Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Cave Spring boys basketball coach Billy Hicks puts a little of himself into program

RICHMOND -- They all look like Billy Hicks, talk like him, shoot like him, defend like him, think like him.

Well, maybe not all of them LOOK like him. Josh Henderson stands 6-foot-11. He doesn't look quite like anybody in this state basketball tournament.

But the rest of these guys? A bunch of Billy Hicks clones, suburban gym rats who know how to win.

Hicks wrapped up his 14th season as Cave Spring coach Saturday by spurring his boys to their second VHSL Group AA Division 3 title in a row. The score was 54-43 over Brunswick.

The Knights won because of Clay Lacy's big first half, Quentin Dill's assists, Mark Overstreet's defense, Adam Hager's leadership and Henderson's presence inside. They won because Erik Jacobsen and Justin White came off the bench to hit big 3s. They won because they have a dozen seniors who refused to get rattled, even when Brunswick rallied to tie the score at the end of the third quarter.

But they also won because of Hicks, who's built a basketball power from scratch at his alma mater.

It's funny. A few years ago, following his record-breaking career at Duke, Cave Spring graduate J.J. Redick came home for a recognition dinner at Hotel Roanoke. Hicks joked that night that he would always be known as "That Guy Who Coached J.J." Not Billy. Not Coach Hicks. Just "That Guy Who Coached J.J." until the day he died.

Or maybe not.

Group AA Division 3 final

Cave Spring 54, Brunswick 43

"BILL-EE HI-ICKS!" the Cave Spring student section chanted when it ended Saturday. "BILL-EE HI-ICKS!"

Yes. Chant his name. Give him some credit. Because you watch this bunch get off the bus, and you wonder if they got lost on the way to a band trip to Kings Dominion. Eight of Cave Spring's 15 players are shorter than 6 feet. None of them -- other than Henderson, a Vanderbilt recruit -- screams "basketball player" with his appearance.

But then they take the court ... and it all fits. The Knights take good shots. They make smart passes. They control the tempo. They maintain their poise.

They win.

"People say that all the time: 'How do you guys win?'" Hicks said. "But they believe in each other, you know? And we have good players. They're good players."

They are. So was Hicks when he played at Cave Spring -- a little slow, admittedly, but an eager worker and one heck of a shooter. By the time he got to Roanoke College, he knew he wanted to be a coach.

When he took over the Knights in 1996, the program hadn't been to a regional tournament in 20 years. Any suggestion that Cave Spring would win three state titles over the next 14 seasons would have been laughable.

"To be honest with you, to save embarrassment, I wouldn't even mention to anybody that that was ever my goal," Hicks said. "Because the basketball program had not been stellar. I'm from the Cave Spring area. I knew what the types of kids we got. I didn't know if we could ever make it to the state level, but I certainly dreamed about it."

In Hicks' second season, they made the regions. They soon enjoyed a run of seven straight appearances -- including the Redick years, which peaked with a Group AAA title in 2002.

During the past two seasons, Hicks has proven he can win it all without Redick. Henderson is another once-in-a-generation player, but his eight points and five rebounds Saturday couldn't win the game on their own. This was a team victory in every sense.

Besides, it's not like the Redicks and Hendersons of the world don't need coaching.

"I remember the very first time I met Coach Hicks," Henderson said. "I was in the weight room and he was talking to me and I was kind of looking down, and then he tapped me and he said, 'Whenever you talk to me, I want you to look me straight in the eye.'

"From that point on, our relationship grew."

It's grown with all of them, a facet of the job that Hicks appreciates now more than ever at age 44. After Saturday's win, he received 90 text messages, many from former players.

They know where to find him. Hicks once considered getting into administration or trying to move to the college ranks, but these days it would take an unbelievable offer to pry him away from the Knights' bench.

"Cave Spring's home," he said. "Every time I walk into that gym and you get that smell and you look up, you're like, 'Wow.' I can remember I used to have to bribe a janitor or break into the school to get the gym. They didn't open it up like we do now."

He smiled.

"I've always thought it was a very cool thing that I had a key to the gym."

A true necessity. How else could 16 Billy Hickses spend a quality afternoon together?

By Robert Anderson 981-3123

RICHMOND -- Billy Hicks stood with his Cave Spring basketball team in the middle of the floor at VCU's Siegel Center and held up two fingers.

Two fingers. Not three.

Cave Spring won its third state basketball championship in the last nine years Saturday as Clay Lacy scored 21 points to lead the Knights to a 54-43 victory over Brunswick in the VHSL Group AA Division 3 final.

The same snapshot was taken in 2009 after Cave Spring defeated Brunswick for the Division 3 title. Hicks coached the Knights to the 2002 Group AAA championship, but Saturday's celebration didn't include those bygone glory days.

Hicks held two fingers aloft for the 12 seniors on this year's team who brought back-to-back state championship trophies back to Roanoke.

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