Getting an opportunity to return to something you love to do is an added bonus one local longtime coach is relishing.
“If you told me three years ago I’d be here today talking about getting back into coaching, or doing anything, I wouldn’t have believed you,” commented L.J. Kilby a couple of days ago about his return to the Cleveland State basketball program as an assistant coach.
“I had some severe health problems and personal issues that really had me down. I didn’t know if I was going to make it through them,” he related. “I had to make changes in my life. When I got out of the hospital, I turned to Jesus Christ and He turned my life around. I feel better now physically than I’ve felt in 10 years.”
“My perspective on things changed. I drew inspiration from being able to see my boys — Zach and Brandon — grow up,” Kilby remarked. “It has meant so much to me to be able to see them grow into good young men. To think I almost threw all that away on bad decisions. Everything in life is a decision. We have to choose how we are going to react to whatever we find ourselves in.”
With a renewed positive attitude, Kilby is returning to the game he has loved since his youth. “Basketball has been a part of my life since I was in the sixth grade. I love the game and the chance to work with kids through the game.”
Born and raised in Sanville, Va., “which is between Horse Pasture and Stones Dairy,” he laughs, near the North Carolina state line outside of Martinsville, Kilby’s father passed away when he was just 2. His mother, Gayne, raised him and his brother by herself. “She’s 90, never remarried, and still lives there (in Stuart, Va.) today,” he related.
After having played for John D. Bassett High School, Kilby played two seasons at Ferrem Junior College before moving onto the court for Virginia Commonwealth University, and for two season was in the same backcourt as former University of Alabama head coach David Hobbs.
He began his 30-plus year coaching career at Ferrem as an assistant coach in 1974 before moving to Lincoln Memorial University, where he served in the same capacity for three campaigns before taking over the Railsplitter helm for eight seasons. The Harrogate school inducted him into its athletic hall of fame last month.
During Kilby's regime, the 1975-76 Railsplitters finished fourth in the nation in the NAIA.
The next season LMU once again qualified for the NAIA Tournament.
Earning an Eastern Division and a District 24 Championship in the 1980-81 season, plus a top-16 finish in the NAIA National Tournament, Kilby was named Eastern Division Coach of the Year.
After leaving LMU in 1983, Kilby enjoyed successful assistant coaching stints at Georgia Southern and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. “Murray Arnold hired me (at UTC) and then left that summer for the Chicago Bulls, but they hired Mac McCarthy, who was a good old Virgina boy, and he kept me on.”
Working with the Mocs from 1985-90, Kilby came up Interstate 75 to head up the Cleveland State program from 1990-95 and had taken over the Lady Cougar job in 1997 for a few months before UTC came calling again.
“Mac (McCarthy) had left and Henry Dickerson took over (the Mocs). He wanted me to come back and help him,” stated Kilby, who stayed another five years in Chattanooga. In his 10 years total, the Mocs made a pair of National Invitational Tournaments, plus the NCAA March Madness once. They also finished first or second in the Southern Conference seven times.
Kilby also coached a year at Hiwassee College in Madisonville before stepping aside in 2005; since then he has been working with the Chatata Valley Golf Club in marketing, public relations, as tournament director and in fundraising.
“Joe (Starr, Chatata Valley’s general manager) has been really good to me,” expressed Kilby, who also was the head golf coach at LMU and Cleveland State. “I’m still going to be doing some volunteer work out there with benefit tournaments.”
Kilby’s return to the Cougar sideline started about a year ago when former assistant Randy Evans got the head coaching job at Silverdale Baptist Academy in Chattanooga. “With Randy leaving and Shawn (Bridges, who was also assisting with the Cougars) wanting to spend more time with his fitness business in Athens, Lee (Cigliano, the CSCC head coach), ‘Cig’ (Jim Cigliano, the former CSCC athletic director and current TCCAA commissioner) and I talked about it (Kilby’s return). ”
With the very personable Kilby known as a strong recruiter, to go along with his extensive basketball knowledge, the Ciglianos welcomed him back to the program.
“I’ve always thought the JUCO (junior college) level was special,” Kilby expressed. “It gives kids who might not get an opportunity right out of high school to get some extra experience and to get used to the college life before hopefully moving onto a four-year school.”
Admittedly an “old school” recruiter, Kilby hopes to blend his style with the high-tech world of “email, texting and tweeting. Those things are good, but I like to be able to look a player in the eye. The bond you build with the players is something special.
“Although I’ve been out for a little while, the game hasn’t changed. There’s still two baskets and every possession is a game to win — either to keep the other team from scoring when you’re on defense or to score when you have the ball,” he assessed. “The junior college game is very wide open and fast paced. The kids are working hard to improve their skills and get noticed, to be able to play on the next level.”
The veteran mentor admitted to having some butterflies when the ball was tossed up in the Cougar opener at Chattahoochee Tech in the season opener earlier this month, but the thrill of the game and the passion still burn within.
“I’m so thankful for the opportunity Lee (Cigliano) and (CSCC athletic director) Mike Policastro have given me,” he remarked. “It feel good to get another chance.”