Two of the greatest players in northeastern Kentucky high school basketball history were part of the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame’s second class announced Tuesday.
Ashland Tomcat star Larry Conley and Paintsville star J.R. VanHoose were among the 17 inductees that brings the total number of the Hall of Fame Centennial Class to 33 members.
The KHSBHF will culminate its Centennial Class in 2018 with a total of 100 inductees, representing the first 100 years of Kentucky high school basketball. The Centennial Class of 2013 will be inducted on July 20 at the State Theater in Elizabethtown.
VanHoose, who went to four consecutive State Tournaments for Paintsville from 1995-1998, was in awe of his surroundings.
“When I was playing, you always looked in the record books and saw the names of Larry Conley, Johnny Cox and Linville Puckett,” he said. “When I look at these pictures (of the Hall of Fame class) and see mine with them it’s like there’s something out of place — and it’s me. No way I should be in with these guys.”
VanHoose, a Kentucky high school basketball historian, was like a kid in a candy store rubbing elbows with some of the state’s greatest players.
Of course, VanHoose, 34, belongs in the elite club. He led Paintsville to its only state title in 1996, to the semifinals in 1997 and back to the finals again in 1998. VanHoose went on to a Hall of Fame career at Marshall University and he’s also in the Kentucky High School Athletic Association/Dawahares Hall of Fame.
“It’s almost like it’s unfair,” he said. “I get to enjoy it more. I’m with all these guys who I wanted to meet. Linville Puckett said ‘I enjoyed watching you play in the State Tournament.’ I looked over my shoulder to see if he was talking to somebody else.”
Conley played in three State Tournaments for the Tomcats from 1960-62. Ashland won the state title in 1961 and finished runnerup in 1962 largely because of Conley’s play.
Highly regarded sportswriter Billy Reed introduced Conley and called the Tomcats ’61 champions one of the best in tournament history.
“That’s unreal to think about that,” VanHoose said. “I’ve read so much about Larry Conley and Johnny Cox, who used to sleep in the Hazard High School gym.”
VanHoose, who was Mr. Basketball in 1998, said his greatest memories came in Rupp Arena. He was given a standing ovation late in the championship game of his senior year when the Tigers lost to Scott County. He returned to Rupp four years later during his senior year at Marshall in a game with Kentucky. When VanHoose came out of the game after a strong effort, the UK fans gave him another standing ovation.
Few players, if any, ended their high school and then college careers with standing ovations in Rupp Arena.
“People are clapping and looking at you and me and my dad (an assistant coach for Paintsville) are hugging and everybody is clapping,” VanHoose said. “To have that moment with your dad is pretty special.”
VanHoose said those two ovations and the memories of the ’96 state championship team are his “three best memories of my basketball career.”
Conley wasn’t in attendance Tuesday but said he appreciated the honor and plans to be there this summer when the class is officially inducted.
“This one I will really cherish,” he said. “They’re only going to take 100 people. When you stop and think about the thousands and thousands of young men who have played in the State Tournament that’s quite an honor.”
Conley treasures his trips to the Sweet Sixteen, especially in ’61 when the Tomcats won the title.
“I wish we had done better when I was a sophomore,” he said. “My sophomore team was better than my senior team. Guys like Ditto Sparks, Dean Church and Gary Wright were really, really good players. We just couldn’t get past Maysville.”
Inductees into the second class were: Johnny Cox, Howie Crittenden, Billy Ray Lickert, Butch Beard, Mike Casey, Larry Conley, Allan Houston, J.R. VanHoose, Joe Fulks, Sharon Garland, Donna Murphy, Jamie Walz, Linville Puckett, Letcher Norton (coach), Bobby Watson (coach), William Kean (coach) and Howard Beth (coach).
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2648.