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PREP BASKETBALL: Hall induction a family affair for Houston and his mom

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By Nathaniel Bryan

It’s not easy for a former men’s basketball coach from the Southeastern Conference to hide in a crowd, but Wade Houston pulled that off in admirable fashion Saturday night.

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Deferring to his son (Allan Houston) and wife (Alice Kean Houston), Wade Houston chose to stand with many of the attendees of the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame’s second induction ceremony at the Historic State Theater in downtown Elizabethtown.

Allan Houston and the late Coach Bill Kean – Alice Kean Houston’s father – were two of the 17-member induction class. Alice Kean Houston represented her father – who won five state titles, four national tournament titles and 856 games at Louisville Central – while being seated at the “Family Affair” table with her son, who won a state championship at Louisville Ballard in 1988 before being named Mr. Basketball and All-America in 1989.

“Basketball is at the center of who we are in Kentucky,” said Alice Kean Houston, 66. “To have two of the three men that I love the most being inducted, it’s really, really special.”

It was a special night for a special class, which included 12 other players and three other coaches. The other coaches honored were Howard Beth (Marshall County), Letcher Norton (Clark County and Trapp) and Bobby Watson (Owensboro). The other players inducted were Alfred “Butch” Beard (Breckinridge County), Mike Casey (Shelby County), Larry Conley (Ashland), Johnny Cox (Hazard), Howard Crittenden (Cuba), Joe Fulks (Kuttawa), Sharon Garland (Laurel County), Billy Ray Lickert (Lexington Lafayette), Donna Murphy (Newport), Linville Puckett (Clark County), J.R. VanHoose (Paintsville) and Jaime Walz-Richey (Fort Thomas Highlands).

VanHoose was labeled as a “Championship Center” along with Garland. VanHoose was named Mr. Basketball in 1998 after leading tiny Paintsville to the state title, while Garland led Laurel County to three straight state titles and is the only female player in state history to lead the title game in scoring three straight seasons.

At 34, VanHoose looked at himself as the baby of the inductees.

“This is unreal; people in the class were people who were my idols in high school,” said VanHoose, now the girls’ coach at Phelps, another eastern Kentucky small school. “Larry Conley’s from Ashland, Johnny Cox is from Hazard, Billy Ray Lickert … even Allan Houston, who grew up playing against those John Pelphrey teams in the 80s.

“You grow up wanting to be like these guys, and now you’re in hall of fame classes with them.”

Conley is one of the most recognizable broadcasters in college sports. Before he got into his on-camera profession, he was a starter for Kentucky in the famous 1966 NCAA Tournament championship game loss to the all-black starting five from Texas Western (now UTEP). But before that, he appeared in back-to-back state title games.

“Now, we’re all sharing in all these memories because as we get older, we don’t have anything left but memories,” said Conley, who turns 70 in January and has lived in Georgia for more than 40 years. “This is a wonderful turnout. These people have been so great. They’ve been hospitable. They’ve been courteous. It’s one of those things that’s kind of nice as you get older – not that I need the adulation because I’ve had that and I’ve been through that – but it’s just a matter of being able to connect with people who love this game as much as I do. And we don’t usually get that chance to do that.”

Conley, honored as a “60s Sensation” along with Beard and the late Casey, was seated at the same table with a star (Beard) from a college rival (Louisville).

Somehow, they co-existed this night.

“Butch is great,” Conley said. “I saw his team play in high school and they were great. If he doesn’t get injured, they win it two years in a row. He’s just a terrific guy.”

Beard, who led Breckinridge County to the 1964 state runner-up and ’65 state title, said it was easy to get along with Conley.

“This is very hard to try to explain for the mere fact it’s an individual honor, but it’s also like a team honor, especially at this level,” said Beard, who went on to play and coach in the NBA. “I would never be here if it hadn’t been for my coaches and my teammates. For them to even be at this event tells me that, you know, we did something right along the way.”

Murphy did plenty of things right while starring at Newport with her left-handed jump shot.

And plenty of things had to go right for Murphy to be in attendance Saturday, as she barely survived a near-death experience June 26, 2008, thanks to an impromptu liver transplant – one she didn’t know she had until after she woke.

“It’s a blessing to be remembered and honored for something that’s positive,” Murphy said. “Whenever anything comes my way, I think, ‘I get to be here and it’s a blessing to be here.’ I feel this way about this occasion – and every day, really. I think about the family members that are here to pick up this award for individuals who are not with us any longer and I think, ‘That could have been me, too.’”

This year couldn’t have been much better for the Walz family. Brother Jeff led the Louisville women to the national title game, while sister Jaime was inducted into the KHSAA and KHSB halls of fame.

“This has been very special for our family and as anybody knows, we’re a very close-knit family,” said Walz-Richey, now the head girls’ coach at Highlands. “To see Jeff do so well at Louisville in the same year I’m being inducted into the (KHSB) Hall of Fame, it’s a great year for us and it’s something we’re really gonna cherish.”

Allan Houston might have the most high-profile job of the inductees – he’s an NBA assistant general manager with the New York Knicks – but he said all 17 stars stood out this year.

“I think you can ask any one of us at the time we were going through our (high school playing) careers and we never could have thought that we could see this moment,” he said. “I know we were just doing what God gave us the gift to do and there were so many people who supported us and taught us those life lessons. So that’s why this is so special to me. It’s not about winning a state championship but really, it’s about sitting next to my mom and being able to represent our family.”

Nathaniel Bryancan be reached at (270) 505-1758 or nbryan@thenewsenterprise.com.