R. J. Reynolds’ Martin reflects on his coaching career

Billy Martin, Photo courtesy of

R. J. Reynolds’ Martin reflects on his coaching career
March 24
13:38 2021

Billy Martin led the varsity boy’s basketball team at R. J. Reynolds all the way to the third round of the 4A state playoffs last season. Martin has been the head coach for the Demons since 2005 and following a 13-2 record this past year, he is hoping for even more success next year.

Growing up in the central region of the state, basketball has been a part of Martin’s life for as long as he can remember. Martin played throughout his high school career, as well as during his college days at UNC-Wilmington (UNCW). Following his graduation from UNCW, Martin wanted to stay close to the game of basketball and was then introduced to the world of coaching in his home area of Montgomery County, N.C.

“My first coaching job was back at home in Montgomery County,” said Martin. “I started out as the JV coach for one year and the following year I got a varsity job at the high school where I attended, East Montgomery High School, and I stayed there for 17 years.

“That’s where I really started learning the coaching profession, being as young as I was. It’s not easy to be in your hometown and coaching there, because you know everybody and you’re trying to build a program. It wasn’t an easy task, but it was manageable.”

Martin stated that during his tenure at Montgomery County High he had some good teams. In 1989 his team finished the year as state runner-up. At that time, he had no idea that coaching was going to be a career path for him.

“I didn’t think that was going to be my career, I was just doing it because I liked the sport of basketball,” he continued. “The more I did it, the more I liked being involved in young people’s lives and being able to help shape their lives.

“You had to learn how to be adaptable and learn to coach different styles because in high school basketball, you have to coach what kids come to you, you don’t get to go out and get the kids. You have to be ready to change to the different kids you have and the different levels of talent you have and that’s the difficult part.”

After his 17 years at Montgomery County, Martin made the move to the collegiate level and began coaching as an assistant at the University of Delaware. He spent five years at Delaware, learning valuable experience that he still carries with him today.

“When you are going from high school to college, first of all you have to learn how to build relationships to be able to recruit,” said Martin. “Leaving North Carolina and going to the northeast was kind of hard, because I didn’t know anyone. Recruiting is all about relationships, then you have to sell the program and get these parents to believe in you enough to get their kids to come and spend four years of their life with you.

“That was kind of different and that wasn’t easy, especially being a southern guy moving up to the northeast.”

Martin says he enjoyed his time coaching at the collegiate level; however, after spending 17 years on the high school level, he was ready to go back to his roots.  

“I liked the experience and would not trade it for anything else, because it was valuable to me in the coaching world,” he said. “I was able to do something totally different; I was actually able to go out and recruit kids to come and play the game of basketball. 

“At the college level, it’s 24/7 basketball as compared to high school, but I was more comfortable in high school because now I am able to take kids and develop them a little more than you do at the college level. You also have a different impact on their lives, because they’re trying to get to the college level, and I know what it’s like and what it takes to get to that level.”

Martin landed in Winston-Salem at Reynolds in 2005 after his time at the University of Delaware. One of his former college teammates was the principal at the time and thought Martin would be a good fit for the position.  

“We were ready to get back home, to get back to North Carolina,” Martin said about the feelings he and his wife had about him taking the Reynolds job. “She lost her father one week and I lost my father the next week, so we were just ready to get back and get closer to home. It was just great timing for us.”

The Demons already had good tradition when it comes to basketball and Martin wanted to continue the legacy that had already been built. Former Reynolds head coach Howard West collected a couple of state titles before his departure from the school, so Martin knew he had some big shoes to fill.

“Coach West had done a great job and won a couple of state championships here and they already had a winning tradition,” Martin said about West. “Coming in, my first couple of years were tough because when I came, we had some talent, but this is a tough league and tough area. We got off to a slow start and it took a little while to get things settled. Once we did that, we started winning, everything started taking care of itself.”

There have been some fond memories for Martin during his tenure at Reynolds. He says the kids that have come through his program over the years have made coaching there worthwhile.

“The good thing that I like about here is these kids have a passion for the game of basketball and they are such great kids to coach,” he went on to say. “They are great kids and they work hard; that comes from solid families.”

Spending time on the college level gave Martin a firsthand look at what college coaches look for in players to recruit for the next level. He feels it helped him coach once he returned to the high school level, especially for situational coaching.

“It definitely helps with the little things that someone who hasn’t been on that level wouldn’t know,” he said. “You can be on the practice floor or in a game and you can go and say something to a kid about what is and isn’t acceptable on the next level. And you can tell them things to work on away from practice as well.”

Martin says this was one of the most unique years he has been through in his coaching career. With all the uncertainty and rescheduling of the season, it was a challenge to get ready for the year.

“It was difficult in the aspect of not knowing who you were going to have at practice, who you were going to have at the game, or even if you were going to play the game,” Martin said about his preparation for the season. “In our coach’s meeting in the preseason, the one thing we took a look at was instead of having 12 kids on the roster, we would put more kids on the roster because you may have kids miss practice.”

In this shortened season, the Demons had a tremendous year. Martin did not really know what to expect, but knew his squad had the talent to do very well if everything came together.

“I did not know how successful we would be from the standpoint of where we finished up,” he said. “I knew we could, and we came together and played well. When you play well, play hard and play unselfish, things like this can happen and that’s what we looked at and that’s what we tell our kids.”

Getting kids to the next level is the biggest thrill Martin gets out of coaching. He says as a high school coach, that should be the main goal for all the players that have the talent to do so.

“That’s what I think coaching high school basketball is all about,” he said. “You want to win state championships, you want to win games, but I think that’s the ultimate prize, helping kids move on to play at the next level. I think that’s what your goal should be.”

Martin has been coaching for over 30 years and knows he can’t coach forever. He says he hasn’t thought about retiring yet, but has had conversations with his wife about what’s next for them once he decides to hang it up.

“I don’t know, and I get that question almost every day now,” Martin answered about when he would retire.  “As long as I am enjoying what I am doing, I’ll continue. But I know one day it will come to an end and be time to move on.  I’ll just know when that time comes.”

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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