Hamilton forward D’Marco Howard (25) drives the lane during a game against Mason at the Hamilton Athletic Center on Jan. 6, 2017. GREG LYNCH/STAFF

Prep basketball: Higgins excited about ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ job at Hamilton

Higgins, Lebanon High School’s head boys basketball coach for the last four years, received school-board approval Friday morning as Hamilton’s new head coach.

“Getting back to the GMC is something that kind of attracted me,” said Higgins, who led Colerain to a pair of Division I district championships during his seven years (2007-08 to 2013-14) with the Cardinals. “The GMC is a great league, a great challenge.

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“Hamilton’s a unique job with the tradition that it has. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing for someone like me, so we’re going to give it a full effort and hopefully we’ll get some things done.”

Higgins, 41, grew up in Fairfield, attended Sacred Heart Elementary School and graduated from St. Xavier High School in 1995.

He’s been a head coach for 17 seasons at Aiken, Western Hills, Colerain and Lebanon. Higgins’ career record is 166-212, though there’s no question he has stepped into some difficult situations through the years.

“I love challenges,” said Higgins, who will teach social studies at Hamilton. “Obviously I don’t have any fear of failure, so that’s kind of what I live my life by. I’m going to take chances and some opportunities that other people may not, and I’m going to do the best I can with them. I think I’ve done all right with that mentality.”

Lebanon coach Kevin Higgins signals to his team during a game against visiting Fenwick on Dec. 17, 2016. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY E.L. HUBBARD

Higgins is replacing Sean Van Winkle, who resigned after going 43-51 in four years at the Big Blue helm. HHS finished 12-11 this year, the program’s first winning record since 2006-07, and will return an experienced group next season.

“Kevin brings a wealth of knowledge about the game of basketball to Hamilton,” Hamilton athletic director Todd Grimm said. “We had great candidates that we interviewed, and Kevin just stood out as a teacher of the game. He’s a great classroom teacher, and I just think he’s the guy that’s going to take our program to the next level.”

Lebanon had become known for running the Princeton offense in recent years under Higgins. The Warriors twice won 14 games during his tenure, the highest victory total in the program for more than a decade.

Will he bring the Princeton offense to Big Blue?

“We’ll adapt and fit our offense and defense to the talent we have. That’s something I’ve always tried to do,” Higgins said. “But there’s a lot of principles in the Princeton that I’ll continue.

Hamilton High School athletic director Todd Grimm talks about the hiring of Kevin Higgins as Big Blue’s new head boys basketball coach.

“I think there’s a misconception with the Princeton that it’s a slow-paced offense. It doesn’t have to be. It depends on how you use it. Obviously at Lebanon I had different-type players than I’ll have at Hamilton. I don’t know exactly what we’ll do, but you will see elements of the Princeton with a mixture of other things. At Colerain, we ran a lot of ball-screen stuff.”

Lebanon, a member of the Greater Western Ohio Conference, recently applied to the Eastern Cincinnati Conference, which ultimately decided not to expand.

Higgins said Lebanon’s uncertain league status wasn’t a big factor in his decision to go after the Hamilton job.

“I thought the ECC would be a good move for the school, but the restructuring of the GWOC will be in two divisions, and I know (athletic director) Bill (Stewart) is working toward doing that in a very competitive way,” Higgins said. “I had full faith that it would come out in a way that was fine for Lebanon.

“It’s hard to leave Lebanon. We’ve got great administrators and great kids, and I think our basketball program was turning the corner. I think we had the right way of playing to be competitive in the GWOC.

“The GWOC’s a Dayton league and I loved it, but I’m a Cincinnati guy. Where you’re from sometimes makes a job more attractive. There are a lot of variables that go into making this decision. There are some family aspects, and I’ve always enjoyed the urban setting for teaching.”

Lebanon defeated Hamilton 63-55 last December on the Warriors’ court. Grimm was there and watched the game along with principal John Wilhelm and assistant superintendent/director of human resources Chad Konkle.

“We were very impressed by his sideline demeanor,” Grimm said of Higgins. “He can be a little fiery at times, but for the most part, he’s very in control. We were very impressed by how he handled his Lebanon teams, and we hope that he brings that same kind of discipline to Big Blue.”

Grimm said Higgins will be meeting with the Hamilton players Monday afternoon “and I think he’s even maybe planning an open gym on Tuesday.” A community meet-and-greet is scheduled for Monday at 6:30 p.m. in the HHS media center.

Leading the Big Blue returnees next season will be D’Marco Howard and Jaylen Robinson, who averaged 17.8 and 17.7 points per game this year, respectively.

“I’ve heard really good things about the returning players and the youth program at Hamilton,” Higgins said. “There’s a lot of things that are building up. I think the city of Hamilton itself is developing. I’ve been through it several times in the last few years, and it’s a lot different than it was 10 years ago.”

Grimm said the candidate pool for the basketball job was around 50. He wasn’t surprised by the interest level.

“As we’ve been going through this process, I’ve talked to a lot of GMC coaches, and most of those coaches have stated that right now the Hamilton High basketball job is probably the best one in the GMC right now,” Grimm said.

The Kevin Higgins file

Age: 41

Residence: Colerain Township

Family: Wife Andrea, daughters Reagan (8) and Lorelei (3), son Quin (7)

High school: St. Xavier, Class of 1995

College: Bachelor’s degree in history and political science from Northern Arizona, master’s degree in education from Xavier

Coaching history: Head coach for four years at Lebanon (45-48 record), head coach for seven years at Colerain (74-87 record), head coach for one year at Western Hills (4-16 record), head coach for five years at Aiken (43-61 record), assistant coach for two years at Aiken

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