J.R. VanHoose had a career that was straight out of a storybook.
Looking back now, it might be what you would call a perfect career.
The big man from Paintsville has pretty much seen and done it all in the basketball world.
VanHoose, who’s father played against Hall of Fame Kentucky Wildcat Kyle Macy in high school, grew up hearing grand stories about his dad’s playing days and especially about Indiana high school basketball with his family living in the Hoosier state.
In the third grade VanHoose started playing basketball. He remembered his early struggles.
“I had no skills whatsoever,” VanHoose said. “My first coach, Gary Sellers, told me to keep my hands up when I rebounded, so I took that literally, so I ran up and down the floor with my hands up in the air,” VanHoose said. “I thought he wanted me to do it all of the time.”
VanHoose recalled Paintsville Elementary having a fifth-and sixth-grade team and how important that was early on in his career.
There was also that pride of wearing the blue and white of Paintsville on your jersey.
“There were tryouts for that team and it was really important to me because I wanted to wear that school jersey with Paintsville on it,” said VanHoose.
It wasn’t long before VanHoose began to tower over the kids in the surrounding area.
“I think by the time I was in seventh-grade I was 6 foot 3,” VanHoose said.
VanHoose would not only play under one of the state’s most legendary coaches in Bill Mike Runyon once he reached Paintsville High School, but possibly his toughest coach and critic, his father. The elder VanHoose was an assistant on Runyon’s staff and coached the JV team when the younger VanHoose was coming up.
VanHoose started for the Tigers when he was in the eighth-grade. That team would have lots of talent, but the wins and losses didn’t truly show how good the team was. That team fell in the semifinals of the 15th Region tournament to the Allen Central Rebels featuring prolific scorer’s Jeremy Hall and Thomas Jenkins.
However, the 1996 season would be a different story for Paintsville.
“I was crushed losing in the semifinals, but the next year I thought we had a very good shot,” said VanHoose.
Paintsville still went to the state tournament, but was beaten after their first round game.
“I thought it’s no fun to come down here and go home after one game. Let’s come back next year and stay a while longer,” VanHoose said.
The Tigers did just that, winning the 15th Region crown over rival Magoffin County and punching their ticket to Rupp Arena.
Paintsville was strong at nearly every position on the floor with the ’96 team.
Matt Ratliff and Todd Tackett were the guards on that state title team. Craig Ratliff and Josh McKenzie were the forwards, with VanHoose in the middle.
“We were in practice right before the postseason started and something just clicked,” VanHoose said.
Paintsville went on to defeat Owensboro in overtime in the first round. The Tigers then knocked off Allen County-Scottsville in the second round to set up a rematch with Lexington Catholic, who had beaten the Tigers by 20 earlier in the season.
The Tigers were the victors on this meeting, with Paintsville heading to the title game against their neighbor to the north, Ashland. It was just meant to be for Paintsville however, as the claimed the state championship and bringing the title back home to Eastern Kentucky.
VanHoose was named to a number of publications top players in the country lists and soon the coaches would come calling.
VanHoose touted offers from every big time program in the nation. Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Notre Dame, just to name a few.
“Roy Williams flew into Big Sandy Regional Airport to watch me work out when he was at Kansas,” Vanhoose said.
He brought celebrity status wherever he went, yet the big man stayed grounded and humble. “My parents kept my head in the right place,” VanHoose said.
VanHoose went on to have a Hall of Fame career at Marshall University.
He also played some professional basketball before getting into his coaching career.
After his playing days, VanHoose went on to be a successful coach. He helped the Phelps Lady Hornets reach the 15th Region championship game in 2009. VanHoose is currently an assistant coach at Johnson Central under head coach Tommy McKenzie.