I was able to meet with and interview many great Kentucky high school basketball coaches while researching for my book, How Sweet It Is. The experience proved to be so influential that it led me into the coaching profession. In an effort to learn the stories of more Kentucky hoops coaches, I am posting a series of email Q&As with a few of them as the 2019-2020 season gets rolling. You can purchase copies of my aforementioned book for just $5 (75% off) through my publisher by clicking here. Thank you to Pineville Boys Head Coach Brad Levy for the responses below.
JV: Prior to coming to Pineville you spent several years in the Scott County system. How much attention did Billy Hicks pay to the entirety of his basketball program, not just the varisty team but the entire middles school and elementary feeder program?
BL: Coach Hicks was good about keeping a pulse on what was going on at the three middle schools that fed Scott County High School, but also allowed the coaches at each of the schools autonomy to run their own programs in their own way. One of Coach Hicks’ best skills is his ability to connect with young kids at his Summer basketball camps. Coach would see a camper later in the year at a game or out in public and remember that child’s name and would speak to them. That means a lot to a kid that a man as successful as he is would take the time and interact with them on a personal level.
JV: Some people might just think that Coach Hicks won because he had the most talent. What would those people be surprised to learn about him and his work ethic?
BL: Coach Hicks won a ton of games because he had a lot of talent at his disposal throughout his career but it was his work ethic and ability to get the absolute most out of his players’ ability that separated him from most others. Coach Hicks has the unique ability to motivate his players and coaching staff through his sheer will to prepare to win. He wasn’t going to be outworked by anybody. In my time around him, I rarely heard him have to ride a player to play hard. It was the expectation that you gave your absolute best because you knew that he was giving his. Players and coaches alike didn’t want to let him down.
JV: Any good Coach Hicks stories?
BL: Everybody knows Coach Hicks had no problem riding officials. My first year on his staff, we went and played Hazard in the old Memorial Gym at Hazard on a Friday night. That gym is incredible. An awesome throwback environment. We had a really good team and ended up as state runners-up that season. I won’t say that the officiating was obviously being one sided, however, we weren’t getting any of the close calls that night. Coach was riding a particular official hard that night and mentioned to him the foul count. The official stopped, took the whistle out of his mouth and said, “Coach, if I was cheating you, you’d know it.” and ran on down the court. Coach just stood there for a second or two and thought about it then said, “ I guess he’s right.” and laughed it off. It was a funny exchange and we ended up winning that night.
JV: What was it about the Pineville job that appealed to you the most?
BL: There were several things about this job that appealed to me. I have dreamed of being a high school basketball head coach my entire life and I felt that I was ready for the challenge and to step out on a limb and jump at an opportunity. It also felt like it was meant to be because a year prior to the job opening up, I proposed to my now wife on the mountain overlooking the city of Pineville, well before we ever dreamed this job would be a possibility. Once I started doing some research about the job, the school and community, it felt like a great fit for me personally and a great basketball opportunity. I had several conversations with Pineville Superintendent Russell Thompson and every time I hung up the phone I was fired up hearing his passion and vision for the school and basketball program. This area is basketball crazy and will support a program that works hard and generates excitement, and that is exactly what I am about.
JV: What was the cultural adjustment like going from Georgetown/greater Lexington to tiny Pineville in the mountains?
BL: Other than having to drive a little further to go shopping or to go out to eat, there hasn’t been a drastic change. Life might move a little slower here at times, and that is 100% fine with me, but the people of Pineville have treated us very well and have accepted us into the community with open arms. We have already made strong friendships in a short period that will last a lifetime.
JV: What tactics have you taken from Coach Hicks as far as building up your feeder program in Pineville?
BL: The key to Coach Hicks success was that he had good basketball players. The secret to that success was that he worked his tail off year round to help develop his players and grow their individual skills. From the bottom to the top of our program at Pineville, we place an emphasis on individual improvement and developing kids into better ball handlers, shooters, and all around basketball players.
JV: What immediate, short term changes did you make upon taking the job?
BL: In the short term over the Summer and in the preseason, I had to get my players used to what I expected of them on the basketball court and in the classroom and community. It’s human nature to be resistant to change and there were growing pains as we got used to each other but I am proud of the growth our kids have shown in all areas in a short period of time. We have improved in the classroom, improved at doing the little things needed to be successful in life, and they work hard every day to improve as basketball players.
JV: What long term changes will you be making over the next few years?
BL: Long term it is my goal that we develop a program that has staying power and can be competitive with the best in our area in the All-A and at the regional level. To do so, we are going to have to continue to place an emphasis on developing the young talent we have and making it attractive to have the dream of being a Pineville basketball player.
JV: What style of play can people expect from Pineville this year?
BL: Fortune favors the bold. I don’t like sitting back and letting things happen. We will be aggressive offensively and defensively. We want to attack the basket on offense, get out in transition and score easy baskets. Defensively we want to play aggressively and take teams out of their comfort zone and not let them execute what they work on in practice every day.
JV: Who were your Kentucky high school basketball heroes growing up? Coaches and players?
BL: I was spoiled growing up in Scott County watching the great teams of the late 90’s/early 2000’s. I loved watching and working with Coach Hicks. He taught me so much and gave me an opportunity when he didn’t have to. I have worked with other coaches who I have admired and appreciated learning from as well, such as Steve Page and Tony Wise. There were so many good players that came through Scott County during that time that played at a high level. It’s amazing to think back to all the talent that I got to watch play in my hometown. Names like Rick Jones, A.W. Hamilton, Scott Hundley, Casey Alsop, Tyler Hicks, Jared Carter. The list goes on and on.
JV: What are you learning about mountain basketball that you didn’t know previously?
BL: Previously, I thought I had a grasp on how high school basketball is an actual way of life in the mountains, but you can’t fully appreciate it until you experience it firsthand. People take the success of their local programs personally and support their schools at a high level.
JV: What does a night out in Pineville look like for you and your wife?
BL: A night out in Pineville for us consists of going out to eat at one of the local restaurants downtown like Sauced (Pizza) or the Butcher’s Pub after a practice or game.