The influential basketball coach won three state titles and started the nationally recognized Kingdom of the Sun tournamentt.
One of the most influential men in the history of high school boys basketball in Florida has died.
Jim Haley, the longtime head coach at Vanguard and the man who started the Kingdom of the Sun, passed away on Sunday morning. He was 74.
Funeral arrangements are pending and Ocala.com will have information when they are finalized.
Haley, who retired in 2009, started the nationally recognized Kingdom of the Sun tournament at Vanguard in 1974 and won three state championships.
He totaled four trips to the final four, 12 district titles and 15 playoff appearances, and retired as one of seven coaches in Florida to win at least 600 games when he retired.
Many offered their memories of the man known as “The Chief,” online after hearing of his passing.
“A true legend in the great state of Florida and Marion County,” said former Forest/Dunnellon basketball coach Steve Powell, who was a standout player at DHS during his playing days. “Words cannot express what he has done for me and my family. Coach Haley found me in the Round Runner program like so many at the time needing a place to play basketball. Forever grateful.”
Haley excelled in getting players exposure to the next level with his Kingdom of the Sun tournament, which began in 1974.
“His biggest impact was helping kids get out of Ocala and get opportunities to further their education at the collegiate level,” former Vanguard coach Phillip Small said prior to Vanguard naming its court after Haley in December 2016. “He helped any kid he could, even if they did not go to Vanguard … the Kingdom is still a very strong brand in high school basketball circles around the country. We have him to thank for that. He built it. I wanted to do something that ensured he would be remembered.”
An administrator at a rival school scoffed at the idea a 16-team event would work in Florida, but given the blessing of former Vanguard principal Leon Rogers, it was a go.
The first Kingdom saw Frank Johnson, a future NBA player and coach, led unbeaten Lake Weir to a win over Daytona Beach Mainland before a packed house.
Back in 2009 before Haley’s final home game, Rogers, who died earlier this year, offered this comment: “Haley truly was a pioneer. It took a long time for the people he was playing to catch up to his style of using the full-court press and fast breaks. Back then, teams used to just walk the ball up and play zone, but not Haley. His teams played exciting basketball.”
Haley was a father figure to many.
“He never gave up on a kid,” said longtime Kingdom of the Sun Executive Director Bob Murphy, prior to Haley’s retirement from coaching. “He was always 100 percent behind them. They all knew if they needed anything that they could call him and they’d help him.”
The best example of this would be the case of Travis Mays, a VHS standout and first round draft pick of the Sacramento Kings.
“He had a vision that no one around here had ever seen,” said Mays in 2009, now women’s head coach at SMU. “He sold that thing and it really took off to great heights. When I was inducted into the Hall of Honor at the University of Texas, it was the first chance I ever had publicly to thank Coach Haley for all that he did for me. I choked up. I basically told him that he saved my life. He was always in the gym and he opened the gym for me and so many people. He lived basketball.”
No matter where Haley’s name was mentioned it was looked upon fondly.
“In all of my travels and even at this level people ask me how coach Haley is doing. He’s meant a lot to so many people,” said former Vanguard standout Dale Osbourne, who at the time (2009 when interviewed) was coaching with the Utah Flash and is now an assistant coach with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Mike Losito and Bobby Kennen had firsthand knowledge of what Haley would do to help opposing players.
“It didn’t matter if you played for Haley or not, he went out of his way to help you.
“He promoted me like I was his player because he truly cared about helping kids,” said Losito, who was the Star-Banner Player of the Year as a senior at Belleview and later went on to coach the Rattlers. “He was a great mentor and more importantly a great friend.”
Added Kennen, a prep standout at Forest High and current associate head coach at North Florida” “He was truly an amazing man who poured his life into young people and the game.”
Haley also made it a point to help other coaches in support of the game he loved.
“Had the honor of working with him at the FACA basketball clinics for a number of years,” said Ron Allan, a former Lecanto hoops coach and FACA Hall of Fame member. “He was a great man. (He had) passion for the sport and willingness to help younger coaches gain knowledge.”
Haley’s opponents greatly respected him.
“I met coach Haley when I was 14 and competed against him as a player and a coach,” said Colt McDowell, a prep standout at Leesburg and current head coach at The Villages. “I have so much respect for what he did for basketball in the state of Florida.”
His coaching tree in Florida included several coaches who went on to win state championships at other programs.
“He had a huge impact on my coaching career and was a pioneer in this state in terms of his tournament and bringing national teams and players to Florida,” said Anthony Long, who won multiple state titles at Gainesville High School and also had a powerhouse program at Orlando Dr. Phillips.
At the end of the day, Haley was all about promoting the game he loved.
“To the day he died, Jim Haley campaigned for the good of a game that exploded in popularity in his heyday,” said Buddy Collings, senior sports writer at the Orlando Sentinel who worked with Haley on numerous all-tournament and all-state award lists. “He showed everybody how it could be done. Jim’s impact on Florida hoops is immeasurable.”