Legacy. Tradition. A who’s who of American sport. As the Gatorade Player of the Year program celebrates its 30th anniversary year of honoring the nation’s best high school athletes, fans can count many a household name on the roster of former award-winners. Over the past three decades, prep sports’ most esteemed honor boasts Super Bowl, World Series, NBA, WNBA, MLS Cup, NCAA and Olympic champions among more than 13,000 State Players of the Year and 270 National POYs across 12 sports. Let’s not forget the scores of program alumni who have gone on to capture league-MVP, All-Star and All-American recognition. Today, we’re catching up with a quartet of coaches entering the NCAA Tournament.
It didn’t take long for a Gatorade State Boys Basketball Player of the Year to leave his mark on the NCAA Tournament, even if Andy Kennedy didn’t score a basket, grab a rebound or block a shot.
As head coach of the University of Mississippi, Kennedy did help make sure the Rebels kept their composure, rallying from a 17-point halftime deficit to beat BYU, 94-90, on Tuesday night in a First Four game in Dayton, Ohio.
Kennedy, the 1985-86 Gatorade Mississippi Basketball Player of the Year, is in his ninth season in Oxford and is the Rebels’ all-time leader with 192 career wins entering Thursday’s West Region game against sixth-seeded Xavier. Also a Parade All-American at Louisville (Miss.) High, Kennedy played for a year at N.C. State before transferring to Alabama-Birmingham for the final three years of college. He left UAB as the program’s No. 2 all-time leading scorer and had a brief stint in the NBA with the Charlotte Hornets before knee injuries derailed his professional career.
Kennedy is one of four former Gatorade State Boys Basketball Players of the Year roaming the sidelines as a head coach at the NCAA Tournament, including one who is trying to add an NCAA title to a resume that already includes two national championships as a player. Bobby Hurley, the 1988-89 Gatorade New Jersey Boys Basketball Player of the Year, was an All-American point guard at Duke who helped the Blue Devils win back-to-back national titles in 1991 and 1992. Hurley is now in his second season as the head coach at Buffalo, the champion of the Mid-American Conference and the No. 12 seed in the Midwest Region. The Bulls are a trendy pick to knock off fifth-seeded West Virginia in a round of 64 game in Columbus, Ohio.
Buffalo-West Virginia is the first game in Columbus on Friday and will be followed by No. 4 Maryland facing No. 13 Valparaiso, coached by 1993-94 Gatorade Indiana Boys Basketball POY Bryce Drew. This is Drew’s second trip to the tournament in his four years at the helm for Valpo, but like Hurley he is no stranger to tourney heroics, either. Drew hit one of the most iconic shots in NCAA history as a senior for another 13th-seeded Crusaders squad, a last-second 3-pointer to upset fourth-seeded Ole Miss in 1998.
Drew isn’t the only former POY to find success as a coach at his alma mater. Fred Hoiberg, the 1990-91 Gatorade Iowa Boys Basketball POY, has lifted Iowa State to unprecedented heights. The Cyclones are a No. 3 seed in the South Region after winning the Big XII Tournament title. Iowa State opens its tournament against none other than No. 14 seed Alabama-Birmingham on Thursday in Louisville. In his fifth season, Hoiberg has led Iowa State to four straight NCAA Tournaments, including a trip to the Sweet 16 a year ago, when the Cyclones lost to eventual national champion Connecticut.
Somehow, the four former Gatorade State Boys Basketball Players of the Year are succeeding without much help from POYs themselves. Three of the four programs have no POYs on their current rosters, while Iowa State has one: 2013-14 Gatorade Kansas Boys Basketball POY Clay Custer, who is averaging just 1.1 points per game as a freshman.
To see the legacy for yourself, visit the Gatorade Player of the Year winner archive, where you can relive history and see which future stars won their first national recognition as high school athletes. To see the cream of the crop, visit the roster of Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year winners, showcasing Gatorade’s top male and female National Player of the Year honoree, selected annually from each POY class.