LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
In 1990, Steve Wright came to Laurel County with a dream of continuing the winning tradition that had already been established at the school.
He did just that, and more, and this Friday during the South Laurel-North Laurel boys’ basketball game he will be honored when a banner with his name on it will be hung in the gymnasium alongside the likes of Roy Bowling, Chuck Broughton, Raymond Reed, G.J. Smith and Walter Hulett.
“Joining those other banners is very special to me,” Wright said. “I never really thought about when I was coaching.” In Wright’s storied career at South Laurel (and two years at Laurel County before the school split into North and South Laurel), his list of accomplishments boggles the mind. He started off on the right foot in his first season, where he guided the Cardinals to the 12th Region title and a trip to the Sweet 16. As Cardinal coach, his complied a record of 576-219, including seven region titles (in the 12th and 13th Regions), 11 region finals, and seven trips to the state tournament, winning it all in the 2004-2005 season. From 2000 through 2008, his Cardinals made six Sweet 16 appearances, including four in a row from 2004 through 2008. Wright is currently in his 28th season as a head coach and has an overall record of 644-238 (through January 28), which ranks him 10th overall and third among active coaches in Kentucky.
“I had a big obligation to fulfill when I came here in 1990,” Wright said. “My dad taught me if you work for somebody you should be dedicated and loyal. I came here as an outsider and expectations were really high.”
He resigned in May of 2012 and soon became the coach at Southwestern, where he led the Warriors to the final four in his first year there.
“It’s not often that a person can come and leave on their own terms,” Wright said of his tenure in Laurel County.
Wright also knows that he didn’t accomplish all that on his own.
“I didn’t make it happen by myself,” Wright said. “ I have no delusions about that. I had a lot of good players and assistant coaches, and a lot of really good people helped me to be successful, people like Raymond Reed, Roger Marcum, G.J. Smith, Keith Gilbert and Jeff Jackson. I was lucky.”
He was especially grateful that he had the chance to work with Smith.
“He was one of the best friends I had,” Wright said of the late South Laurel athletic director. “He played at Kentucky, was a great high school player, and one of the winningest baseball coaches in the state. I got to work under him and coach both of his sons.”
He also thanked the coaches who worked under him.
“During my tenure at South Laurel I was very fortunate to have outstanding assistant coaches that were instrumental in the program’s development,” Wright said. “Joe Allen, Kenny Woods, Shawn Thacker, Shane Weaver, Norm Bowling, Mike Harris, Roscoe Denney, Brad Sizemore, Dennis Hammonds, Jon Green and Jessie Sizemore. I thank all the men for their dedication, fellowship and friendship.” Woods, Thacker and Brad Sizemore all went on to become head coaches. He is well respected throughout the coaching community, and has made a lot of friends over the years.
“He’s one of my best friends,” said Dale Mabrey, coach at Pleasure Ridge Park. “In 1996 I was the head coach of the Kentucky All Stars in our game against Indiana. I had met Steve through various basketball camps and I asked the committee if he could be on my staff. From then on we’ve been best of friends.” Mabrey considers Wright one of the true dinosaurs of the sport.
“You don’t see loyalty to the programs like Steve had,” Mabrey said. “At South Laurel he won like 72 of 73 percent of his games with a tough schedule. He won seven region titles, 14 or 15 district titles and a state title. It’s amazing what he accomplished.”
The two met in a classic semifinal game the year South Laurel won the state tournament. Mabrey said they remained the best of friends even after Wright knocked him out of the state tournament.
“I’m really proud to call him one of my best friends,” Mabrey said.
Legendary coach Happy Osborne also considers Wright a close friend. Osborne led Georgetown College for 15 years and is now the head coach at Kentucky Wesleyan after a stint with Montgomery County High School.
“I’ve known him for 30 years,” Osborne said. “I met him when he was coaching at Walton-Verona. He’s one of the hardest working and most successful coaches in Kentucky. He cares about the kids and his program. He loved living in London and did an amazing job at South Laurel. Year in and year out he does a fantastic job. He always tries to learn and he just loves basketball. I consider him one of my best friends.”
This won’t be Wright’s first trip back to South Laurel since he resigned. He was there when the 2005 state champion team was honored last season, and he admitted that he felt a little strange walking into the gym.
“I just felt different” Wright said. “It will be much easier this time around. I’m very thankful and appreciative that South Laurel has chosen to honor me and I will never forget what the people of Laurel County did for me.”