Two months after Andy Poplin ended his seven-year tenure as the head coach of the Hickory High varsity boys basketball team to take the head coaching job at A.L. Brown in Cabarrus County, the Red Tornadoes have found their new leading man. On Tuesday afternoon, it was announced in a press release that 1997 Hickory graduate Daniel Willis will be the next head coach of the school’s varsity boys basketball squad.
The selection of Willis, who most recently served as the associate head coach at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, was approved by the Hickory Public Schools Board of Education during its latest meeting on Monday night. Prior to his five-year stint at The Citadel, Willis also made college coaching stops at Western Carolina University, Tusculum University and Virginia Military Institute.
During his time as a student-athlete for the Red Tornadoes, Willis played football, basketball and baseball. He was the quarterback on Hickory’s state championship football team in 1996, passing for 24 touchdowns to finish his career with 45 passing TDs, and he also earned West Regional Most Valuable Player honors in basketball in ’96 and ’97.
Willis also played basketball for then-coach John Lentz at Lenoir-Rhyne University, completing a bachelor’s degree in sports management and leaving as the South Atlantic Conference’s all-time leading scorer with 1,980 points in his four-year college basketball career — he now ranks third in conference history and second in school history in career points scored. He was inducted into the SAC Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Lenoir-Rhyne Hall of Fame in 2014, and he will join the Catawba County Sports Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2020 when the induction ceremony is held next May.
“We are excited to welcome Daniel Willis back home to Hickory,” Hickory athletic director David Craft said. “He brings a professional background that will enhance our program, serving as a great asset for both teaching and coaching the students at Hickory High. He is passionate about basketball and we are excited that Willis will be joining our Tornado team as the head basketball coach.”
“Hickory is an outstanding city where I was born and raised and spent 23 years of my life,” added Willis, who also earned his master’s degree in physical education from Western Carolina following his time at Lenoir-Rhyne. “It is a special place in which I still have deep roots and relationships today. Now with extensive coaching and teaching experience, I am looking forward to leading the basketball program at Hickory High, building a positive and valuable relationship with the Hickory community.”
In addition to taking over a Hickory boys hoops program that has won 20 or more games each of the last six seasons and is coming off a 22-6 campaign this past winter, Willis will also teach physical education at the school.
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