Billy McKinney takes over the reins of the St. Helens girls basketball program
by: John Brewington Billy McKinney, New girls' head basketball coach in St. Helens.

Things are changing for the St. Helens girls' basketball program, and it already appears to be for the better.

Billy McKinney was named the new head coach for the program last week and it's a well accepted move by players and coaches.

Monday, McKinney could be found after school in the St. Helens gym setting up practice for both the boys and girls.

McKinney was a football player at Boise State University in Boise, where he grew up, and has 22 years of experience in basketball and track and field. He's served as a jayvee coach and worked at about every level, but this is his first foray as a head coach. Last season, McKinney coached the seventh grade girls' team at the junior high. He's a special education teacher at the St. Helens Middle School. He lives in Beaverton.

The St. Helens girls are playing summer ball this year for the first time in many years. McKinney has stepped into a leadership role with the program and the girls are already experiencing some success. The summer program was set up earlier in the year by some parents and eighth grade coach Adam Sommers. They have played in some tournaments, and are in another one at Liberty High this week. There is a lot of youth on the team and enthusiasm is running high. Facebook is aflutter with comments from coaches, assistants and the girls about practice and games.

'I was encouraged to apply for the position,' McKinney said, 'by Adam and a few others. I can't do it myself, I need help from the community.'

With support, McKinney thinks the program can be successful. It's been nearly a decade since the team was competitive.

'We have to teach them how to compete,' he said. 'They've got to believe. If they are surrounded by good people from the community and people step up and support them, they can win just by being successful. We've got to get them not used to losing. I have a saying: tradition never graduates. Everybody needs to come back and be a big part of it. We want our teams to compete to the last second. We train for five quarters, not for four.'

McKinney said that people that know him know he lives in the gym. He's recruiting some people to help with the program. He's brought Aliyah Green, a former University of Oregon and Lincoln High player out to help.

She was already encouraging the players early this week. She wrote on Facebook, 'I will be at the workouts tomorrow helping put Coach Billy!! I would love to see everyone there ready to get better, work hard (and) bring tons of energy!!

I can't wait to see how many improvements you ladies make both as an individual and as a player!! See you all tomorrow.'

McKinney says one of her jobs will be to coach Gabby Susee; a 6-foot, 1-inch sophomore they think has Division 1 potential.

The new coach hasn't decided on offensive or defensive schemes just yet. He wants to get to know his personnel better to see what they're able to do.

Still with the summer work and some up and coming players the prospects for the Lady Lions are improving. The attitude of the team has already changed a bit with a lot of excitement and enthusiasm about prospects. The team went 2-3 in their first tournament.

McKinney is looking forward to the year, 'I'm so excited. We're going to compete all the way to the end. We're not going to go out and get beat 98-14. We might get beat 98-70, but we're going to compete. I want us to be a tenacious defensive team-rattle snakes on defense.'

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