times while planning a “passing of the record” moment for Davis. “He was gracious enough to come back for that,” said Mendenhall, who didn’t realize how much of an impact Lickert made at Lafayette until he began research during the lead-up to Davis’ record-setting night.
Lickert, who was inducted into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame in 2010, was named a Scholastic Coach Magazine All-American in 1957. He was selected to the coaches’ All-Southeastern Conference First Team as a sophomore, junior and senior while at UK, and was a Helms Foundation second-team All-American as a senior. He was drafted in the fifth round of the 1961 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Lakers and ranks 49th in career scoring (1,076 points) at UK.
David Nisbet, a nephew of Lickert, told the Herald-Leader that the Lakers wanted Lickert to “try out” for the team but that Lickert wouldn’t go without a guaranteed contract because he already had a wife and son. The Lakers told Lickert that “even Jerry West didn’t get a guaranteed contract” and that if he didn’t make the team, they would set him up with a job at an insurance company.
Lickert declined L.A.’s offer and stayed in Lexington to work for Mason and Hanger, an architecture and engineering firm, where he eventually rose to the position of corporate secretary and treasurer.
“The most humble and good-hearted man I’ve ever met,” Nisbet wrote in an email. “Kentucky lost a great man today.”
Lickert spoke with the Herald-Leader as part of an oral history of the 1956 Sweet Sixteen tournament, considered by many as one of the best ever played. In that article, former UK coach Joe B. Hall said, “Billy was so slick, he could do things with so much ease that it didn’t look like he was working.”
Lickert was inducted into the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013. J.R. VanHoose, the 1998 Mr. Basketball winner out of Paintsville, was also part of that Hall of Fame class. Guys like Lickert “are true legends and will always have a place in our history,” VanHoose wrote in a text message to the Herald-Leader.
VanHoose, a history buff, recalled the first time he met Lickert, whom he’d enjoyed reading about but had never engaged with prior to the ceremony.
“He was everything I expected,” VanHoose wrote. “Well versed in basketball history, a great storyteller and very receptive to talk to me about basketball and anything I had questions about.
“I remember walking in to a lunch, the day of our Hall of Fame induction. There was Billy Ray, Johnny Cox, Linville Puckett and Larry Conley sitting and telling stories about Coach Rupp! What history, what stories and what a great time they were having. Of course I was honored when they asked me to sit with them.”
Oscar Combs, a close friend of Lickert, spoke with him last year on his podcast, “Conversations with Oscar Combs.” Lickert talked about playing in Memorial Coliseum for the first time while he was at Lafayette and for Coach Adolph Rupp when he was at UK.
He told Combs that he grew up across from UK’s campus as a child and that his dad worked for the university.
“So I was a Wildcat,” Lickert told Combs. “Every kid back in those days, you had aspirations of being able to play for Kentucky. That’s what everybody, all my friends then wanted to do. You didn’t think about the NBA, nobody’d ever heard of the NBA.
“Of course, in those days, when you were in grade school, your dream was to play at Lafayette.”
Lickert is survived by his wife, Sue, and two sons, Dick and Doug.
Visitation will be Sunday from 5 to 8 p.m. at Milward Funeral home on Southland Drive in Lexington. The funeral will be Monday at 11 a.m. at Crestwood Christian Church on Bellefonte Drive. Both are open to the public.