Q&A : Billy Mims
There have been few figures in domestic basketball as flamboyant, as eloquent or as universally popular over the past decade as Leicester Riders coach Billy Mims.
The South Carolinan is as renowned for his quips as his calls and added a touch of homespun charm to the East of London when he arrived to take the helm at the newly formed London Leopards back in 1994. Mims' teams in the capital won two League championships and a National Cup during his tenure there which lasted until his dismissal there and move to Leicester last autumn.
The Irish game too has also benefited from the American's presence after he led a classic Neptune team to a league and championship back in 1998 before taking up a post at Barry University.
Billy stopped by britball.com to answer your questions in February's Q&A ..
Of all the players you've coached, who do you think personifies the 'ultimate' basketball player in your eyes?
Over the past nineteen years of my career, I have had the opportunity to work with many great players that have certainly been a big help to my coaching successes. Many people will obviously look to the great Leopards teams that I put together to find my 'ultimate' player.
First, there was Robert Youngblood, a warrior who played through injury and always brought pride and intensity to the table. Eric Burks was my ultimate showman who
played the game with great flair and always had fun doing it. John White was the most talented all-round player of the Big Cats and was probably the biggest winner that I have coached.
But, funny enough, I look to a small 5'8" English guard as my ultimate basketball player. Ronnie Baker had been told all of his life that he was too small to play basketball, but what he lacked in size, he made up for in heart. He always gave his best in practice and in games. He never quit, but just refused to lose. He was
extremely coachable, a coach's dream to work with, and always sacrificed himself for the good of the team.
Has the Riders been more of a challenge to you than the Leopards and which side would to prefer to coach ?
Every team that you coach is a challenge, but almost always for different reasons. Building the Leopards from scratch into 'Back to Back' League Champions was a great challenge. When I took the job, I didn't want to build a good team for a season, I wanted to build a strong and respected programme.
I told Harvey Goldsmith and Ed Simons that if they stuck with me, I would build them a champion in three years. They did, and I delivered on the promise. The Riders presented a different challenge simply because I inherited them in midstream. I did not have the opportunity to build this team, but rather took on someone else's team and was given the task of trying to make them the best that they could be for the remainder of this season.
It would be an exciting challenge to be able to build a champion here in Leicester and bring these long deserving fans some silverware. After 30+ years in the top flight of British hoops, no one could be more overdue. But again, I would rather build a respected program over time than put together a one season wonder, quick fix. Championship programs take time to build. Good teams come and go.
I know this is a slightly crazy question in light of British basketball's reputation for change but, where do you see yourself in 5 years time? Do you think you will stick with the BBL?
I have really enjoyed my time in British basketball. Since I arrived here, I have experienced much success both on and off the court. I met my wonderful wife, Lynne, and we have had two beautiful children, Courtney and Callie, both born here. The fans around the country have been wonderful to me and my family. Many of these fans have become friends that I will always cherish.
The coaches here have also been a great fraternity of friends. We have worked hard on the court against one another, but off the court, share a mutual respect that I have not found in other leagues. Going into schools on a regular basis to meet the children of this country face to face, either in coaching clinics or motivational, anti-drug assemblies, has also been a very rewarding experience.
England has become part of me, and with so many friends and family now here, it will always be a part of my home. Wherever I am in five years time will be based on what is best for my family, but the wonderful memories of British basketball and
my life in England will always be special ones.
Is it true that you are in the running for the Irish Senior Men's Job? Does Irish Basketball need to look outside Ireland for the right coach?
A few years ago, I was one of three candidates interviewed for the Irish senior men's coaching position. At the time, it would have been a part time job, while I continued to coach the Leopards full time. It didn't pan out back then, but I told them that I would always like to be considered a candidate for the job should it ever become a full time post.
In the 1986-87 season, I lived in Cork and coached Neptune to a League and Cup
Championship. I really enjoyed my time coaching in Ireland. I have worked at the national camp in Dungarvin on many occasions and have also run a girl's camp in Tralee for several summers. Coaching the National team would be a great honour and would give me the chance to help develop the Irish game from the grass roots level right through to international level.
My wife and I still have many friends on the Emerald Isle and thoroughly enjoy the lifestyle there. Many coaches have given alot to the Irish game, but very few have much international experience. This is mostly due to the fact that Irish clubs can not afford to travel to compete in Europe on a regular basis. If the IBA do bring in a coach from outside Ireland this time, I feel that it is imperative that he have a couple of top quality Irish assistants to give them this international coaching experience for the future.
The NBA in Dublin is a fantastic arena, and every effort
should be made to host international tournaments there to spotlight the
game in the nation's capital.
What significant contribution can the American coaches bring to develop our game, particularly the juniors, who could and should feature in the future, given the correct assistance?
I really feel that the American coaches in England are sometimes under utilised and should spend more time with their clubs junior development programs. As in football, these junior programs could become basketball academies.
The US coach at the Premier level of the club should offer coaching seminars within the club for junior coaches, invite junior coaches to attend senior training sessions, use junior players in senior training sessions on a regular basis, and offer to assist with junior training sessions whenever available. These young club members are the future of the game, and it is very short-sighted not to make an effort to aid in their development.
Of course, part of the problem is that most foreign coaches are on one year contracts with English clubs, and the success of their senior league team is paramount to them keeping their jobs for another season. Until clubs can offer long term posts to foreign coaches it may be difficult to see their full benefit to juniors.
Did you enjoy coaching Neptune and do you still follow Irish basketball?
My season at Neptune, then better known as Burgerland International, was an eye opening experience for me. It was my first time coaching outside the USA, it was my first head coaching job, and it was my first time dealing with committees that run professional clubs.
I was told that if I could survive the axe for a season in Cork, that I could make it anywhere. Well I did, and loved every minute of it. I still remember the great
players that I had there, Tom Wilkinson, Tom O'Sullivan, Tim Nugent, Ray Smith, Bob Stephens, and many more. My assistant there, Tony O'Connell, is still a good friend, and I am proud to say that two of the championship banners hanging in Neptune Stadium today belong to me.
I do still follow the Irish game and am delighted to see the job that Gerry Fitzpatrick has done in returning Neptune to league championship form. Well done, Gerry!
First, I would like to congratulate you on your new head coaching position. Since coaching Professional Basketball is a lot like a running a business, and most good businesses have mission statements. As the head coach of your club, what would your mission statement be?
My mission statement begins simple but is quite comprehensive in nature. The ultimate goal of our team is to PLAY HARD and ENTERTAIN. I have always
tried to be the most entertaining team in the country, but I believe that fans deserve to see their team play hard game in and game out. In my opinion, it is difficult to play hard and entertaining basketball and not win. So hopefully, the style will help take care of the result.
Also, my players must represent the team well both on and off the floor. We must
always make the effort to speak to our fans, thank them for their support, and sign all autographs asked for. My team must be willing to give something back to the game by visiting schools in the community, working with juniors, and enthusiastically attending public appearances on behalf of the club.
We must continually do all that we can to help market and develop the growth of this great game both on and off the playing court.
Who do you feel the best five players in the NBA are and who will win the NBA title this year. I go to watch the Sheffield Sharks each week, and was wondering if you felt that Terrell Myers would be good enough to play in the NBA.
My Top Five NBA players are as follows: Point Guard - John Stockton, Shooting Guard - Grant Hill, Small Forward - Vince Carter, Power Forward - Tim Duncan, and Centre - Shaquille O'Neal.
If you go by most talent and coaching experience, my NBA Champions would have to be the LA Lakers and Phil Jackson. But, I give an outside shot to San Antonio for having done it before and Portland for desire.
Coming out of university, Terrell Myers was not good enough to play in the NBA. If you remember, his first season with the Sharks, he came off the bench. He has improved considerably over the last couple of seasons and certainly knows how to hit the game winner as well as anyone.
Making an NBA team is often about being in the right place at the right time. There are several players plying their trade around Europe at the moment that are probably better than some player on an NBA roster, but for whatever reason, they are where they are. In most cases that will not change. Because of the college draft system, it is very rare anymore to see players play overseas for a few seasons and then return to the NBA. Each season brings a new crop of young talent coming out of the NCAA for NBA teams to choose from, and don't forget all those
players playing in the CBA, IBA, and IBL all still in the USA and under the watchful eye of NBA scouts.
What do you think has to happen in the UK to make college basketball a "big thing" like it is in the States ? What needs to be done to create an interest in it with the media ? If that is possible at all.
University sports in the USA is now well over 100 years in the making. It has become part of the American culture. It actually begins as part of the educational system on the high school level. It has become part of every community's sense of spirit and pride, but it is also in many cases big business for the schools and their towns.
High school football games in my hometown regularly draw 10,000 fans, and the Kentucky state high school basketball championships sell out Rupp Arena with over 22,000 screaming fans. Most high school and university sports programs generate enough revenue to fund most of their academic programs as well. Until every school in the UK fields its own sports programs and begins to compete with
other schools on a local, regional, and national level, sport in the UK will continue to be based on the club concept.
What has been the biggest obstacle in reviving Leicester from their early season problems on court ?
The biggest obstacles that I have had to face at Leicester this season are really only two things. First, I inherited a team that had already made many mistakes. In British basketball, you are only allowed to license eight foreign players during a season. When I arrived here, the previous staff had already gone through seven. I was unable to release anyone and only allowed to add Malcolm Leak as our eighth licensed foreign player of the season. That's not alot of freedom to fix things.
So basically, I have inherited a team that I did not recruit, but also could not change. Reminds me of a story about a new coach being hired by a new club that had lost every game the previous season. The Chairman tells the coach that I have good news for you and bad news. The bad news is that your team lost every game last season. But, the good news is that you have all those players back.
Secondly, we have had a real run of bad luck injury wise. After winning three of our first four games with a fully healthy squad, we have struggled to keep our best players healthy and on the court. Rob Wilson hurt his back and missed nine of the next ten games. Karl Brown hurt his back and was out a bit. And then, Malcolm Leak hurt his knee at Edinburgh and he was out for a while. Others have been banged up pretty good as well but have simply had to play through their injuries to give us any chance to compete.
Would you ever consider a return to college basketball ? What are the main differences between that and the pros ?
I love coaching this great game on any level, so I would never rule out a return to college basketball. My choice of where I coach now though is really dictated by what I feel is best for my family's future.
I do actually prefer coaching professionally to collegiately though because there are less distractions to coaching. The main differences are the ages, professionals are men, but collegians are still very young men, and the rules. College coaches must follow a rule book thicker than the Bible to just recruit their players. They must be sure that the players they recruit can succeed academically and much of their day to day job is focused on making sure that they do.
College coaches are always in constant fear that their star player will become academically ineligible and not allowed to play. Finally, college coaches are also held extremely accountable for the behaviour of their players 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the school year. Social mistakes by players very often
lead to the ultimate downfall of some very good coaches.
Professional coaches spend more of their time directly studying the game, preparing for the opponents, and teaching the game on a higher level above simple
Did you enjoy the welcome you received in Brentwood on your recent return?
Everything about my homecoming in Brentwood was enjoyable except the final
result. The warm applause from the Leopards faithful on my introduction brought back many fond memories of great games that we shared in the past.
This was my first visit back in front of them with a new team, and to say the least, it felt a bit strange. Since my departure from Leopards was a bit sudden and shocking, the fans and I never really had the chance to say a proper goodbye, but on this night the supporters' club would take care of that in a very special way. Following the game about 50 of the loyal supporters that I had known as friends during my spell in the Capital and two very special players that I will never forget, Brian Moore and Brandon Brantley, invited me into a function room for a presentation.
Simon Mattick, the voice of the Leopards and much of British basketball, told me
that the Leopards' supporters wanted their chance to say goodbye properly and thanks for the memories. Tony Shorey, on behalf of the group, presented me with a beautiful set of gold cufflinks, engraved with my initials, and a bottle of champagne.
But, it was the book presented to me by Staci Batt that will always hold a very special place on my coaching shelf. It seems that this book started out blank, but was passed around to all the supporters for them to write their special goodbyes. Reading those comments brought a few tears to my eyes. I would again like to thank everyone who was in the room that night for the gifts, their kind words,
and their support during my time in London.
Thank you for helping the 'Comeback Kids' come from behind on so many occasions. Thank you for being a big part of all the great memories we will always share. Rest assured, none of you will ever be forgotten.
Our thanks to Billy for stopping by. Look out for the next Britball.com Q&A in March.
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