Advertisement

‘He was Scott County.’ Billy Hicks, Ky. high school basketball’s all-time wins leader, dies.

Billy Hicks, the longtime Scott County High School boys basketball coach who led the Cardinals to two Boys’ Sweet 16 state championships and retired in 2019 as Kentucky’s all-time coaching wins leader, has died. He was 71.

“When you look at what’s posted around our gym with the banners with his name on them and the pictures of the teams. … He was Scott County,” said Steve Helton, Scott County High School’s athletic director and girls basketball coach who played for Hicks at Corbin and was on his sideline as an assistant coach for three of the Cardinals’ most successful seasons in the late 1990s.

“It’s a tough day for Scott County and the entire state,” Helton said. “This man has touched lives across the country. Everybody knew Coach Hicks. Everybody heard the name Coach Hicks. For those of us who got to be with him and really spent a lot of time with him, we were blessed.”

Hicks was the first and only Kentucky coach to top 1,000 career wins and only the 19th boys high school basketball coach in the nation to do so, according to records kept by the National Federation of High Schools.

His record of 1,013-276 accrued over 38 seasons began at his alma mater, Evarts, continued at Harlan and Corbin, and concluded with 25 seasons at Scott County.

Hicks’ passing came on the eve of the Billy Hicks Classic, formerly Scott County’s Toyota Classic, an annual basketball tournament that was renamed in his honor last year.

Scott County boys coach Tim Glenn, a longtime assistant who took over the program upon Hicks’ retirement and led the Cardinals back to the Boys’ Sweet 16 in his first season in 2020, spent the morning with Hicks’ wife, Betsy, and noted that players from even back in Hicks’ days at Harlan had come calling in wake of the news.

“If anyone was ever called to be a basketball coach, it was Billy Hicks,” Glenn said. “He was a special fella. … Basketball really was just a small part of what he was because of what he did for people and how he made people feel. That was probably even more important.”

Scott County coach Billy Hicks spoke with the media after his 1,000th career win that came against Frederick Douglass on Jan. 24, 2019.
Scott County coach Billy Hicks spoke with the media after his 1,000th career win that came against Frederick Douglass on Jan. 24, 2019.

Remembrances on social media

As word of Hicks’ death spread on social media Monday morning, there was an outpouring of remembrance and grief.

“Saddened beyond words to awake to news that the incomparable Billy Hicks has passed,” the Georgetown News-Graphic’s Kal Oakes wrote on X.com. “I’m one of thousands who count him as a second dad, a mentor and a cherished friend. I am only comforted that he is reunited with Tyler. The fish in heaven are in serious trouble.”

Hick’s son, William “Tyler” Hicks, died from injuries suffered in a car crash in 2012 at the age of 27. His father later established a scholarship in his honor.

“Billy Hicks was not only the winningest coach in Kentucky basketball history, but touched lives all over the country,” WKYT sports director Brian Milam wrote. “Always wanted to talk. I loved watching him smile while being a grandpa.”

“Billy Hicks touched thousands of lives with the help of a round ball,” said former Herald-Leader high school sports writer Josh Moore, who covered the end of Hicks’ career. “He was as gracious with his time and thoughts as any coach I’ve ever been around. Just a good fella to be around.”

“RIP, Billy Hicks. A great basketball coach for whom family & fishing better suited his shy nature,” longtime Herald-Leader high school sports writer Mike Fields wrote.

“Unbelievably horrible news. Coach Hicks was a great man, a great coach and later in my life, a great friend,” posted J.R. VanHoose, Paintsville’s 1998 Kentucky Mr. Basketball.

Hicks coached two Mr. Basketball winners himself in back-to-back years as Rick Jones and Scott Hundley earned Kentucky high school basketball’s highest individual honor in 1999 and 2000, respectively. Eastern Kentucky men’s basketball coach A.W. Hamilton was among his standout players during that run, which included the 1998 Boys’ Sweet 16 title.

Hicks was inducted into the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.

Coal country roots

Hicks grew up in a coal mining family as one of 11 children in Harlan County. As early as age 12 he dreamed of a career in coaching as a way out of the mines. As a basketball player at Evarts High School, he attracted college scouts and began his college career at a South Carolina junior college before transferring 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 told the Herald-Leader in 2016. “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 returned to Harlan County to teach and coach while also working in the mines a bit. In fact, he made far more money from his part-time work in coal than from his “real jobs” in education. His mother dissuaded him of that notion.

“My mom, she never raised her voice at me in her life,” Hicks said of Maggie Hicks (who passed away in 2016 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, moving on from Evarts to Harlan and then Corbin, where he led the Redhounds to the 13th Region title in 1991.

“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 once said.

Scott County head coach Billy Hicks was honored with the game ball shortly before his 1,000th win during a game against Frederick Douglass in Lexington in 2019. Scott County defeated Frederick Douglass 70-38.
Scott County head coach Billy Hicks was honored with the game ball shortly before his 1,000th win during a game against Frederick Douglass in Lexington in 2019. Scott County defeated Frederick Douglass 70-38.

Success at Scott County

Hicks felt uncertain about moving to Scott County, but he hit it off with then-Scott County superintendent Dallas Blankenship during the hiring process. He took over the Cardinals in 1994.

“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 led Scott County to the Sweet 16 in that first year. In all, he won six 8th Region titles and seven 11th Region championships in 25 seasons at Scott County. The Cardinals reached seven Boys’ Sweet 16 finals, where they won it all in 1998 and 2007.

Despite a reputation as an animated coach who would sometimes scowl and stomp along the sidelines, Hicks professed to be a bit of an introvert.

“Believe it or not, he’s not as vocal as he used to be,” his wife, Betsy, told Mike Fields in 2019. “He’s calmed down, mellowed a little bit. He used to let other people yelling at him get in his head. I think he coaches better now because he blocks that stuff out.”

He announced his retirement after taking Scott County to the state finals in 2019, where the Cardinals lost 50-40 to Trinity.

Glenn, now Scott County’s head coach, played for the Cardinals ahead of Hicks’ time there, but he returned for summer pickup games when he was at Asbury University and got to know Hicks as he returned home to become a teacher. Soon, he was coaching at the middle school and later junior varsity.

“I coached with him for 18 years, I guess. And it’s been a blessing all the different rides we got to do, from the state tournaments to the state championship games to the McDonald’s All-American Game, it’s just been amazing,” Glenn said.

Glenn also became fishing buddies with Hicks and found out that he took the past time as seriously as he did basketball.

“It was all out, buddy. You had better be prepared (to be there all day),” Glenn said, laughing. “I had to be careful early on in my marriage when I told my wife I was going fishing with Coach. I didn’t know when I was going to get home.”

In addition to Hicks’ wife, he’s survived by a daughter, Ashley Johnson (Jed), and grandson Wyler Nash Johnson.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday at Scott County High School Gymnasium. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Tyler Hicks Scholarship Fund at TylerHicks14Memorial.com or The Cardinal Sports Club, Inc. 104 Sable Drive, Georgetown, KY 40324.

Scott County head coach Billy Hicks watched a basket during a game against Frederick Douglass on Jan. 24, 2019, in Lexington. Hicks earned his 1,000th win against the Broncos.
Scott County head coach Billy Hicks watched a basket during a game against Frederick Douglass on Jan. 24, 2019, in Lexington. Hicks earned his 1,000th win against the Broncos.

Kentucky coaching legend joins 1,000-win club. He almost never had one.