40 years later, Billy Reynolds stands alone in NSU hoops history

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NATCHITOCHES — For 40 years, NBA draftee Billy Reynolds has been atop the Northwestern State basketball career scoring list.

Reynolds’ 2,009 points from 1973-1977 has been way out of reach for anyone that has ever called Prather Coliseum home. Four decades later, the long-unchallenged mark has finally come under fire.

Senior guard Zeek Woodley is 70 points shy of topping Reynolds’ total, but a broken wrist suffered Dec. 19 has endangered what seemed a formality. Woodley might be able to return to action with just a few games left.

If Woodley does overtake Reynolds’ scoring total, it will delight fans – yet, that will hardly diminish Reynolds’ legacy for what he accomplished in Natchitoches as a person and a player 40 years ago.

Demon head coach Mike McConathy was a contemporary of Reynolds, playing for NSU’s arch-rival, Louisiana Tech. McConathy’s 2,033 career points are second all-time in Louisiana Tech history.

McConathy, who is in his 18th season at Northwestern, speaks with a profound respect when reminiscing about those days and the player known as “Billy the Kid.”

“He came to NSU under Tynes Hildebrand and, let me tell you, Billy was a phenomenal scorer, rebounder, and just a great, great overall player,” McConathy said. “I’ve always had great respect for him because he was just a really tough player that did such a great job in all areas of the game, and he was a special young person as well.”

McConathy will forever remember his shootouts with Reynolds, especially when harkening back to their final battle in Ruston on Feb. 28, 1977, a date that has left their playing careers infinitely intertwined.

“Billy and I have an interesting connection,” McConathy said. “Both of us completed our careers on the same night, he for Northwestern and myself at Louisiana Tech, and that night in Ruston, both of us went over the 2,000-point milestone. It was quite a feat for both of us as players.”

Scoring was hardly the only aspect where Reynolds shined. To go along with his silky offensive touch, Reynolds was also a bully on the boards. He nabbed 1,150 rebounds over his career, second all-time in Demon history.

“He was just such a special player. He did all the little things right,” McConathy said. “He knew how to get great position in order to score or rebound, and was just a really, really solid player.”

Hildebrand, a 2014 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame inductee, recognized Reynolds’ potential when recruiting him out of Calhoun High School.

“Billy was 6-5 or 6-6, and very strong physically,” said Hildebrand, head coach of the Demons for 16 seasons. “He grew up working. In fact, when we were recruiting him, he was employed at a truck stop, doing anything that was required, and that work isn’t easy. But he grew up with a family that was hard working and good people. They had to work for a living. Life wasn’t easy, and every day was a work day.”

Armed with a work ethic instilled from his parents and a frame that would make Charles Atlas proud, Reynolds developed into a talent that proved unmatched in NSU basketball annals.

Both Mike Gallien, the editor of the Potpourri yearbook at the time, and Buddy Wood, a McDonald’s High School Basketball All-America nominee in 1977, remember Reynolds well.

“Billy was as smooth as silk,” Gallien said. “He was a man among boys on the court. He was an excellent ball-handler who could take it to the hoop or bomb it from outside (in the pre-3-point shot era). He was very athletic, a team leader, and overall, a good guy.”

“Billy was always smooth and composed,” said Wood, who missed very few Demon home games while he attended Hickory Ridge High School three miles from campus. “He had the body of a modern-day physical power forward, but played with the grace of a point guard, and he never seemed to get rattled.”

Reynolds continued to develop his skills and get better year after year, all without the benefit of being able to consistently work on his game over the summer, because he would return home to work.

“He was a youngster that I had great respect for,” Hildebrand said. “Every summer, he would go back and work at that same truck stop to make money for the following year.”

As Reynolds’ final season for the Demons approached, Hildebrand noticed how his work ethic kept increasing as the idea of the NBA became a real possibility.

“When it looked like he could get drafted after his senior year, he really got serious about his school and his basketball. He was dedicated to the game,” Hildebrand said. “And as he continued to develop into an NBA prospect, he really became a fantastic shooter, especially from the corner. He wasn’t good, he was great.”

Reynolds had a career year during his senior campaign. He averaged 26.4 points per game, wiping out Jimmy “Red” Leach’s 18-year-old Demon record and setting a scoring average standard that likely will never be bettered. Reynolds set a single-season points scored record with 686, a total finally topped by Woodley (in six more games, 32 to 26 for Reynolds) two seasons ago. Reynolds also averaged 12.1 rebounds as a senior while leading the Demons to a 17-9 record in 1976-77 under Hildebrand.

“The thing I remember most about Billy was the end of game situations,” Hildebrand said. “If we were close, I always knew we had a chance to win because of Billy. He was going to get the winning basket or winning rebound. You could count on him because there really wasn’t anyone in the state better than Billy.”

Hildebrand, who played for Coach H. Lee Prather as a Demon beginning his college days in 1950, has a first-hand knowledge of the last six decades of NSU basketball. At 85, as he recalls greats such as Leach, Dick Brown, James Wyatt and David Clark, and appreciates the explosive scoring of Woodley and the all-around exceptional performances of Jalan West, Hildebrand says it’s tough to envision any player surpassing Reynolds’ total package.

“When you look at Billy overall, his ball handing, his shooting, his rebounding along with his teamwork and personality, not to mention the type of person he was, he may always be the best to ever play at Northwestern,” Hildebrand said. “You name all the things about a good person, a good basketball player, and you get Billy Reynolds.”

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