Jim Haley, former Ocala Vanguard Boys Basketball Coach and Founder of the Kingdom of the Sun Tournament passed away yesterday at the age of 74.
While those two accolades are most often mentioned first when discussing Coach Haley, he was also the architect of The Battle at The Villages tournament as well as President and Co-Founder of the Florida Association of Basketball Coaches (FABC).
The accolades and listing of Coach Haley’s accomplishments are both long and historic. His creation of the Kingdom of the Sun Tournament at Ocala Vanguard High School was the first “national” sixteen team tournament in the country and paved the way for the likes of the City of Palms in Fort Myers and King of the Bluegrass out of Kentucky to become nationally prominent events using the same blueprint. Not only did the Kingdom showcase teams from outside of Florida, it brought together teams from different parts of the state that could be considered competitive on a state and national scale. While teams such as Springarn out of Washington D.C., and St. Anthony’s out of New Jersey all used the Kingdom as springboards to national titles, in-state powerhouses like Miami Senior in the late 80’s and early 90’s and Miami Christian in the new millennium used their appearances in the Kingdom to announce their presence to the Sunshine State.
As more and more holiday tournaments popped up around the country, making it difficult for The Kingdom to lure marquee teams, Coach Haley had the brainstorm to focus on getting teams with good, young players that had a great chance of becoming big names in the future. That’s how the likes of Teddy Dupay, Kwame Brown, and Thaddeus Young came to Ocala and jump-started their basketball careers.
That trend continued with Coach Haley’s involvement with the Battle of the Villages that began a few years ago. Vernon Carey, Balsa Kaprovica, Scottie Lewis, and Bryan Antoine are all considered McDonald’s All American Game candidates for March 2019. Coach Haley had them in the event when they were just sophomores. That will continue at this year’s event when Patrick Baldwin, who many consider to be the top player in the country in the 2021 Class, and his team from Wisconsin take part in The Battle at the Villages.
Coach Haley won three state titles back when there were only four classifications and each playoff round was a gauntlet to get through. His teams were known for their up-tempo play on offense and full-court pressure defense. Marion County is far from being considered a population center, but Coach Haley was able to develop talent at the youth levels and then get them to play his style cohesively once they became “Runnin’ Knights”. This allowed his teams to play and prevail consistently against teams from more populated areas of the state come playoff time.
Coach Haley may have been retired from the sidelines for over a decade but he was still very much involved in the game. He spent a lot of time lobbying for both girls and boys basketball with the Florida High School Athletic Association. The next time you are at the Lakeland Center for the state high school championships, be sure to check out the Wall of Fame on the left of the main entrance into the arena. There you will find pictures, plaques, and testimonials to the greats of high school basketball. Coach Haley was instrumental in not only the beginnings of that project, but its continuation as well.
The Florida Association of Basketball Coaches was spearheaded largely through Haley’s efforts. Though he never coached girls basketball, he advocated for their sport as aggressively and vehemently as he did the boys. He genuinely felt the need for basketball to have a voice in the Florida High School Activities Association offices in Gainesville and routinely met with them to promote ideas that would be good for the game for both the short and long term. Coach Haley’s reputation allowed the FABC to grow rapidly and also create the FABC All-Star Game at the end of the season. This event brought in top players from all over the state and is generally considered the top state-wide all-star game in Florida.
All those things being said, the absolute BEST thing about Coach Haley was his willingness to help people in the sport that had not played or coached with him. Countless players out of Marion County have said how much he helped them even though they never suited up for Vanguard. He never hesitated to provide assistance and knowledge to coaches at any point in his career. In short, no matter where the family finds a place to hold Coach Haley’s memorial service, it won’t be big enough.
Hopefully, the group that now leads the Kingdom of the Sun will see fit to modify the name to “The Jim Haley Memorial Kingdom of the Sun Classic” to honor a legend lost.
Thank you, Coach Haley, for being you.