Two Mr. Basketball winners lead county contingent
Published 6:35 pm Sunday, February 24, 2019
Two Mr. Basketball winners and an Olympic gold medalist lead the Harlan County contingent on the inaugural Boys 13th Region Basketball Hall of Fame class to be honored Saturday in Corbin during the 13th Region Tournament.
Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball in 1981 from Cawood High School, Phil Cox broke Wah Was Jones’ Harlan County record with 2,401 points as he went on to earn all-state honors twice before leading the Kentucky All-Stars in their two-game series against Indiana.
Cox was a four-year starter at Vanderbilt and set school records there in scoring and free throw shooting while earning All-SEC honors. He then went on to coach for several years at Lincoln Memorial University.
As a five-year starter at Harlan High School, Charles Thomas set the county record for points with 3,365 while leading Harlan to 13th Region titles in 1993 and 1995 and All “A” Classic state titles in 1994 and 1995. Thomas earned all-state honors as both a junior and senior and was named Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball in 1995.
Thomas went on to play for Clem Haskins at the University of Minnesota and was the sixth man on the Gophers’ Final Four team in 1997. He averaged 7.1 points a game. He was also a standout on the Harlan baseball team and was drafted by the New York Yankees. Thomas transferred to Eastern Kentucky University as a junior, but a back injury ended his playing career.
Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones, Sr. was a two-sport All-American at the University of Kentucky, playing for legendary coaches Adolph Rupp and Bear Bryant, winning two national championships and an NIT. Jones is the only player at the University of Kentucky to have his jerseys retired in both sports. In addition to basketball and football, Jones was a pitcher with the Wildcats and a member of the UK track and field team. He won a gold medal in the 1948 Summer Olympics with Rupp’s “Fabulous Five” and the Phillip 66ers. After college Jones went on to play in the National Basketball Association with the Indianapolis Olympians. During his tremendous athletic career Jones was the image of sportsmanship and is respected throughout the world.
Jones led Harlan to four 13th Region titles in basketball and the 1944 state championship. He scored 2,332 points in his storied high school career.
An all-stater at Cawood, Nick Sanford scored 1,893 points in his career for the Trojans as he led them to the regional finals as a senior and a earned a starting spot on one of the best Kentucky All-Star teams in history. Kentucky swept Indiana that season, led by Rex Chapman, Felton Spencer, Reggie Hanson and Sanford.
Sanford went on to Lincoln Memorial University where he earned NAIA All-American honors four times and set numerous school records. He averaged 31.2 points per game as a freshman, 25.0 per game as a sophomore, 34.3 per game as a junior and 34.0 as a senior for the four highest scoring averages in LMU history. He scored 3,629 points in his college career.
One of the most successful coaches in 13th Region history, Mike Jones posted a 613-255 record in 28 seasons as a boys basketball coach in a career that included stops at Cawood, Jackson County, Todd Central, Harlan, Clay County and Harlan County.
Jones, a 1970 Clay County graduate, began his high school coaching career in the 1980-81 season as an assistant under Kirk Chiles at Cawood High School on a team led by Mr. Basketball Phil Cox. The Trojans were regional runner-up in both 1981 and 1983. Jones took the Trojans back to the regional finals in 1986 in his four-year run as head coach.
After one season at Todd Central, Jones returned to Harlan County in the fall of 1991 to begin an eight-year run as the Harlan coach. The Green Dragons won 205 games in eight years under Jones, winning 13th Region titles in 1993, 1995 and 1996 and Kentucky All “A” Classic state titles in 1994 and 1995.
After a six-year stint at Clay County, which included his fourth regional championship in 2001, Jones retired from coaching. He was named the first coach at Harlan County High School in the summer of 2008. After posting the first losing record of his career in 2009, Jones led the Bears through a gradual rise through the ranks of the 13th Region. The Bears won 19 games in 2010, then 20 in 2011 and 27 in 2012. Harlan County won its second district title in a 25-8 campaign in 2013 and advanced to the 13th Region Tournament finals before falling to Clay County.
A graduate of Loyall High School, John D. Wilson went on to play basketball and baseball at Cumberland College before beginning his coaching career in 1958 at Green Hills and then at Pine Mountain Settlement School in 1960. He returned to Green Hills for five more years, then built a junior high powerhouse in eight years at Loyall Elementary School, winning numerous county championships and leading his 1974 team to an AAU state title.
Wilson followed his standout team from Loyall to Cawood High School in the fall of 1974 and turned a program that had never finished with a winning record or made it to the regional tournament into a winner almost overnight. Cawood won its first 52nd District title in 1976 and the Trojans fell to Clay County in the 13th Region Tournament finals. Cawood added district championships in 1977 and 1978 with a team led by several of his former Loyall stars. Wilson moved on to Webster County High School after the 1979 season and spent nine years there before moving back to eastern Kentucky and beginning an amazing transformation of the Red Bird program. Red Bird topped the 20-win mark numerous times under Wilson’s leadership and made it to the 13th Region finals in 1998 before falling to Clay County.
A 1970 Evarts High School graduate, Billy Hicks coached in the 13th Region for 14 years at Evarts, Harlan and Corbin. He led Evarts to one of three 52nd District titles in 1983 and took Corbin to the state tournament in 1991.
Hicks found his greatest success at Scott County, where he led the Cardinals to state titles in 1998 and 2007 and finished second four times, including last year. He was the first coach in state history to top 1,000 wins.
Elected in the contributor section, were Luther Blanton and John Henson.
Blanton started keeping the scorebook as a high school student at Wallins in the late 1950s and stayed in that position until the school closed in 1966. He took over as the scorekeeper at the new Cawood High School, then went to Harlan and then back to Cawood until the school closed in 2008. He became the first scorekeeper at Harlan County High School until retiring after the Bears finished as 13th Region runner-up in 2013.
Henson has covered 13th Region basketball since 1986 for the Harlan Daily Enterprise and the Cats Pause, winning numerous Kentucky Press Association awards during that time. He also served as managing editor for 15 years and now teaches writing at Harlan County High School as part of the Gear Up program.
13th Region Hall of Fame selections
Wah Wah Jones — Harlan
Phil Cox — Cawood
Charles Thomas — Harlan
Larry Pursiful – Lone Jack, Bell County
Richie Farmer — Clay County
Nick Sanford — Cawood
Lawrence Buell — Middlesboro
Frank Selvy — Corbin
Tony Pietrowski — Corbin
Terry Mills — Knox Central
Rodney Woods — Lone Jack
Ray Mills — Clay County
Fred Bishop — Pineville
Bobby McWIlliams — Barbourville
Larry Gritton Jr. — Oneida Baptist
Bobby Keith — Clay County
Joe Gilley — Harlan
Mike Jones — Cawood, Jackson County, Harlan, Harlan County
Billy Hicks — Evarts, Harlan, Corbin
John D. Wilson — Cawood, Red Bird
Dinky Phipps — Barbourville, Lynn Camp
Harold Combs — Bell County
J.D. Strange — Bell County, Knox Central, Pineville
Nick Denes — Corbin
Don Bingham — Knox Central
Luther Blanton — Harlan County
David Thompson — Pineville
Stanley Abner — Clay County
Ray Canady — Knox Central
Gerty Stewart — Barbourville
Scott Smith — North Laurel
Paul Pietrowski — Corbin
Glenn Proffitt — South Laurel
Glenn Peace — Bell County
Troy Martin — North Laurel/South Laurel
Sheb Stewart — Bell County
Neil Warren — London and Corbin
Keith Gabbard — Jackson County
Les Dixon — Corbin Times Tribune
John Henson — Harlan Daily Enterprise
Stan Lovett — Williamsburg radio