Andi Hillard is a winner.
From her playing days at Jackson County High School and Union College, to her coaching career that spans from the lowest levels of elementary school to the high school ranks, Hillard is well known as a winner on the hardwood.
And that’s the kind of mentality Barbourville High School hoped she would bring with her when it hired the two-time state champion to lead the Lady Tigers’ basketball program.
Hillard first made a name for herself as a star on a Jackson County High School team that won two Class A State Championships and dominated the 12th Region with three championships that earned Hillard and the Lady Generals three trips to the Sweet 16 where they advanced to the Elite Eight two times before making it all the way to the championship during her senior season in 2002.
After her celebrated high school career was over, Hillard brought her talents to Union College where she helped the Lady Bulldogs to a pair of National Tournament appearances.
After her playing days were over, it’s didn’t take long for Hillard to make a name for herself as a coach, too. After a couple seasons as a assistant at Barbourville under her husband, Brandon Hillard, Andi was hired to take over as head coach following the 1999 season.
The Lady Tigers’ program showed signs of life immediately under Hillard, snapping a double-digit losing streak against district opponents while winning 12 games and scoring 1,537 points. The 12 wins were almost as many as the team had won the previous two years combined, and the total points scored were, at the time, a school record.
But it was her third year at the helm, the season of 2012/13, that Hillard and the Lady Tigers took the big step forward. That is the year Barbourville dominated its way to what still stands as a school-record 21 wins, while going 7-2 against district opponents and scoring 1,837 points, both of which also still stand today at school records.
It was also that year that the Lady Tigers did something that had never been done before in school history – won the district championship. Not satisfied, Hillard and her girls did it again the following year, cutting down the nets as back-to-back district champions.
Following a successful four-year stint with the program, Hillard left the program as her family moved away. But she could never get basketball out of her system and coached elementary school ball at Casey County. After a couple years there, Hillard and her family returned to Barbourville where she has since been serving as the elementary coach while also teaching at the school.
While she was not necessarily looking to rejoin the high school coaching ranks at this point in her life, Hillard said the news that former coach Janet Jones was resigning sparked her interest. And while she’s having to make a lot of adjustments on-the-go with summer ball beginning almost as soon as she was named coach, Hillard is happy to be back.
“I missed it. I had never really gotten it out of my system,” Hillard said of coaching high school ball. “And with my daughter being a player and me coaching the younger girls, I was still around it all the time anyway. So when the position came open, I just figured it was time to get back into it. I really enjoy it. It’s something I truly enjoy. And having Brandon to help me, us being able to work together again, I really think we will enjoy that.”
It’s not just been a lot of changes in a short period of time for Hillard, it’s also been a lot to take in for the Barbourville players, who are under the leadership of their third coach in three years. But Hillard said it has been a pleasant experience overall.
“The transition is going well,” she said. “I really didn’t know what to expect going in, but I was immediately impressed with the older kids coming back as well as the younger kids coming in and their work ethics and desires. They were willing to buy in from day one with everything we were doing.
“The work ethic. The want-to. And the willingness to learn. It’s all been there and I’ve been very pleased so far,” continued Hillard.
On top of a strong work ethic and eagerness to learn, Hillard has also been impressed with other aspects of the Lady Tigers’ game, including a trio of strong guards she expects to lead from the perimeter, a strong stable of young players manhandling the post, and a lone senior that is showing great leadership and helping keep everyone working hard and facilitating the transition to the new coaching staff.
Also helping make Hillard’s job easier in the early part of the transition period is a strong foundation left behind by former coach Janet Jones, and current middle school coach Amy Shields. The two are big believers in fundamentals and did a good job of teaching it, giving Hillard a lot to work with in rebuilding the Barbourville program.
The success enjoyed by last year’s eighth grade team, which included a conference championship and a second straight trip to the KBA State Tournament, will also go a long way towards helping take the program where Hillard wants it to be in the future.
“Amy Shields coached them and she does a fantastic job with them at the middle school,” commented Hillard. “So those girls are use to success. They’ve won quiet a bit and are accustomed to winning, which is a good change at Barbourville where some years you win, and some years you don’t.
“It’s been a few years for us and that group brings a fresh mentality with them because they are used to winning.,” continued Hillard. “That group brings a sense of excitement to the program.”
While it is her plan to change the culture within the program, Hillard does not expect that her style of coaching will be all that different from what Barbourville is accustomed to.
“I think every coach has their own style where some things are going to be different. I like a quicker pace and to play an extreme up-tempo game,” said Hillard, noting that her hushand, Brandon, says she desires that type of ball because that is how she played during her career. “I do think we will play at a faster pace than they have in the past. And there will be quiet a bit of changes because every coach has their own systems and plays.
“And me and Brandon, we’re pretty intense people as well,” added the Barbourville coach. “So the coaching style may be a little different than what they have seen. But while there are some adjustments to make, so far this summer, they’ve bought right in and didn’t have much trouble transitioning.”
As for goals, Hillard has many, both big and small, some short term and others long. But in the end, her ultimate goal is for Barbourville to be considered a leader in girls’ basketball.
“My intentions are not to come in and in year one fix everything. That’s not going to happen,” she said. “We understand it’s going to take time and we plan to put the time and effort into it and build sometime. I hope to develop a program that builds from within, starting with the younger players in the elementary school program. We want to have a program that the kids are proud of and want to be a part of. We want to have them excited about basketball where they come in early and get started young. That is how the bigger, more successful programs do it. We want these kids to buy into being a Tiger.”