Phil Cox and his ‘Loyall’ mentor, Billy Hicks
BY MIKE FIELDS
Before Phil Cox became Vanderbilt’s all-time leading scorer in 1985, before he starred at Cawood High School and became Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball in 1981, he first realized what the game might hold for him as an eighth-grader at Loyall Junior High in Harlan County.
And he credits his eighth-grade coach, Billy Hicks, for opening his eyes to the future.
Cox and Hicks, who hadn’t seen each other in more than 25 years, traded stories about the good ol’ days Tuesday morning, before a press conference at Lexington’s Griffin Gate Marriott announcing the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame’s Centennial inductees for 2017.
Cox will be among the honorees at this summer’s ceremony in Elizabethtown. Hicks, the winningest high school coach in Kentucky history who has Scott County back in the Sweet Sixteen this week, was inducted into the Hall of Fame last year.
Cox, now the principal at Jefferson Middle School in Oak Ridge, TN, said that without Hicks, “there would be no Phil Cox.
“Billy took an interest in a poor boy who didn’t have much and believed in him. He made a difference in my life, and not just the basketball part. He taught me about being a young gentleman, about having passion, about setting my goals real high. He always told me that the sky’s the limit, and encouraged me to work to get there.
“I wanted the opportunity to go to college and get an education, and Billy helped me realize basketball could do that for me.”
Hicks said Cox “didn’t realize how good he was. I just telling him how good he could be.”
Hicks remembered how he and Cox would regularly play 2-on-2 games against Cawood stars Greg Coldiron and David Parks. “We’d beat ’em every time, and they’d get so mad about losing to me and an eighth-grader,” Hicks said.
When Cox was in high school, he hoped to someday play for Kentucky. He averaged 35 points as a junior and 28 as a senior at Cawood, but he didn’t spark UK’s interest.
Instead, he became C.M. Newton’s first recruit at Vandy.
“I wanted the opportunity to go to college and get an education,” Cox said. “I thank the good Lord I was able to go play in the SEC.”
Cox ended his college career as Vandy’s all-time leading scorer with 1,724 points (and those were the days before the three-pointer).
“C.M. Newton was a real gentleman, too,” Cox said. “My mom Mickey, C.M and Billy Hicks were three people who really impacted my life.”
Cox was best known as a dead-eye shooter in high school and college. At Vandy, he was one of the top free-throw shooters in the nation, and set an SEC record by making 47 in a row.
“How do you become a good shooter?” he said. “You have to put in the time, hours upon hours.”
Can Cox, who’s 53, still have a shooting touch?
“Yes,” he said flatly.
The Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame’s 2017 inductees also include Erin Boley, Elizabethtown star, Miss Basketball and national player of the year in 2016; Robert Brooks, led Richmond Madison to 1969 and ’70 state tournaments, Mr. Basketball in ’70; Darel Carrier, had more than 3,100 points for Bristow; Lisa Collins, standout on Laurel County’s three state title teams in the 1970s, Miss Basketball in 1979; Valerie Owens Combs, all-state player at Butler in 1970s, still holds Sweet Sixteen single-game record of 24 rebounds; Mary Taylor Cowles, led Marshall County to four state tournaments, including unbeaten state title in 1984, Miss Basketball; Kyra Elzy, two-time Parade All-American at Oldham County, more than 3,000 points and 1,700 rebounds; also standout in cross country and track; Manuel Forrest, Louisville Moore star with more than 3,200 points and 1,700 rebounds; Joe Harper, standout athlete who later coached six Monticello teams to the Sweet Sixteen; Charlie Osborne, Flat Gap star in the 1950s with more than 3,600 points; Harold Sergent, point guard for Ashland’s legendary 1961 title team; Greg Todd, coached Berea to state semifinals in 1998, and Lexington Catholic to state titles in 2001, ’05, ’06; Jack Upchurch, star player at Wayne County in 1950s and later standout coach; Ray Vencil, coached Richmond Madison and Elizabethtown to Sweet Sixteen; Bobby Washington, star player at Lexington Dunbar in early 1960s, later coached Bryan Station to 1989 state tournament; Russell Williamson, coached Inez to eight region titles, and 1941 state championship.
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