Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

November 28, 2012

EAST KENTUCKY BASKETBALL HISTORY: A VanHoose family affair

By J.R. VANHOOSE
For The Independent

PAINTSVILLE — For this guest article I have decided to write about my father and grandfather’s high school basketball careers. I’ve thought and thought about how I would write this story and have gone through several drafts of it. It is very hard to write about people close to you, and I hope that the telling of this story will tell a story of my family’s journey with basketball and I hope that it will get more people involved with their own family history and learn stories from their family’s past.

My grandfather, Bob VanHoose, was a great man. From my first memories I can always recall my “Pap” being involved in my life. Until I was six years old I grew up in an area of Johnson County called Hager Hill, along the banks of Jennie’s Creek, and my grandparents lived two houses away from me. I can remember playing in the large yards with my Pap, him pitching a ball to me and chasing the ball after I hit it past him. He also used to let me ride on his riding lawnmower with him as he would mow and would pretty much play any game that I had in mind. As I grew older, we stayed very close. He was at every basketball game I played while I was at Paintsville cheering me and the team on, while his son, my father, sat on the bench as an assistant coach for Coach Bill Mike Runyon. When I went to Marshall University he became a season ticket holder and I can still remember looking up in the stands to see him, my grandmother, and the rest of my family before we would start our games at the Cam Henderson Center.

 On Jan. 15, 2000, my sophomore year at Marshall, I was preparing for a shootaround at the Henderson Center in preparation for a game against Eastern Michigan University later that evening. In the opening minutes of the practice, Coach Greg White called me up to his office under the guise that a reporter from Sports Illustrated was in town to do a story about the team. When I walked into his office I saw my parents. My dad had been crying, and I knew that something was terribly wrong. The only thing I really remember hearing my dad say was: “Pap died last night.” It was a heartbreaking moment for me and I do remember taking off running from the office and back down into the gym, I guess just trying to run from the pain.

I decided to play later that evening against Eastern Michigan, to honor my grandfather, but to really not have to go home and deal with his death. He was buried three days later and on the night of his funeral I played in a game against Marshall’s biggest rival – West Virginia University. The game was intense and I played terrible. Before halftime I ended up getting into a confrontation with WVU forward Chris Moss and earned a technical for my actions. All I can remember after that is just crying. Crying in the locker room at halftime, crying in the warmup line before the second half, crying on the bench. I had hit that point where I couldn’t control that pain anymore, it was just coming out. I had lost my Pap, and it hurt.

It wasn’t until after he died that I learned that my Pap had played basketball at Oil Springs High School. I had been given a team picture of the 1948-49 Oil Springs team, my Pap’s senior year, and that just led to more questions. I never knew that he had played basketball in high school. What stories could I have heard? What basketball history could I have been taught? All of those questions I would love to have had answered. So I then went on a quest to do my own research and find out all I could about my Pap’s high school basketball playing days.

My Dad didn’t know much about my Pap’s high school playing days either. Apparently they just didn’t talk about that stuff. Just some stories about who my Pap remembered seeing play and the names of some of the players from around his time – “Junior” White from Meade Memorial, Leonard Carpenter from Salyersville, and later Bob Daniels at Oil Springs. I then took it upon myself to do some research at the Johnson County Public Library and search old newspaper archives on microfilm to see if I could find any sports articles that mentioned my grandfather in his playing days. I was only able to find two articles that would shed some light on his playing career, but the good thing was both mentioned his name. On December 9, 1948 the following article appeared in the Paintsville Herald:

“The Paintsville Tigers were defeated by Oil Springs on the Oil Springs floor Tuesday night with a score of 41-36. The game was Paintsville’s best of the season. The score was tied 18-18 at the half. This is one game where you could say the crown went wild. Paintsville’s high point man was Marvin VanHoose with 13 points. Kenneth Wheeler and Calvin Crace were high for Oil Springs. Only one player, Bob VanHoose, fouled out on the Oil Springs team.”

There it was in black and white, my grandfather played against the Paintsville Tigers in a game his team had won. However, it appears that he was quite the defender as he fouled out in the game. No record of points scored or rebounds, or even minutes played. But his name did make it into the paper. The last article I found appeared in the April 21, 1949 edition of the Paintsville Herald:

“In a basketball game between the Johnson County All-Stars, coached by Foster “Sid” Meade of Flat Gap, and the Floyd County All-Stars, coached by Estill Hall of McDowell, played on Saturday, April 16, in the Flat Gap Gym, the Johnson County team was victorious by a score of 53-52.”

“The Floyd County lads controlled the tips and rebounds, but had trouble getting in close with their shots, as the Johnson Countians were using a tight man-for-man defense. Butcher, Picklesimer, and Bailey [from Johnson County] put on a terrific burst of speed on the three-man fast break. They shot only close range shots and hit a high percentage of their shots.”

“Box Score:

Floyd County All-Stars: (F) Jones – Maytown, 14; (F) Curry – Wheelwright, 7; (G) Spradlin – Wayland, 12; (G) Turner – McDowell, 10; (G) Stumbo – McDowell, 9; Substitutes: Boyd (Prestonsburg); Hall (Wheelwright)

Johnson County All-Stars: (F) Ward – Meade, 4; (F) Picklesimer – Flat Gap, 13; (C) VanHoose – Oil Springs, 4; (G) Bailey – Flat Gap, 10; (G) Butcher – Meade, 12; Substitutes: Mullins (Flat Gap), 10; LeMaster (Oil Springs)”

How great was it to find this article. My Pap had apparently played well enough during the season to make a county all-star team and had been a starter in that game! Oh, to have been able to hear about this game and the background of it!

It wasn’t just my grandfather that played basketball, my dad, Bob VanHoose, also played. My grandfather moved to Indiana in the late 1950s to take a job working for General Motors in Marion, Indiana. It was just outside of Marion, in Converse, Indiana, where my father grew up and began playing basketball. He played at Oak Hill High School, whose most famous player, Monte Towe, was there when my father was.  Towe was an all-ACC player at N.C. State and helped them to a national championship under Jim Valvano in 1974. My father was on the freshman team at Oak Hill when Towe was a senior there and would always tell me stories about what a player Towe was in high school. It was a great honor to finally meet Towe, who was an assistant coach at UNC Ashville, when I played against him as a freshman at Marshall. It was great to hear him speak of my dad and other family members who attended Oak Hill when he was there.

Back to my dad. He played varsity basketball at Oak Hill High School for only two years, his junior and senior seasons. His high school coach, Jack Keefer, was a good coach who currently coaches at Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis. At Lawrence North, Keefer coached high school All-Americans Eric Montross, Greg Oden, and Mike Conley. He has won more than 500 games and four state titles in his coaching career and is a member of the Indiana High School Hall of Fame.

Entering my dad’s senior year the local paper and Coach Keefer had some good thing to say about him. The Chronicle-Tribune of Marion, Ind., quoted the following on November 16, 1974, “VanHoose is one of the top defensive players in the county. He was the sixth man for Oak Hill last year, and Keefer hopes to use him to stop the high scorers like Peru’s Kyle Macy.” Yes, that’s right, my father played against UK legend Kyle Macy in high school!

What is interesting is my dad always told a story about how he was such a good defensive player that he shut Macy down. It was different each time, but as the story went, “Macy was averaging something like 28 points a game, and I shut him down, he only got 27!” I always thought the story was a bit silly, until Morehead State’s then Coach Kyle Macy made a visit to my home during the recruiting process in September 1997. My dad repeated that story and Coach Macy got quite a laugh, and I got a bit embarrassed. The home visit lasted some three hours where my dad and Coach Macy mostly talked of their high school days!

But in all seriousness, my dad was a pretty good player in high school. Prior to his senior year (1973-74) a local newspaper scouting report stated, “Bob VanHoose (6-4 senior) was valuable coming off the bench last season. He was the all-important sixth man. Good quickness and excellent reach for a forward. Has worked hard in improving his game.” Coach Keefer continued to praise him and his defense in a game program early in the season, “Bob played the role of our clutch player last year as our sixth man. The coaching staff felt that his presence in the Blackford and the Madison-Grant games last year allowed us to win two big games. His quickness and alert defensive play will be a very important factor against some of the excellent offensive forwards we will face throughout the year.”

Oak Hill started off their season with two straight losses, but then managed to win five in a row. Two of the best games my dad played in high school came during Oak Hill’s stretch of five straight wins. Against Northfield High he scored 17 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, the next night against North Manchester High he paced the team with 26 points and 10 rebounds. His play was so good that he was named the Grant County Offensive Player-of-the-Week by the Marion (IN) Chronicle-Tribune. The paper wrote, “A brand new offensive star crossed the Oak Hill Golden Eagle horizon last weekend. Bob VanHoose, a husky 6-4 forward who was carrying a 10 point average, busted loose for big scoring nights as Jack Keefer’s Eagles beat Northfield, 78-69, and Manchester, 86-62 to up their win streak to five games. ‘VanHoose just had a super game at Manchester,’ Keefer said in telling of a 26-point performance in which he hit 12 of 16 from the field. VanHoose had 17 points and hit seven of thirteen from the floor in the win over Northfield. He also had 17 rebounds in that one and followed with 10 [rebounds] at Manchester.” He continued to have success on the court and after nine games was averaging 11.7 ppg and 10.4 rpg and was even named the Grant County Defensive Player-of-the-Week a few weeks after being given the offensive award. Coach Keefer described his play, “Bob VanHoose didn’t have a good offensive night but he was excellent on defense. He blocked several shots, had several steals and got 10 rebounds. He had 115 defensive rating points under our system and that’s the most for the season.”

My dad continued to have a good season until late January 1974, when he came down with the flu and was in and out of the line-up for several weeks. He played through his sickness and after 19 games he was averaging 9.1 ppg, 8.8 rpg. and 2.1 apg. for a team that was 16-3 and had won a Mid-Indiana Conference title and was considered the favorite to win the sectional title. A sectional title was not to be as the Oak Hill Eagles were upset by the Mississinewa Indians, 61-60, in the first round of the tournament. Coach Keefer could barely explain the loss, “I felt concerned all week about Mississinewa and we felt the kids were ready to play. I don’t think we were looking past them. I’m dumbfounded as to what happened. The boys had an excellent season but this game left a bad taste in our mouth. It was our lousiest game of the year and it came at the most important time.”

It was a disappointing season for my Dad, they didn’t advance out of the sectional, but they did finish with a 17-4 season record and a conference title. Individually he was named to the ten-man All-County team at the end of the season and was the only player on the team who didn’t average double-figures in points (he averaged 9.3) but did manage to average 9.4 rebounds a game. His play was good enough for him to earn a scholarship to St. Francis College (now University), an NAIA school in Ft. Wayne, Ind. He only played there for two years but he played well.

My Dad used to always tell stories to me about Indiana High School basketball and how intense the fans and teams were. I always heard stories about Monte Towe and some of his other teammates, and of course the infamous Kyle Macy story. I can remember finding my dad’s high school class ring and always trying to wear it around the house when I was younger, pretending it was a state championship ring. I can’t describe the feelings that I had when Paintsville won a state championship in 1996 and what it was like to be able to celebrate that with my dad, who was an assistant coach on the team. It was also great to share that moment with my grandfather, who was of course in the stands at Rupp Arena. It was three generations of basketball players sharing one accomplishment!