Bryan Hanks: It's time for Novicki to take over SL hoops program
On Monday, the Lenoir County Board of Education announced South Lenoir head basketball coach Jeremy Barnett is headed to Kinston High School to be an assistant principal to Principal Kellan Bryant. Barnett was a heck of a coach for the Blue Devils, leading them to five state playoff berths in his eight-year tenure and always having his team ready for battle, no matter the opponent.
While his leaving the sidelines for an administrative position is a big loss for the coaching fraternity in our area, it’s an excellent hire for Bryant and her staff at KHS.
That means it’s officially time for the easiest decision South Lenoir Principal Steve Saint-Amand and athletics director Lisa Smith are ever going to have to make: hire Paul Novicki as the next Blue Devils’ head varsity basketball coach.
Novicki is bona fide Lenoir County sports royalty — he is one of the greatest student-athletes to ever don a Blue Devils uniform in basketball, baseball or football since the school formed in 1964.
Novicki, a 2005 graduate of South Lenoir, provided plenty of highlights during his storied career in Deep Run — and later at Lenoir Community College and Mount Olive, where he helped lead the latter to the 2008 NCAA Division II national baseball championship. He was an outstanding pitcher with a rubber arm for Troy Eason’s baseball squad and wasn’t afraid to throw 140 pitches in a game if it was needed for his team to win.
He was an undersized and wily swingman on the basketball team and a contributor for the SL football team in several roles.
(An aside: An opposing basketball coach in our area once made me watch film of his team playing Novicki and South Lenoir back in 2004-05. This coach’s star player — 6 inches taller and being recruited by mid-majors all over the South — was being guarded by Novicki. The shorter Novicki was being ramrodded through five, six and even seven bruising picks per possession, but he never left his man on defense.
“Look at that!” the coach said over and over. “Novicki is pulling my guy’s shorts — he can’t do that! How does he get away with it?”
By the way, South Lenoir ended up winning that game and Novicki had firmly implanted himself into that team’s psyche for the next time they met.)
However, no Novicki highlight was bigger than when he hit a running jumper at the buzzer in overtime against Greene Central in February 2005 to win the school’s first league title in a quarter-century for Hall of Fame coach Jimmy Smith and the Blue Devils.
If you were at the game that night, you’ll never forget it. And I’ll say again what I’ve said many, many times — it’s the best play I’ve ever witnessed in any sport since I started covering prep sports in 1992.
I compare Novicki’s current situation to Perry Tyndall’s at Kinston High School from earlier this decade: both were standouts for their school and each worked their way up the coaching ranks, from middle school to JV to varsity assistants. Nothing has ever been handed to either Tyndall or Novicki — they both worked their tails off to get to where they are today.
It was a ridiculously easy decision for the Kinston administration to hand the keys of the vaunted Vikings hoops program to Tyndall when Wells Gulledge temporarily left the coaching ranks in 2012 and this is a similar situation for South Lenoir.
Allow me to remind you what happened when Kinston hired Tyndall — all he did was win state championships in his first three seasons as the head coach.
I’m not exactly saying that’s going to happen at South Lenoir under Novicki, but I can promise you this with absolute certainty: He will continue the outstanding work Barnett started in Deep Run. I’m excited to see what a Novicki-led South Lenoir basketball team will look like.
To use a sports analogy, this is a lay-up for the powers-that-be at South Lenoir: Hire Paul Novicki.
Bryan Hanks is the editor of Neuse News. You can reach him at email@example.com.