Billy Hicks coached a lot of players during his 18 years at the helm of the Cave Spring High School boys basketball team.
But there was only one J.J. Redick.
Redick, who announced his retirement Tuesday after playing in the NBA for 15 seasons, scored 43 points in the 2002 Group AAA final against George Wythe-Richmond to lead Cave Spring to its first state boys basketball title.
“At the time when he needed to play his best, in that state championship game, which no one gave us a chance to win, he was at his best when his best was needed,” Hicks said Tuesday in a phone interview. “I call that competitive greatness.”
The 37-year-old Redick, who thanked Hicks during the retirement announcement video he posted on Twitter on Tuesday, is now married with two sons.
“He’s a great dad, a great husband,” said Hicks, who stepped down as Cave Spring’s coach in 2014. “To see him be such an outstanding member of society, as all his teammates at Cave Spring during that time are — I tell people all the time, I coached one great player at Cave Spring and hundreds of great young men.
“He has turned into such a great family man. He’s got a great role model in his dad.”
Hicks was coaching Redick’s older twin sisters in AAU basketball when he first encountered Redick.
“He was probably 9 or 10 then,” Hicks said. “Anytime there was a dead ball, he was out there shooting.”
Hicks regularly watched Redick play middle school basketball.
“I can remember seeing him play as a seventh grader and thinking, ‘Wow, he’s going to be pretty good.’ But at that time, he was probably 5-10, 125 pounds,” Hicks said with a laugh. “There’s no way of projecting what he was going to do.”
But when Redick was a ninth grader on the Cave Spring High School team, Hicks realized Redick was special.
“That’s back in the day when [William] Fleming and [Patrick Henry] and Franklin County and Pulaski [County], all the schools we played in [Group] AAA, they had grown men. They had 18-year-old seniors. And he was making them look silly,” Hicks said. “Nobody could guard him. The further out they guarded him, the further out he went.
“I can remember thinking to myself, ‘He’s really doing all this without being a great ball-handler.’ He didn’t really turn into a very good ball-handler until after that.”
Hicks remembers the exact game during Redick’s ninth-grade season in which he realized how good Redick was. Redick had 32 points, including 25 in the first half, in a January 1999 win over defending Group AAA champ George Washington at the Salem Civic Center.
“The whole arena was kind of buzzing,” said Hicks, who led Cave Spring to three state crowns.
Redick verbally committed to Duke in October 2000, when he was a Cave Spring junior.
Hicks said Redick’s parents put him “at the forefront” of the recruiting process.
“I got to talk to all the best coaches in the country,” Hicks said. “I was the first teacher at Cave Spring High School that had a phone installed in their room, because they got tired of fielding calls in the office.
“It was nothing for me to pick up the phone and have Roy Williams on the phone or Pete Gillen or Rick Majerus, Billy Donovan.
“He knew from the start he wanted to go to Duke, but he gave everyone a fair shot. To be a part of that recruiting process — I went with him on his official visit to Duke — it was a super fun time for me.”
Hicks said Redick brought a “winning attitude and competitiveness” to his high school, college and NBA careers.
As a high school senior, Redick and his best friends Ryan Hergrueter, Daniel Payne and Tom Hagan helped the Knights win the state title.
Redick missed six games that season with a foot injury. The team was just 9-9 when he rejoined the lineup in February 2002.
“J.J. got hurt and we struggled. [But] the guys learned how to play without him,” Hicks said. “He came back and we were just on jet fuel.”
After losing Redick’s first game back, the Knights won their final nine games. They beat Halifax County and George Washington in the district tournament, Brooke Point, Woodbridge and Potomac in the regional tournament and Heritage-Newport News, Hayfield and George Wythe-Richmond in the state tournament.
“He was playing with his three best friends that are still his three best friends today, [and] led his hometown team to a state championship — what a great story,” Hicks said.