COMMENTARY

Billy Hicks: 'This was my last game'

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) - Nobody has coached basketball harder than Billy Hicks has coached basketball over the last four decades. If he wore a blood-pressure cup on the sidelines, the numbers would scare the bejeebers out of his doctor, not to mention his wife Betsy.


He has coached almost 1,300 high school games and won 1,013 of them. His winning percentage is an ungodly 79 percent.


He has guided 14 teams to the Sweet Sixteen, 13 of them at Scott County over the last 25 years. He’s won more state tournament games — 33 — than any other coach. His Cardinals won 2 state championships (1998 and 2007).


Those aren’t just numbers. They represent a life’s work — a passion — that has consumed Hicks since he began coaching back home in Harlan County more than 40 years ago.


But Sunday afternoon in Rupp Arena, after Trinity beat Scott County 50-40 in the finals of the 102nd Boys’ Sweet Sixteen, after Hicks and his Cardinals finished runner-up in the state tournament for the fourth time, Hicks said he had reached the end of his coaching career.


In a scrum of reporters on the court after Sunday’s game, Hicks was asked if this was his last game.


“I’ll make that decision on down the road,” he said, adding that he was “99 percent sure” he was bowing out. “We’ll see. It’s been a great ride.”


A few minutes later, however, just before he stepped off the Rupp Arena floor and headed to the locker room for the last time, he came clean.


“This was my last game. I didn’t want to say it in front of everybody. But this was it.”


It had been rumored all season that this would be Hicks’ swan song. Scott County will be split next school year with the opening of Great Crossing, but this was also a perfect group of Scott County players to bow out with.


This senior class carried Scott County to three consecutive 11th Region titles, something no school had done since old Lexington Dunbar from 1963-65.


It would have been a perfect ending for Hicks to retire as the first coach to win three state championships since Lafayette’s Ralph Carlisle in the 1950s.


But a week ago Hicks said that anymore, winning isn’t as sweet as losing is bitter.


“The thing about it is, as you get older, the wins are enjoyable, but they’re not quite the utopia they used to be. But the losses hurt worse, especially if you have a really good team.


“You can go out and win 40 games in a row and nobody knows it. But if you get beat, everybody knows.”


Hicks will always appreciate what his players accomplished, most notably in the Sweet Sixteen where they registered a 33-12 record.


“Every game in the state tournament is a championship,” he said.


Those who know Billy Hicks only as a basketball coach might think it’s his only identity.


But he’s also a husband, father, grandfather, fisherman, hiker, and lover of the great outdoors.


He’s also a changed man.


When his son (and best friend) Tyler died in an automobile accident seven years ago, it scarred Billy’s soul forever.


But the birth of his first grandchild has been a salve to his and his wife Betsy’s pain. Their daughter Ashley and her husband Jed Johnson welcomed Wyler Nash into the world in January.


By all accounts, Billy already has a special bond with his grandson.


And that bond has nothing to do with basketball. It has to do with Billy Hicks cherishing what’s really important in life.


Mike Fields writes for the Kentucky High School Athletic Association. Reach him at mfields@khssaa.org

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