High School Sports

Catching up with some of the Sweet Sixteen’s great folk heroes

Robert Brooks (center, jumping in white) drives the ball up with one hand shot over Trigg's George Barnes (number 13) in the semifinal action. The John C. Wyatt/Lexington Herald-Leader Photograph Collection. Published in the Sunday Lexington Herald-Leader on March 22, 1970.
Robert Brooks (center, jumping in white) drives the ball up with one hand shot over Trigg's George Barnes (number 13) in the semifinal action. The John C. Wyatt/Lexington Herald-Leader Photograph Collection. Published in the Sunday Lexington Herald-Leader on March 22, 1970. Staff file photo

Across its first 99 years, the Kentucky boys’ Sweet Sixteen has created a rich roster of heroes, folk heroes and characters. This is what some of them are doing now:

Robert Brooks

Sweet Sixteen claim to fame: Richmond Madison star scored 128 points in the 1970 Sweet Sixteen, including a 47-point game against Breathitt County in the quarterfinals and 32 points vs. Male in the state finals. With Brooks scoring six points in the final 1:01, Richmond Madison closed the state championship game on an 8-0 run — but ran out of time in a 70-69 loss to Male. Still, “I don’t think I would have been Mr. Basketball,” says Brooks, Kentucky’s 1970 winner, “if not for those four games in the state tournament.”

Where he is now: Brooks, 64, retired from Lexmark in 2007 and lives in Lexington. He has one daughter, Natisha, 25.

Sweet Sixteen memory: “In the state championship game with Male, there was a play where they threw a pass that went off the arm of one of our players and it went in the basket (for two Male points). When you lose the state championship by one point, that’s the kind of thing you think about, even now,” Brooks says.

Billy Bob Hardy

Sweet Sixteen claim to fame: A 6-foot-6, 230-pound center, Hardy contributed two double-figure scoring games in the state tournament as Pulaski County — featuring future Kentucky Wildcats forward Reggie Hanson — won the 1986 state championship. The Maroons beat Pleasure Ridge Park in the state finals on a game-winning shot by guard Shannon Fraley, the son of Pulaski Coach Dave Fraley.

Where he is now: Hardy, 49, still lives in Pulaski County with his wife, Linda. His son, Benjamin “B.J.” Hardy is an assistant county attorney in Pulaski. Retired from the state highway department, Billy Bob Hardy has turned a high school passion for art into a business in which he paints race car helmets, race cars as well as other vehicles and signs.

Sweet Sixteen memory: In Pulaski’s first-round win over Clay County and Coach Bobby Keith (who passed away in October) in 1986, Maroons’ star Hanson was saddled with foul trouble. Hardy picked up the slack, scoring 13 points before halftime. “The Clay County game is my favorite memory,” Hardy says. “When I was working with the highway department, I went over to Manchester a lot. I’d always stop and look up Coach Keith, and we’d go back through that game.”

Phil ‘The Mountain’ Rich

Sweet Sixteen claim to fame: The 6-foot-4, 235-pound center for Edmonson County’s Cinderella Sweet Sixteen champions in 1976, Rich gained statewide notoriety after he had 19 points and 12 rebounds in a quarterfinals win over Harrison County. Afterward, Edmonson’s colorful coach, Bo Davenport, explained Edmonson’s strategy of going inside to Rich. “We took it to the mountain,” Davenport said.

Phil “The Mountain” Rich had a nickname that persists to this day.

Where he is now: Rich lives in Edmonson County on the farm where he was raised. He and wife Valerie have one child, Cody, an assistant boys’ basketball coach at Franklin-Simpson. After a standout college football career as an offensive tackle at Western Kentucky, Phil Rich went to training camps with the Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets, but did not make regular-season rosters. Before retiring, Rich, 59, was a principal, athletics director and coach in the Edmonson County Public Schools. He is now an instructor at the Great Onyx Job Corps, where he works with students seeking GEDs.

Sweet Sixteen memory: “That whole week (of the 1976 state tourney), Bo had us so sheltered, so away from all the media coverage and the talk, that I didn’t even know about ‘The Mountain,’” Rich says. “When we got home after we won, there was a big sign in my yard ‘Home of The Mountain.’ I had to ask somebody what it meant.”

Jeff Royce

Sweet Sixteen claim to fame: In the 1984 state tournament, the Bourbon County guard had a remarkable run of clutch shooting. Royce hit the game-winning basket to beat Marshall County, Ballard and M.C. Napier — and his game-winner vs. Ballard came after he hit a buzzer-beater to send the contest to overtime. Alas in the state finals, the Colonels couldn’t stay close enough to Logan County for Royce to make magic one last time and lost 83-70.

Where he is now: Royce, who will turn 51 on March 17, lives in Lexington with his wife, Mona. He is a quality manager for Conduent.

Sweet Sixteen memory: When Kentucky Wildcats guard Aaron Harrison hit three straight game-winning shots in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, Royce says it rekindled interest in his tournament clutch shooting from three decades before. “I’d get Facebook messages or just people telling me ‘Hey, that reminds me of what you did,’” Royce says. “It was such a blessing to be part of something like that, and help our team do something that lots of people didn’t think we could do.”

J.R. VanHoose

Sweet Sixteen claim to fame: One of the most accomplished players in Sweet Sixteen history, the 6-9 VanHoose led Paintsville to four straight state tourneys (1995-98), three final fours (1996-98), two state finals (1996 and ’98) and the 1996 state championship. VanHoose is the second-leading scorer in boys’ state tournament history (272 points), trailing only 1980s Clay County star Richie Farmer (317).

Where he is now: VanHoose, 37, is in his third year as a social studies teacher and assistant basketball coach at Johnson Central, Paintsville’s archrival. A college basketball standout at Marshall, he’s been a school teacher for 14 years overall. VanHoose married the former Kayla Moore last June.

Sweet Sixteen memory: “For as small a school as Paintsville was, I want to say, ballpark, 320 students, we did great things. I believe we were the smallest public school to win (the state title) since Inez in 1954,” VanHoose said. “I’m probably biased, but I think we have the greatest state tournament in the U.S. I take great pride in my individual accomplishments, but mostly, I really cherish getting to share (the state tourney experience) with the guys I grew up with.”

About the Sweetest Century series

Kentucky will celebrate the 100th year of the boys’ state high school basketball tournament when the Sweet Sixteen plays out in Rupp Arena from Wednesday through Sunday this week.

Over the course of the 2016-17 high school basketball season, the Herald-Leader has published regularly appearing stories on Kentucky.com and in the newspaper highlighting memorable moments from the state tournament’s history.

Our coverage examines the significance of the tournament to our state’s history, revisits memorable games, champions and moments and looks at where the event goes from here. We’re exploring the joy, the heartbreak and the social impact of the event and recalling the teams and players every Kentuckian should know about.

We’re wrapping up the series this week as part of our annual Sweet Sixteen preview special section in Wednesday’s Herald-Leader and in posts you’ll be able to find all week on Kentucky.com and Kentucky.com/high-school.

And be sure to stay with our coverage throughout the week as new memories are made during the 100th state tournament.

Here are installments in the Sweetest Century series published to date:

March 15, 2017: At 100, Sweet Sixteen remains authentically Kentucky

March 14, 2017: Hazard played surprising role in integrating the Sweet Sixteen

March 13, 2017: 30 years later, Clay County’s ‘Boxhead’ Rawlings relishes his Sweet Sixteen heroics

March 13, 2017: A year-by-year history of the boys’ Sweet Sixteen

Feb. 15, 2017: Clay County vs. Ballard: The rivalry that showed Sweet Sixteen’s best

Feb. 15: 2017: Mason County’s Chris Lofton was ‘one of a kind’

Jan. 15, 2017: The team that saved Kentucky’s Sweet Sixteen

Jan. 15, 2017: An oral history of one of Kentucky’s most revered state tournaments

Dec. 15, 2016: Ashland vs. Carr Creek: The game that made the Sweet Sixteen great

Dec. 15, 2016: Brewers’ unbeaten run to championship still stands test of time

Nov. 27, 2016: From chaos, the Kentucky boys’ Sweet Sixteen was born

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