William 'Billy' Wells
1929 — 2013
SOUTHPORT — Former Lenoir-Rhyne head men’s basketball and golf coach William “Billy” Wells died Thursday at his home in Southport after a lengthy illness.
Wells, who was 83, guided the Lenoir-Rhyne men’s basketball team from 1957 to 1965 and compiled a 166-63 record and still holds the highest winning percentage (.752) in Lenoir-Rhyne men’s basketball history.
Two of his teams, in 1957 and 1958, were invited to Kansas City to play in the NAIA championship game. The 1957 trip was LRU’s first trip to Kansas City, and the following year, the Bears’ appeared again. The 1957 team finished with a record of 24-4, and the 1958 team went 24-6. Well’s 1962-63 team finished 26-5.
Wells was inducted into the Lenoir-Rhyne Sports Hall of Fame in 1981, the Catawba County Sports Hall of Fame in 2010 and later into the Western N.C. Sports Hall of Fame.
Lenoir-Rhyne’s Executive Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Neill McGeachy was a point guard for Wells.
“He recruited me in 1961,” McGeachy said. “I signed with the Bears that fall and we’ve stayed in touch without exception. He coached eight years at Lenoir-Rhyne, and I was fortunate enough to be there for four of those. Ironically that was the same eight years that Al McGuire was the head coach at Belmont Abbey so the Carolinas Conference had two of the most colorful coaches in McGuire and Wells.”
Wells was also well known for his 25-point performance while playing basketball at Lenoir-Rhyne when the Bears defeated North Carolina 79-78 in three overtimes on Dec. 7, 1949.
Wells was named to the all-conference team all four seasons with the Bears and finished his career with 1,173 points.
After graduating from college, Wells became the head boys basketball coach at St. Stephens High where he spent five seasons.
Along with his head coaching responsibilities at St. Stephens, Wells assisted Lenoir-Rhyne coach John “Pappy” Hamilton during the 1956-57 season. The Bears lost their first game of the season, then won 24 straight, losing only in the tournament and finished 24-2.
While at St. Stephens, he coached Raeford Wells, who went on to become Lenoir-Rhyne’s first three-time All-American basketball player and still remains the school’s all-time scoring leader with 2,628 points.
“I think the thing that set him aside as a coach was his extraordinary motivation teaching technique and he was a winner,” McGeachy said. “He was a man’s man, and he was an exceptional golfer. He was small in stature, but he was always on a big stage. Billy Wells was an iconic figure in Lenoir-Rhyne athletics history.”
After stepping down as coach in 1965, Wells left Hickory and went into the seafood restaurant business that eventually lead him to the North Carolina coast where he passed away on Thursday.
Wells was born June 10, 1929, in Haywood County, son of the late B.J. Wells and Bonnie Murray Wells. He was preceded in death by three brothers, Jimmy, Ted, and Ned.
Survivors include his wife Evelyn Johnson Wells, of Southport; sons, Dusty Wells, and wife Cissy, of Texas, Randy Wells, of Morganton, Michael Patrick McCabe, of Wilmington, and Daniel Timothy McCabe, of Pennsylvania; daughters, Taffy Rice, and husband, Andy, of Hickory, Shanna Roberson, and husband, Thomas, of Southport, Frances Hannah, Lorie Busic, and husband, Nick, of West Virginia, Karen Stanley, and husband, Stan, of Texas, and Patty McCabe, of Oak Island; sister Bonnie Moone, and husband, Art, of Canton; 18 grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.
No funeral services are planned but a memorial service will be held at a later date.
Send online condolences to www.peacocknewnamwhite.com. Peacock-Newnam & White Funeral and Cremation Service, Southport handled arrangements.