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End of an era: Watson stepping down

PIKEVILLE, Ky. – He is the owner of more than half the wins in the history of women’s basketball at his school, with nearly 100 more victories than the next highest coach in his sport.

But after Thursday night’s win, the 237th of his career, Bill Watson informed his team that the 2012-13 season will be his last as head coach of the University of Pikeville Bears.

“It is time for a change,” he said. “For 31 years I’ve been blessed from a player standpoint and from a team standpoint. But now it’s time for me to do something else.”

The women’s basketball program has had four 20-win seasons since it was started in 1979, all with Watson at the helm. In addition, he coached the team to two appearances in the NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament, the only ones in school history.

Watson, a 1995 graduate of what was then Pikeville College, became the head coach of the women’s program in 1997-98 after spending four seasons as an assistant with the men’s team. He immediately took the Bears to their first appearance in the national tournament.

He duplicated the feat in 2003, the year he was named national coach of the year by the WBCA.

“Since I came to Pikeville nearly two years ago I’ve met some outstanding people who have become close friends,” said Dr. Reginald F. Overton, director of athletics. “Bill Watson is certainly at the top of that list. His dedication to his craft, his humor and his humility are all characteristics we should strive for.

“If there were more Billy Watsons in this world, it would truly be a much better place.”

Watson was twice named coach of the year in the KIAC, and was the 2002-03 coach of the year in the Mid-South Conference. That year he guided the Bears to 24 wins, the most in school history.

The coach told his team he would always be a Bear fan. “I want them to find the absolute best coach they possibly can,” he said. “I want to see this program and this university be successful.”

His 237 wins account for 50.6 percent of all women’s basketball victories in school history. They are also the most wins of any basketball coach in school history, either men’s, women’s or in the case of Roy Cutright, both.

In addition, Watson has coached four of the top seven scorers in school history and nine of the 19 members of the 1,000-point club.

Watson said he wasn’t sure where his next stop would be, telling his team he wouldn’t rule out coaching at the collegiate or high school level, or perhaps trying another vocation. “Regardless of where I wind up, I’ll always be a phone call away,” he said.

Before coming to Pikeville, Watson was an assistant coach at Paris High School for eight years and Walton-Verona High School, his alma mater, for three years. A former high school and collegiate fast-pitch softball umpire, Watson officiated in the KHSAA state tournament in 1997 and 1999.

Bill and his wife Betty live in Paintsville. Their oldest daughter Kasi is a freshman on the women’s basketball team. Their younger daughter Blair is a freshman at Johnson Central High School, where she plays basketball and softball.

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