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IHSAA prepped to have a new boys basketball all-time wins king, Bloomington South’s J.R. Holmes

By: Scott Burnstein, February 20, 2019, 2:25 pm

BLOOMINGTON — In a state synonymous with the game of basketball, becoming Indiana’s all-time leader in wins on the bench is as prestigious as an achievement you could ever possibly reach.

Bloomington South’s J.R. Holmes reached the incredible milestone over the weekend after his Panthers (20-3) thoroughly thrashed Jennings County, 86-60, at home to tie him with Loogootee’s Jack Butcher as the IHSAA’s winningest coach at 806 career victories. Butcher and Holmes are the only two coaches in state history to eclipse the 800-win mark.

The 71-year old Holmes has a good chance to set a new record Thursday when South hosts Northview (4-16) to bring the curtain down on the 2019 regular season.

[CLICK HERE for IHSAA sectional pairings.]

His career as a head coach started at tiny Tunnelton in 1970. He arrived at Bloomington South, where he’s also the athletic director, in 1982.

“Longevity and repetition,” said Holmes of the record. “I’ve been around a long time and I’ve tried to preach consistency, a mindset that we don’t rebuild, we reload. We do the same things in any given season the same way we did them in the however many years before that. You find an approach that fits, that works, and you repeat it. That gives a program stability and standards. You grow it from there.”

Holmes was quick to give a nod to the hundreds of kids he’s coached and mentored on the court the past 49 years.

“A lot of the credit for this has to go to the type of players I’ve had come through here,” he said. “They’ve been as responsible as I am for building the tradition, creating the expectations for success year-in, year-out. As much as I’ve taught and coached consistency is as consistent as the kids who have played for me have been. That’s a tribute to their dedication, positive attitude and personal investment in this program.”

As a player, Holmes starred at point guard for Needmore in the early 1960s, taking the Hilltoppers to a sectional title as a senior. To begin his coaching career, he was a graduate assistant in the college ranks at Indiana State University. Upon Tunnelton shuttering in 1974, Holmes moved on to Mitchell in a coaching stop that allowed him the opportunity to match wits on the sidelines against Butcher at Loogootee, the man who’s record he was destined to break.

Butcher, 86, was at Loogootee for 55 years, retiring in 2002. Under Butcher’s stewardship, Loogootee went to a pair of state finals in the 1970s (1970, 1975), back in the pre-class age when the entire state played in one tournament.

Holmes has led South to two Class 4A state championships (2009, 2011). The first final-four club he coached was in 1999 and captained by his son, Jonathan, an all-state Panthers point guard bound for Chapel Hill and the University of North Carolina.

Coaching his son, now a coach himself  — an assistant at William & Mary College — was a definitive highlight of his time on the bench.

“That was a tremendous experience,” Holmes reflected. “I asked a lot of my friends in the profession what I should do, because at first, I didn’t know if it was the best idea. But they all told me I couldn’t pass it up and they were right, it was such a special four years for us, such a memorable time. I would have never forgiven myself I had chosen not to.”

The younger Holmes finished runner-up in the 1999 Mr. Basketball race. The only Mr. Basketball the elder Holmes coached was 2009-winner Jordan Hulls (Indiana), who like his son, was a lights-out floor general. Hulls captained the Panthers to their first state crown.

The top big guy Holmes ever coached was Chris Lawson, a 6-foot-10 center who played in college at Indiana and Vanderbilt. Lawson led the Panthers to back-to-back regional championships in 1987 and 1988 and was third in the balloting for Mr. Basketball as a senior.  Holmes’ current star, junior guard Anthony Leal, is expected to be a Mr. Basketball candidate next winter.

[Photos courtesy Bloomington South High School]