Billy Hicks has won more boys’ basketball games (910, versus 264 losses) than anyone who has ever coached in Kentucky. He has worked the sidelines in five Sweet Sixteen championship games, bringing Scott County two state titles.
On July 9, the longtime Scott County head coach will be in Elizabethtown to be inducted into the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame.
“Excited, more than anything, humbled,” Hicks said Wednesday. “You look at the people that are in (the Hall of Fame) and those who will be going in, it’s impressive. I can’t help but think ‘What am I doing here?’”
Since coming to Scott County in 1994-95, Hicks has turned the Cardinals into one of Kentucky’s elite high school programs, perhaps the elite program. Because some of that success has been fueled by a succession of high-profile transfer students, Hicks and Scott County are a combination many hoops fans in the commonwealth find it easy to root against.
Which, while understandable, is also too bad. Hicks’ personal journey is about as ‘Kentucky’ as a story can get.
Hicks, 63, grew up in Harlan County, one of 11 children, in a coal-mining family. He began dreaming of a career in coaching at age 12. It seemed the most realistic way out of a life of back-breaking labor in the mines.
At Evarts High School, Hicks was a good hoops player and attracted college scouts. After a year at a South Carolina junior college, he transferred to Wofford.
Hicks was away at college when his father, Orie Hicks, then a Harlan County deputy sheriff, was killed in the line of duty on Oct. 8, 1972.
“He had back problems, so he had to quit working in the mines,” Billy Hicks says. “They talked him into working in the sheriff’s department because he was honest and he was fearless. And that’s what got him killed. He got caught in a shootout, and he ended up outnumbered. ... He killed two of them, but they shot him dead, too.”
After college, Billy Hicks came home to Harlan County to teach and coach. Yet he was also dabbling in the coal mines at a time when the ultimate boom/bust industry was buoyant.
Hicks found himself making far more money from his part-time work in coal than from his ‘real jobs’ in education. He decided he was going to leave teaching and coaching and go to work full-time in the coal industry.
“My Mom, she never raised her voice at me in her life,” Hicks says of Maggie Hicks (who passed away this month at 97). “But this was the one time in my life when she raised her voice. She flat told me I was not going to quit teaching and coaching. She said, ‘I know (coal mining) is booming now, but it won’t last. It never does.’”
Hicks coached for 14 years in Eastern Kentucky — at Evarts, Harlan and Corbin — toiling in the 13th Region at a time when iconic Clay County coach Bobby Keith pretty much had the region on lockdown. Before he came to Scott County, Hicks had made it to one Sweet Sixteen — 1990-91 with Corbin.
“I coached a lot of years with people saying you couldn’t play the way I did — fast all the time on offense, all man-to-man on defense — and make it to the State Tournament,” Hicks says.
When he came to interview for the Scott County job in 1994, Hicks was far from certain he wanted the position. On the visit to Georgetown, he formed an immediate connection with then-Scott County Superintendent Dallas Blankenship.
“After I interviewed, I just got in a car with (Blankenship) and drove around for a couple hours,” Hicks said. “He envisioned (Scott County as) an elite high school basketball program. That’s what I wanted to be a part of.”
Hicks has given Scott County high-level success, including the 1998 (Rick Jones) and 2007 (Bud Mackey) state championships.
The nature of coaching being what it is — no win feels nearly as as good as the losses hurt — you might think the three defeats in state title games (1999, 2012 and 2014) eat at Hicks.
He says they don’t.
Hicks and his wife, Betsy, have endured real-life tragedy that makes any lost ball game, even state championship contests, seem trivial.
On Oct. 23, 2012, the youngest of the couple’s two children, son Tyler, was in a car wreck on the Bluegrass Parkway. Three days later, he died. He was 27.
Tyler Hicks had been a standout guard (20.2 ppg as a senior) for his Dad at Scott County, leading the Cardinals to the 2004 Sweet Sixteen semifinals.
“He was my best friend,” Billy Hicks says. “When you hear people say (the loss of a child) is the cruelest thing that can happen to a parent, it is the absolute truth.
“Since we lost Tyler, no sunset is as beautiful, the big wins are not as exciting, the losses don’t hurt as much. ... You are living sort of a half-life, but it does get easier with time because you get used to living a half-life.”
When he goes into the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame, Billy Hicks expects to acutely feel his son’s absence.
“But that’s every day,” he says. “That won’t just be going in the Hall of Fame.”
Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame Induction
When: July 9 (Reception 5:30, Ceremony 7:30)
Where: State Theater, Elizabethtown
Cost: Tickets are $30
For tickets: Call (270) 765-5551 or (270) 234-8258
Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame “Centennial Class”
The Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame considers 2018 the centennial year of the Kentucky boys’ state tournament. It will induct 100 members of its “Centennial Class” that year. On July 9 in Elizabethtown, 17 new members of that Centennial Class will be honored. So far, 82 of the 100 have been revealed:
Boys’ coaches: Pearl Combs, Hindman; Stan Hardin, Fairdale; Billy Hicks, Scott County.
Girls’ coaches: Donna Moir, Sacred Heart; Randy Napier, Perry Central.
Boys’ players: Ralph Richardson, Russell Co.; Harry Todd, Earlington; Tom Thacker, Covington Grant; Jim Rose, Hazard; Dwight Smith, Princeton Dotson; George Wilson, Lexington Dunbar (the original); Jeff Lamp, Ballard; Darius Miller, Mason Co.; Bobby Turner, Male; Gene Rhodes, Male; Donnis Butcher, Meade Memorial.
Girls’ players: Carly Ormerod, Sacred Heart.
Boys’ coaches: Ron Bevars, North Hardin; Earle Jones, Maysville; Jock Sutherland, Lafayette; John Bill Trivette, Pikeville.
Boys’ players: Winston Bennett, Male; Jermaine Brown, Fairdale; Jimmy Dan Conner, Anderson Co.; Travis Ford, Madisonville; Jeff Mullins, Lafayette; John Pelphrey, Paintsville; Dickie Prater, Pikeville; Bobby Rascoe, Daviess Co.; Mike Silliman, St. Xavier; Jerry Thruston, Owensboro.
Girls’ players: Ukari Figgs, Scott Co.; Lillie Mason, Olmstead.
Boys’ coaches: Dale Mabrey, PRP; Al Prewiit, Henry Clay.
Girls’ coaches: Bunny Daugherty, Sacred Heart.
Boys’ players: Jack Givens, Bryan Station; Vernon Hatton, Lafayette; Kenny Higgs, Owensboro; Ron King, Central; Chris Lofton, Mason Co.; Todd May, Virgie; John Oldham, Hartford; Frank Ramsey, Madisonville; Mike Redd, Seneca; Corky Withrow, Central City.
Girls’ players: Lisa Harrison, Southern; Crystal Kelly, Sacred Heart; Beth Wilkerson Hammond, Paris.
Boys’ coaches: William Kean, Central; Letcher Norton, Clark Co.; Bobby Watson, Owensboro.
Girls’ coaches: Howard Beth, Marshall Co.
Boys’ players: Butch Beard, Breckinridge Co.; Mike Casey, Shelby Co.; Larry Conley, Ashland; Johnny Cox, Hazard; Howard Crittenden, Cuba; Joe Fulks, Kuttawa; Allan Houston, Ballard; Billy Ray Lickert, Lafayette; Linville Puckett, Clark Co.; J.R. VanHoose, Paintsville.
Girls’ players: Sharon Garland, Laurel Co.; Donna Murphy, Newport; Jamie Walz-Richey, Highlands.
Boys’ coaches: Ralph Carlisle, Lafayette; Bobby Keith, Clay Co.; S.T. Roach, Dunbar.
Girls’ coaches: Roy Bowling, Laurel Co.
Boys’ players: Ralph Beard, Male; Rex Chapman, Apollo; Kelly Coleman, Wayland; Richie Farmer, Clay Co.; Darrell Griffith, Male; Cliff Hagan, Owensboro; Clem Haskins, Taylor Co.; Wah Wah Jones, Harlan; Jim McDaniels, Allen Co.; Wes Unseld, Seneca.
Girls’ players: Geri Grigsby, McDowell; Clemette Haskins, Warren Central.