Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball Anthony Hickey draws comparisons to former LSU great Kenny Higgs

Dave Moormann

It must be more than coincidence that on the very week LSU signed guard Anthony Hickey, it was announced that former LSU guard Kenny Higgs would be inducted into the Louisiana Basketball Hall of Fame last Saturday.

The LSU men’s basketball program has endured two wretched seasons and needs something or someone to rescue it from its own demise.

That’s where the so-called Hickey-Higgs connection comes into play. Call it karma, good fortune or fate, but it’s in the tarot cards for the Tigers to rise up again from their ashes.

After all, it’s not every year that LSU signs a superb guard from basketball-rich Kentucky. Former coach Dale Brown was the first to do it when he snatched Higgs from Owensboro in 1974.

Now current coach Trent Johnson has done it again with the addition of Hickey from Hopkinsville.

In an LSU playing career that stretched from 1974-78, Higgs set a school and Southeastern Conference record with 645 career assists.

LSU can only hope that Hickey mimics his Kentucky predecessor, or at least Ethan Martin, the Baton Rouge guard who once threatened Higgs’ mark with 638 career assists.

In any event, Higgs has the high school credentials to make an impact, just as Higgs owned the prep laurels that indicated future success.

The 5-foot-10 Hickey was Kentucky Mr. Basketball and more than proved his worth in leading Christian County to the Class 5A state championship.

As a senior, Hickey, averaged 18.6 points, 4.7 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 3.8 steals per contest. In a playoff game in Rupp Arena, he threw the game-winning pass as the last of his 12 assists in a performance that included 17 points.

In three years, Hickey amassed 418 assists for Christian County.

“We are very fortunate to be able to obtain a player of this caliber late in the recruiting period,” Johnson was quoted as saying. “He definitely helps us become a much better basketball team. He’s a winner and very competitive.”

The same could have been said of Higgs when he signed with LSU. A prep All-American, Higgs finished as runner-up to Mr. Kentucky Jack Givens, who later scored 41 points to lead the Kentucky Wildcats past Duke, 94-88, for the 1978 NCAA championship.

“We didn't accomplish winning the NCAA championship,” Higgs was quoted as saying in an LSU release, “but we accomplished more than that.  We accomplished a unity in life together.  We'll always… have memories of what we did in life and where the beginning started.”

Higgs helped start LSU on a path that took it to the Final Four under Brown in 1981 and 1986 and the Elite Eight in 1987.

If the past is, indeed, prologue, Hickey may well be able to repeat what Higgs meant for LSU. In a sense, Hickey might find his task somewhat easier given that LSU has much more of a basketball tradition than it ever had before the arrival of Brown and his band of believers such as Higgs.

It’s been hard to keep the faith the past two years, but let’s not forget that Johnson won an SEC title in his first season. There’s reason for optimism given that Hickey joins an impressive list of recruits that includes McDonald’s All-America Johnny O’Bryant, a 6-10 center from Cleveland, Miss.

That bodes well for the future, although restless LSU fans may not want to wait that long. If it’s any consolation, Higgs made an immediate contribution just as Hickey may well do next season.

In his first year, Higgs averaged 18.1 points per game and earned Louisiana Freshman of the Year honors. Two years later he led the SEC in assists with an average of 8.85 per game. His school-record of 19 assists in a game has been equaled just once.

Maybe Hickey won’t match Higgs’ accomplishments, but, then, Hickey shouldn’t have to. Hickey is free to become a trailblazer of his own.