When Owensboro Catholic boy’s basketball coach Tim Riley was six years old, his dad took him to see former Western Kentucky star Jim McDaniels.
Little did Riley or his dad know that what he saw on that day would change the trajectory for the state champion coach.
McDaniels is a Scottsville native and after his time as a Hilltopper, played professionally for a few years but it was what Riley saw on that one day that paved the way.
“He dunked and I remember which goal it was, which side of the court I was sitting on,” he said. “I remember it all and I was hooked. I loved it.”
It’s that spark that led to a calling that’s spanned nearly four decades as Riley will be inducted into the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame in July.
It was last fall when Riley received the call that he would be entering the hall. When he received the news, he was able to share it with someone who’s been by his side for his entire coaching career – his wife Pam.
“It was her and I,” he said. “When I shared it with her, we were asked not to tell anybody. It was kind of a great deal for her and I because she has to deal with the ups and downs of coaching. We hugged and I was very appreciative of it. It’s been my journey, it’s been my life’s journey.
“I started coaching when I was a junior in college,” he said. “Coached for three years in college. I coached when I was working on my masters. I think this is year 38 or 39 so it’s been a life’s journey and to be able to get this award is very humbling. I’m very appreciative and I’ve been able to coach a lot of great kids, have some great assistant coaches and great administrators, great parents and just people that have helped me along the way. There have been so many of them.”
In a career that’s amassed more than 500 wins, Riley got his start at an elementary school in Bowling Green.
He coached seventh and eighth-grade girls and boys basketball while he was a student at WKU. During that time, he said he learned an important lesson.
“I found out then how tough losing was,” he said. “You lose a game, it hurts. It hurts so bad. That second year I coached them, I would go to Western Kentucky’s practice for an hour, help anyway I could then jump in my car to Rich Pond Elementary School and practice my kids. I was really into it. I was really into being a coach and learning how to be a coach. I guess it’s kind of been my passion.”
Riley said being from Bowling Green was also a factor in his career choice.
“It had a big influence on me,” he said. “Just how good basketball was in that time in that city. Never been that good again. Even though when I was at Warren Central we won a state championship later on, Bowling Green won a state championship, it’s not quite as good as that.”
Before he made it to Warren Central, Riley was the head coach as Caverna High School.
He admitted he thought about hanging it up after a few years of struggles.
“At one point I was 60 games below .500 as a head coach,” he said. “Right before this, I had been five years a head coach and I had struggled as a head coach. I’m driving down the road, I’ve had one winning season out of five and I’m having a conversation with God. “God, if you want me to be a coach, something’s got to change. I just can’t coach to be coaching.’ Losing’s too hard and nobody wants to do something they’re not good at. About 10 days later, a kid that had been kicked off his team at Warren Central, the school I later went to, Tavis Barber, moved and lived with an uncle in Caverna and all of a sudden, I became a good coach and it changed my life. Sometimes I feel like it was God’s call that he wanted me to be a coach.”
Riley also coached Barber’s cousin, who died at age 28.
“When he died, in his obituary, they listed me as a survivor,” he said. “It was the greatest compliment as a coach.”
In 1998, Riley was named the head coach of the Warren Central Dragons and the rest is history.
Riley had given back to the city that raised him by bringing hundreds of wins and a state championship to Warren Central.
Since arriving at Owensboro Catholic, Riley has added to his win total. Even though his colors may have changed, there’s still one constant – his family.
“I couldn’t have done this without my family being a part of it,” he said.
Riley and Pam were married before he became a head coach so he said his 500+ wins are also hers.
“She has to deal with me at Christmas if I’m in a bad mood because my team’s not playing well,” he said. “My children have had to deal with that to an extent as well. She’s been a great coach’s wife. She’s not critical of the kids. She lets me do my job. She lets me support the kids. We’ve done a little of everything to try and help them out. She may be the greatest golf wife but she’s a great coach’s wife and has been a great coach’s wife.”
Riley said he doesn’t know when he’ll retired but mentioned he’s definitely on the back end of an illustrious career.
“I’m at the end of it, no matter what,” he said. “I’m toward the end. No matter if I stay until if i’m 70, I’m still toward the end. I’m proud of what I’ve been a part of and I’m proud of the kids that I’ve touched and they’ve touched me.”