After a long battle with COVID-19, legendary Statesboro High head boys basketball coach Lee Hill passed away Saturday morning in Savannah. Hill was 68 years old.
Hill was transferred from East Georgia Regional Medical Center to Landmark Hospital in Savannah earlier this week for rehabilitation, as his health seemed to be improving. His condition took a downward turn some time Friday and he died Saturday in Savannah.
Hill was the winningest coach in the state of Georgia at the time of his passing. He led the Blue Devils to the state playoffs in all but one of his 44 years of coaching. His career ends with 877 victories, a state title, one state runner-up, and six trips to the Final Four.
Hill’s death comes only weeks after the tragic news that SHS senior forward O.J. Reese died suddenly after collapsing in a basketball tournament in the Atlanta area.
Hill touched many lives in his time as head coach at Statesboro High from 1978-2020. Many of his colleagues at Statesboro High, former players, media members and coaches from other schools felt a huge loss with his passing.
“Coach Hill was more than just a basketball coach, he was a friend,” said Statesboro principal Chad Prosser. “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.”
“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.”
“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,” said long time Statesboro assistant Horace Harvey. “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. My sons played for him, my wife and daughter knew him like a member of the family. Coach has had a lasting impression on my family.”
“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.”
“I not only played for him, but I also got a chance to coach with him and against him,” said Portal coach Jeff Brannen. “As a coach he was very demanding, and he held you accountable, 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 have always only seen the game of basketball through his eyes, and what he taught me,” Brannen said. “Fast tempo and hard nosed defense, that's the way his teams played. I always told my players to look at what they do at Statesboro High, that’s what we want to strive for.”
“Lee Hill was not only a Hall of Fame Coach, but also a hall of fame person,” said long time Richmond Hill coach Jimmy Hires. “He was a player’s coach, and the soul of the Statesboro High School’s athletic program. A legend has passed, and there will never be another person like Coach Hill. I am proud to say he was my friend. Just like many others that knew him, I will miss him. My condolences go to his family and former players.”
Many people have taken to social media in order to express their feelings about Hill’s loss including some familiar names such as University of Georgia head coach Tom Crean, South Carolina coach Frank Martin and former Georgia Southern coach Mark Byington who is currently head coach at James Madison.
“I am saddened to hear of the passing of Lee Hill,” Byington said on Twitter. “He welcomed me to Statesboro with open arms. Coach was always generous, sharing his knowledge. He impacted thousands and will be greatly missed. RIP Legend.”
“This is terribly sad about Coach Hill,” Crean said on Twitter. “We were all hopeful he would recover from his illness. He was not only a legendary coach, and a winner in Georgia but a tremendous person.”
“My man Lee Hill went to be with God,” Martin said on Twitter. “One of the greatest people that basketball has brought into my life. Coach Hill lived to care and help everyone. Man I’ll miss you.”
Tuesday's print edition of the Statesboro Herald will update with more reaction from the community and information regarding service arrangements.