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Mims departs with glee and heavy heart


Mark Woods

Billy Mims is readying to pack his bags and head back across the Atlantic for a new life in the western heart of Texas.

However the ex-Leopards and Leicester coach insists a chunk of his heart will always be on this side of the Pond.

Unsurprising, since wife Lynne and their trio of offspring are firmly British, born and bred. Likewise Mims has long gone native right down to his fervour for the food and for Arsenal.

"I'll be able to get their games on pay per view," he smiles. "I'll probably see more of them in Texas than I did in England."

Still, his new job as the first full-time head coach at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin is a major departure, from the BBL and from Leicestershire.

"A challenge," he admits. A triumph also, having emerged victorious from 200 applicants for the role.

His new abode sounds idyllic. Lots of golf courses ("I've been checking them out"), a big community ("two cities within 20 miles") and all-year heat. "As soon as they told my wife what the annual number of days of sunshine was, she was sold." 

UTPB is part of the University of Texas system, a college just 35 years old. However they have big plans. A switch into NCAA Division One. A $35m arena in the works to replace their current 2,500 capacity basketball gym. 

Plus Mims.

"I have a big opportunity to build a programme just like when I went to Barry University. You asked anyone in Miami then and they were like 'Barry has a basketball team?'

"This place is way above that. We're only 60 miles south of Lubbock and I'm planning to go up and watch coach Bob Knight take practice up at Texas Tech. 

"And hopefully get them to schedule a game against us. I also know one of the assistant coaches at Kansas and we want to go up to Jayhawk country and take them on."

That infectious enthuasiasm is certainly back, six months after he was cruelly ditched by Leicester. "No comment" is all he will say on the legal case which is pending against the Riders who have refuted his call to pay up what was left on his contract.

However he is taking more than just his playbook from the Midlands. Carl Greenfield, a 6’7” power forward from Ilkeston, has signed a letter of intent to play for Mims next season, the first foreign student-athlete to wear the orange and black of the Falcons.

Greenfield went previously to East Durham Academy where he helped his team before returning to South Nottingham College who reached the Under 20’s National Cup Final with his help.

Mims said: “He is a fundamentally sound player that will bring a lot of maturity and international experience to our team.  Carl comes from a quality program and has been well coached.  He is a team player that works hard and does not make many mistakes. 

"I am sure that his educational and sporting opportunity at UTPB will be a great experience for him and one that he will look back on fondly when he returns home to England.” 

The BBL which greeted Mims a decade ago is much changed now, however. The Leopards which he built in tandem with Ed Simons and Harvey Goldsmith were big time, flashy and full of huge dreams.

It seems a bygone era, already, I suggest. "When I came in, you had the likes of John Hall (owner at Newcastle), Chris Wright (Sheffield), Harvey and Barry Marshall (London)," he recalls.

"75% of the league were in arenas and clubs were drawing several thousands, regardless of whether you want to argue over how many tickets were given away.

"Basketball was in The Sun every day. The Leopards on Michael Barrymore's show. I did 'You Bet' with John White. We had a game on TV every weekend.

"Now it's gone. TV is gone. The fans have gone. The ITV money has gone. For whatever reason we have been unable to sustain the development. And without TV, there's no longer much difference between the BBL and EBL. It's sad."

That critique leaves him open to accusations of grapes turned sour. Yet if there is a figure who has earned the occasional dash of lampoonery for his ability to see a positive amid the gloom then it is Mims himself.

The BBL has been fantastic for him, he underlines. Leopards was great, Leicester too - at least for a while.

"I can't say anything negative about my time here. And I won't be a stranger with our family and friends still being here."

Expected to have seen the last of Mims? Don't bet on it.


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