Learning from a legend

Billy Hicks instructs players on the Scott County bench Sunday afternoon during what was most likely his final game as a high school coach. The Cards fell 50-40 to the Trinity Shamrocks in the state final.

So you’re saying there’s a chance?

Compounding the sudden, unforeseen end of Scott County’s season Sunday, a loss to Trinity in the KHSAA state final at Rupp Arena, was the declaration by legendary coach Billy Hicks that it was his final game.

Well, probably.

Somewhere in the middle of the Shamrocks’ celebration and the presentation of awards, Hicks confided to veteran sportswriter Mike Fields that “this was it.”

In two other postgame interviews, however, Hicks, wrapping up his 25th season as coach at SC, left the door ajar, if ever-so-slightly.

“There’s a 99 percent chance it was (my last game),” Hicks said, his voice hoarse from four consecutive days of coaching the Cardinals to their fifth runner-up finish under his watch.

Scott County celebrated state championships in 1998 and 2007 with Hicks, who has won more games than any other coach in Kentucky high school history.

“I’ll make that decision on down the road. I’ll have a fishing pole in my hand,” Hicks said. “I’ll decide that at a different time and everything. I’m 66, be 67 in August. It’s been a good ride. I don’t know. It very well could be.”

The chance to spend more time with two of his passions, family and fishing, likely will convince Hicks to walk away near the top of the game. Hicks and his wife, Betsy, recently welcomed the birth of their grandson, Wyler Nash Johnson, to their daughter, Ashley.

After posting career win No. 1,000 against Frederick Douglass, Hicks was half-jokingly asked by a fan if he would stick around for another thousand. He retorted with a laugh but without hesitation, “If I did, I’d be divorced!”

Scott County senior star Michael Moreno tearfully paid homage to his mentor when asked after the Trinity loss about their relationship.

“It’s been awesome. I wouldn’t trade him for the world. He’s the best coach I’ve ever had, and I love him to death,” Moreno said. “It’s just an honor to be able to play for a guy like that, because he’s a great coach and an even better person. 

“He raised us to become better people. When you have a coach like that who doesn’t care strictly about you playing basketball but cares about you becoming a man, respecting people, doing your best in school, doing the right thing all the time; if you have a coach who cares about you in all aspects of your life, you should never take him for granted.”

The emotions were mutual from Hicks, who would depart with 1,013 wins, making him one of only 30 coaches in America in the thousand club.

He deflected talk of retirement by praising his players.

“What they’ve accomplished has been unbelievable,” Hicks said. “This game had no bearing on that, win or lose,” he said. “I felt like it was an honor to coach them, and a privilege.”

Hicks’ departure would leave three substantial hoops job openings in the county to be filled, with Great Crossing High School set to open.

Only two other active coaches in Kentucky, Dale Mabrey of Pleasure Ridge Park and Rodney Woods of Wayne County, are over the 900-win mark.

Scott County and Hicks pushed their numbers through the roof in their later years together.

This year’s senior class posted a four-year mark of 132 wins and only 18 losses.

Kal Oakes can be reached via email at sports@news-graphic.com.

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