Win or lose, all winter long, the thought of having to put Scott County's incomparable coach and his sensational seniors into perspective was a dreadful assignment.
Knowing this day would come didn't make it any easier.
It is the worst-kept secret in the world that Billy Hicks soon plans to become a full-time husband, grandfather, mortal enemy of bass, and barbecue pit master extraordinaire.
Combine that with the reality of our own magnificent seven being ushered into college and/or adulthood, and this boys' basketball season was awash with bitter sweetness.
Four days after a loss to Trinity in the KHSAA championship game, the fog of denial remains thick.
Not over the defeat. This year's tournament only reinforced Kentucky's high school tournament as the toughest in America to win. There's zero shame in being one of the 250-some runners-up.
But I'm not ashamed to say putting this chapter to rest, bidding farewell to (maybe) this coach and this team, is one of the hardest chapters in a three-decade career.
That fourth wall we in the fourth estate take so much pride in constructing? Well, it's paper-thin when you're one guy who covers one school. I'm unashamed to say that I honor Billy (yes, he's on a first-name basis with everyone he meets) like a second father, or that I consider Micheal Moreno, Glenn Covington, Bryce Long, Lorenzo Williams, Diablo Stewart, Cam Fluker and Kobi Harris adopted sons.
Not sure what more can be said about Billy that my colleague James Scogin didn't capture in his dynamite documentary. My earnest hope at this point is that he watches himself on that DVD chuckling at the idea of retirement and entertains those second, third and fourth thoughts.
Great coaches are simply priceless within the fabric of a community. If you caught Moreno's heartfelt, tearful tribute to his mentor on our website after Sunday's defeat, you have at least scratched the surface of understanding what Billy means to this one.
He is easily in the uppermost percentile of humble, kind, generous, real people I have ever known. It's impossible to quantify how blessed we are that he has been transplanting pieces of his servant's heart into our young people for a quarter century.
And those players? It's no secret that I had to stare at the ground during the entire Moreno interview referenced above, lest the floodgates open up like they hadn't since my Red Sox lost the 1986 World Series.
Let's start with Michael, because after 2,383 points and 1,313 rebounds, it certainly begins and ends with him.
He's simply the best high school basketball player I've ever covered, and I knew Eastern Kentucky's Nick Mayo back when he was merely a baseball player from Maine with hardwood up-side. I've tracked kids who went on to Villanova, Notre Dame and Boston College, and the totality of Mike's skill set at this age surpasses them all. That's trumped only by his maturity level and appreciation of history, which is off-the-chart for his years.
Contrary to the chants of enemy student sections everywhere, he is, in fact, UN-der-RA-ted (clap, clap, clap clap clap), and will bring honor and glory to whatever college basketball program he chooses in the next month or so.
None of that should short-change anyone else in this amazing group whose output exceeded even the sum of its oh-so-talented parts.
On the subject of superlatives, Glenn is on a list of athletes I can count on one hand that is Division I talent in both sports. He is one of the most intense competitors I've known.
He also redefines the term “streak shooter.” When an opponent watched GC3 knock down one 3-pointer, they could resign themselves to the reality that two, three and four were headed through the net shortly, and with it, any chance it had of springing the upset that night. Campbellsville University football is absolutely stealing this guy.
Diablo is the consummate point guard. Teams had a devil of a time getting the ball away from him in the fourth quarter of any close game, and sending him to the line was almost always a hellacious mistake.
Bryce simply is one of the most consistent players I've ever seen. He quietly scored more than 1,500 career points. You could rarely tell from his facial expressions whether the Cards were ahead by a running clock or down by a dozen. I'm sure he didn't evoke the most fear on any team's SC scouting report, but dollars-to-doughnuts they reconsidered that after a big basket or crucial rebound.
There is no tougher on-the-ball defender in the Western hemisphere than Zo. If somebody of David Johnson's ilk planned to have a career day at Scott County's expense, you knew he would have to earn every ounce of it through blood, sweat and tears.
Every championship team needs a dose of Kobi's fighting spirit. Nobody was prouder to be a second-generation wearer of the Scott County uniform or disciple of its coach than that young man.
And pound-for-pound, the Good Lord doesn't make them any tougher than Cam. Short-handed due to injuries and need someone to play the role of defensive gadfly against a D1 player who stands a foot closer to the heavens? Cam's your dude.
Space is limited and words do no justice. Nor do scoreboards.
One hundred thirty-two wins, three regional titles and two state-game appearances later, these men are forever champions.
I'll miss this team.
No. I love this team.
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.