Husband, father, grandfather and all time winningest coach in the state of Georgia Statesboro High’s Lee Hill passed away Saturday morning after a long battle with Covid-9. Hill was 68 years old.
A Statesboro native, Hill graduated from William James High School in 1969. Hill played many sports in high school, but excelled in football accepting an athletic scholarship to play football at Albany State University where he graduated in 1973.
Hill began his teaching and coaching career at Metter High School in 1973. Hill was the girl’s track coach. He accepted a teaching and coaching position at Statesboro High the next year, and became the Blue Devils head basketball coach in 1978.
Hill married the former Wilma Scott - also a Statesboro native -in 1976. They two have three children, two daughters T.K. and Iesha, and a son Lee Jr.
In his 41 years of coaching the Blue Devils he finished with 877 victories, and advanced to the state in 40 of his 41 seasons. Hill’s Blue Devils captured the state championship in 1991, and played in the title game in 1992 as well. Under Hill’s leadership Statesboro reached the Final four four times, and in four different decades. He averaged over 21 wins per season.
Basketball was in the Hill blood, as all three of his children played basketball at Statesboro High. His son Lee Jr. played from 96-97 till 99-2000. The Blue Devils put up a record of 102-25 in that time, including a 28-3 mark his junior season and three straight trips to the state quarterfinals.
“I wasn’t used to sitting on the bench, but he made me earn a starting position,” Hill said. “I had been with him for all of his big games. Crecy Robins lifted me up over his head after we won the state championship in 1991. I was really looking forward to finally getting a chance to play for my dad. One game my freshman year I came off the bench and hit six three pointers in a row. That finally got me into the starting lineup”
Living with a legendary coach as a father had its drawbacks, as well as its positives.
“It may have been fun to go on a typical vacation, but instead we would be at basketball camps,” Hill said. “I got a chance to meet coaches like Bobby Knight and John Wooden. We had people like Denny Crum and Bob Huggins in our house. One time we were at a camp and I saw Dean Smith, I remember thinking wow that’s Dean Smith. Then he yelled ‘Hey Lee!” and I thought, is he talking to me? Of course he was yelling to my dad, as the two of them were friends.”
Hill Jr. coached with his dad for a couple seasons, and is now coach at North Atlanta High School. Lee’s sister Iesha Baldwin may not have been coached by him, she was at his side for many big games as well as his statistician.
“I started doing stats for him in the fifth grade,” Baldwin said. “I did a couple practice games in summer league, my first real game was a triple overtime game at Benedictine. He said if I could get that I could do any game. He told me he wanted me to keep doing it because I understood the game, and I have done it ever since, along with Michelle Moore It has been such a special experience, I wouldn't change it for the world..”
Baldwin played basketball and tennis at Statesboro from 1992-96. She went on to play tennis in college at Savannah State University.
“Dad was just fine at my basketball games,” Baldwin recalls. “Where he had his problems was at my tennis matches where he wanted to start yelling and coaching me. I had to explain that tennis is a quiet sport, and he just laughed.”
Baldwin and Hill both noted that his players ended up being extensions of their family, and in 41 years as a head coach, that includes second generations of family members as well. Many of his players looked to Hill as a father figure, or at least a second father.
Keith LeGree was the most decorated player to come out of Statesboro High. After helping to lead Statesboro to the state title in 1991 LeGree was named to the Parade All-American team. LeGree then went on to help lead both Louisville, and then Cincinnati to the NCAA tournament.
“Beside my mother and father, he was the most important person in my life,” LeGree said. “He helped grow boys into men. He gave us the faith that we could do anything we put our minds to, including win a state championship from a small rural town.”
LeGree is currently an assistant coach at The University of Detroit, and has taken Hill’s advice on recruiting good kids, over talented ones that may have character issues.
“To be a part of the Statesboro basketball program you had to be a good person,” LeGree said. “You had to go to class, and be respectful on and off the court. There were plenty of guys that came through that school with talent to play on the team, but if you didn’t live up to Coach Hill’s standards, you weren’t on the basketball team.”
Marko Wright played on the 91 state runner up team, and went on to sign with the University of Cincinnati. His younger brother Rashad played alongside Lee Hill Jr. and went on to be an All-SEC player at the University of Georgia.
“Coach Hill and his wife Wilma’s house became my second home,” Marko said. “He gave me extra motivation that I could become a really great player. His dedication to his craft taught me to give my all at whatever I chose to do in life. He is gone, but I will make sure he is never forgotten”.
“For me, he was a great man and coach that you would want to have in your corner, on and off the court,” Rashad said. “I always felt he had my back. From putting his reputation on the line to college coaches, or just sitting and listening to a young growing inquisitive mind, that needed a place for expression. He will truly be missed, and always loved.”
Jaqwan Raymond played for the Blue Devils, and graduated in 2010. Raymond went on to help lead 15th seeded Middle Tennessee State University to an upset of 2nd seeded Michigan State in the 2016 NCAA tournament.
“My college basketball success was because of him,” Raymond said. “He made sure I took care of my mom. He called me after games, and practices to encourage me about what I could do better. He was more than a coach, he was a father figure and I will miss him more than words can say.”
Chad Prosser is currently the principal at Statesboro High, and before that served as the school’s athletic director. In addition Prosser had Hill as a teacher when he attended SHS.
“Coach Hill was more than just a basketball coach, he was a friend,” Prosser said. “From trying to get me to play basketball for him as a freshman in high school, to taking me under his wing when I got my first coaching job at SHS, to lending his support to me as the athletic director and then principal, he was one of the most caring individuals I ever met. His influence expanded way past the basketball court, as he influenced the lives of hundreds of young men who played, and older men who respected him over his lifetime. My heart hurts for his family, friends, current and former players, and Statesboro High School. He will never be replaced.”
Long time assistant coach Horace Harvey has been a friend of Hill’s for nearly 30 years, and had both his son’s play for Hill.
“The passing of Coach Lee Hill is not just the loss of a basketball coach, it's the loss of a friend to so many people,” Harvey said. “He was a legend around the state. What made him a great coach wasn't just the wins on the basketball court, but the fact that he tried to teach kids how to win in life.”
“He always stressed the importance of education,” Harvey said. “He always told them to work hard in the classroom. I asked him one time why he kept coaching for so long, he said because we need to prepare them for more than basketball, we need to prepare them for life. We have laughed and cried together, and won and lost together. Coach has had a lasting impression on my family.”
John Page coached at Southeast Bulloch from 1983 until 2019. The two Bulloch County coaches had a special bond that he feels went beyond the coaching sidelines.
“Coach will always be known as a basketball giant of Bulloch County,, and through the state of Georgia,” said former Southeast Bulloch coach John Page. ”I will always remember and cherish the friendship we had for each other. The passion he had for basketball, and striving for his teams to be their best will be hard to duplicate. Coach always found a way to say something good about his opponents win or or lose.”
Portal coach Jeff Brannen not only coached against Hill, but also played for him. Brannen helped the 1984 team to a state final four appearance.
“As a coach he was very demanding, and he held you accountable,” Brannen said. “He helped you become a man. He has been a father figure to many of his players. When I first coached against him it was bittersweet. That was my mentor, that was my school, so it took some time to get past that. I knew it would be an electric atmosphere at Statesboro and it brought out the best in our teams. I always told my players to look at what they do at Statesboro High, that’s what we want to strive for.”
Hill’s kindness was extended to media members who mourned his death as well.
“I loved that man’” said former Statesboro Herald sports editor Pat Donahue. “When I think about people who have the kind of tremendous positive impact you want coaches to have, I think Lee Hill stands right next to Erk Russell. What I think I’ll miss most is hearing that signature Lee Hill laugh. Just thinking the amount of respect Lee had from other high school coaches, from college coaches, and from people across social lines speaks volumes about the kind of man he was.”
“I've never been involved with anyone who cared about his kids, even after graduation, more than Lee Hill,” said Bill Price, the voice of the Blue Devils for 25 years. “His never-ending affection for his players always made a mark with me. From a media perspective he did more than give his time. He gave me an even greater insight into the way he did things. To broadcast one of his team's efforts was made even more fun by his generosity.”
Monday Statesboro Mayor Jonathan McCollar ordered all Statesboro flags to be flown at half-staff to honor Coach Hill’s passing.
“I can’t put into words the loss our community has suffered,” McCollar said. “This is truly a sad day for our city. Coach we will always love you.”
A graveside service is scheduled for Saturday at 11 am at Bulloch Memorial Gardens.