J.R. VanHoose, a schoolboy legend in his own right, felt more like a giddy fan than a Hall of Famer last weekend.
VanHoose, the former Paintsville High School basketball star, was one of 17 inductees into the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame.
By the year 2018, the Hall of Fame will have 100 members in all for its Centennial Class, including boys and girls players and coaches.
VanHoose, who as a sophomore led Paintsville to the 1996 state championship with a win over Ashland, said he was “like a kid in a candy store.”
VanHoose, a basketball historian himself, bounced from table to table introducing himself to players who were his idols.
Two of those were Larry Conley of Ashland fame and Johnny Cox of Hazard fame.
“Being from eastern Kentucky, I idolized those guys growing up,” Vanhoose said. “Growing up around John (Pelphrey) and those guys, it’s not as much of a shock when you meet one of your idols.”
VanHoose bounced from table to table like a young boy seeking autographs. The 34-year-old is the youngest inductee into the Hall of Fame. Of course, it’s nothing new to him. He’s now in four Hall of Fames — Dawahares Kentucky High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame, Kentucky Basketball Hall of Fame, Marshall University Athletic Hall of Fame and Kentucky All-Star Hall of Fame.
All of that before his 35th birthday.
“When I get in these hall of fames, it’s kind of weird at my age,” he said. “These are people you idolized in high school. Now I get to sit and talk with them.”
VanHoose graduated from Paintsville in 1998. In his four years of high school, the Tigers went to the State Tournament every year. They won it in 1996, finished runnerup in 1998, reached the semifinals in 1997 and lost in the first round in 1995. He capped his career by being named Mr. Basketball in 1998.
No doubt, the performances at the State Tournament over his career led to the highest individual honor in the state.
VanHoose is in elite company. Not only did Paintsville make it to the Sweet 16 every year, but he performed well on the big stage.
His 29 point, 27 rebound game in the semifinals in 1996 against Lexington Catholic ranks as one of the greatest games in Sweet 16 history.
“I was at the next table over from Butch Beard and Linville Puckett,” VanHoose said. “They showed video of some games and Butch said, ‘Damn! You had 27 rebounds in that game?’ This is coming from a guy who’s been in the NBA and coached in the NBA.’’
At the end of the day though, VanHoose said he was “very comfortable” around these former great players.
VanHoose admitted he was a little awed by Allan Houston and told him he remembered watching his Ballard team defeat Paintsville in the 1987 state semifinals.
Ballard went on to down Clay County and Richie Farmer in the finals. Houston and Farmer had a showdown, both scoring more than 50 points.
VanHoose found it unusual and exciting to be talking to these legends.
“When I was talking to Larry, I told him that ‘61 team of yours was a great team,” VanHoose said. “He said ‘Your ‘96 team wasn’t bad either.’ Larry said after he got out of high school he didn’t go to the state tournament much but he kept up with some of the teams from eastern Kentucky, like our Paintsville team. When those guys say that, it means a lot.”
But VanHoose belongs in the group as much as anyone.
Besides starring at Paintsville High, he also starred for Marshall from 1998 to 2002 and is in that school’s Hall of Fame.
Here’s a fact he has that beats them all. VanHoose may be the only non-UK player to receive two standing ovations in Rupp Arena.
The first one came during his senior year of high school in the state finals. The second one came after he had a double-double against UK when playing for Marshall.
Conley, of course, starred on Ashland’s 1961 and ‘62 teams that finished as state champion and state runnerup. He went on to play for Adolph Rupp at Kentucky and was part of “Rupp’s Runts” in 1966.
“To hear those guys talk about Adolph Rupp was unreal,” VanHoose said. “Linville Puckett, Conley and Billy Ray Lickert were telling stories. Listening to the stories, knowing some of their histories, made it feel very special.”
VanHoose won his state title as a sophomore and the pressure was on him for the next two years. He immediately becasme a favorite for Mr. Basketball.
“I played for the best coach for that time in Bill Mike (Runyon),” he said. “He had been through that stuff with John (Pelphrey), Joey (Couch) and Keith (Adkins). I knew that going in. There was more pressure on me to have those super-human rebounding games.”
The players were treated like royalty including a police escort to a downtown theater, rings and mayor’s trophies.
VanHoose said none of it would be possible without his teammates who fed him the ball and helped his Paintsville teams win games.
“If I’m considered one of the top 50 ever, that’s unreal,” he said. “When you look back, you start to think about your teammates. They made it easier for me to get rebounds and they had to pass me the ball so I cold score. I was fortunate that I ended up playing my best in perfect moments.”
Inductees into the second class were: VanHoose, Cox, Howie Crittenden, Lickert, Beard, Mike Casey, Conley, Houston, Joe Fulks, Sharon Garland, Donna Murphy, Jamie Walz, Puckett, Letcher Norton (coach), Bobby Watson (coach), William Kean (coach) and Howard Beth (coach).
VanHoose, for one, was proud to be standing with them.
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2648.