Billups introduced as new coach at Tougaloo

Published 10:45 am Tuesday, July 1, 2014

JACKSON — For 3 1/2 decades, Thomas Billups has been one of the most successful high school basketball coaches in Mississippi.

Now, he’s finally getting his chance to take his game to the next level.

Billups, who led Lanier High School to eight state championships, was introduced Monday as the new men’s head basketball coach at Tougaloo College. It’s his first college coaching job in a career that started in 1976 at Vicksburg High.

Thomas Billups

Thomas Billups

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“It’s very special. This is what I wanted all my life, that’s why I won all those state championships at Lanier High School, to get to college,” Billups said. “I figured if I done all that I deserve a shot at the college level.”

Billups started his career in Vicksburg, as an assistant coach at VHS and later as the head coach at Vicksburg Junior High. He helped the Gators win the MHSAA Class AA and overall championship in 1980, and led the junior high Gators to six Little Six Conference championships.

He coached in Vicksburg from 1976-87 before moving to Jackson. His first high school head coaching job didn’t come until 1991 when he took over Lanier’s program and turned it into a benchmark for success in Mississippi.

Billups reached the state finals 13 times in 22 seasons, won eight state championships, and posted a 617-119 record.

He was dismissed from his job in 2013 and went to Oak Grove High School, where he led the Warriors to a 12-14 record last season.

“We’re just going to forget about JPS, but Oak Grove, they had some beautiful people down there. They loved me, and I loved being down there,” Billups said. “But right now, I’m at Tougaloo College, and that’s what means a lot to me is that I’m here.”

With Tougaloo, Billups will try to rebuild a program that has tasted success. The Bulldogs went to four consecutive NAIA national tournaments from 2009-12. They slumped to a 20-36 record the past two seasons under coach Harvey Wardell, who was let go at the end of the season.

Tougaloo athletic director James C. Coleman said reinvigorating the basketball program with a local Jackson legend was part of the reason for Billups’ hire.

“You can tell today by the turnout of his followers. They’re glad to have him back home,” Coleman said, noting a number of Billups’ former players and fans on hand at Monday’s introductory press conference. “We’re all excited about what he can do, and what we anticipate him doing.”