Call it a dream come true for Michael Hicks.
Well, sort of.
As a young boy, the Smyrna native dreamt of playing basketball. However, in his wildest imagination, he could have never envisioned he would do so in a three-on-three Olympic competition, much less representing Poland.
However, Hicks is one of two Rutherford County natives — read about Alex Young here— competing at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. The Smyrna High alum has played professionally in Poland since 2008 and received dual citizenship after marrying his wife, Dagna, in 2016. Two years later, Hicks became eligible to represent Poland in international competitions.
The athletic 6-foot-4 shooting guard is tailor-made to excel at 3x3 Basketball, which is among the newest Olympic sports. His well-earned nickname happens to be “Money in the Bank” for his prolific scoring ability and the half-court format suits the 38-year-old.
“With two less defenders out there, Michael, one on three is a mismatch for the defense,” said Billy Mooney, Hicks’ high school basketball coach when he played for the Bulldogs. “That man can score on just about anybody, and you put three on him, and it still doesn’t bother him. He’s an incredible talent and still playing at a high level.”
Hicks and his father, George Miller, are arguably the two best players to have ever suited up for the Smyrna Bulldogs.
Miller remains the all-time leading scorer in school history and was in the first class of inductees into the Smyrna High School Athletic Hall of Fame. Hicks will join him in the hall on Oct. 23.
“For Michael to go in, it’s going to be awesome,” Mooney said. “He is flat out, hands down the best player I ever coached.”
Mooney, who coached the varsity boys’ basketball team at Smyrna from 1993 to 2008, was hoping Hicks would be included in this year’s induction.
It made Mooney’s day to hear Hicks was in fact being inducted.
“Besides his dad,” Mooney continued, “Michael is the best player to walk those halls.”
Hicks graduated from Smyrna in 2002 and went on to play collegiately at the University of Central Missouri.
At UCM, he was an all-American selection following the 2005-06 season, a two-time first team All-Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association selection, twice named to the MIAA all-tournament team and named the MVP at the conclusion of the 2004-05 tournament when he led the Mules to the first tourney title since 1983-84.
Hicks holds the single-season record for the most three-pointers (116), second in career threes (191 in just two seasons) and among the all-time leading scorers in school history (1,210 points). Had he played more than two years at UCM, Hicks would have held every scoring record in school and, perhaps, conference history.
He was inducted into the UCM Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012.
“In 31 years of coaching, he’s by far the most talented player I’ve ever coached,” said Mooney, who later added, “To have a player play in the Olympics is extremely cool and, for an old, retired coach, to be able to still brag all these years after, you know, it was just a tribute to him and the effort.”
After his second year at UCM, Hicks was offered an undrafted, free agent tryout with the Boston Celtics—a team that ultimately won the 2008 NBA title with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.
Hicks did not make the team and ultimately played professionally in Turkey, France and Poland.
He helped Polpharma Starogard Gdanski of the Polish Basketball League win the Polish Cup and Polish Super Cup in 2011. Last year, he played with Starogard Gdanski, where he shares a home with his wife, their son Michael Jr. and daughter Maliya.
Unfortunately, in 2017, his mother was killed in a car accident while he on a 3x3 world tour was in Prague, Czech Republic.
In 2018, Hicks won the FIBA 3x3 Europe Cup 3-point contest. A year later, in 2019, he helped to lead Poland to a bronze medal at the FIBA World Cup in Amsterdam. Hicks was the leading scorer of the tournament and a first team all-tournament selection before becoming an Olympic qualifier in 2020.
Those games were postponed to 2021.
“He’s a legend over there,” Mooney said. “Just a magnetic personality. Kids are drawn to him. He’s just such a booming personality on and off the court.”
A fan favorite in Starogard, every off-season Hicks holds basketball training classes for kids in a village near his home and is involved in various projects promoting basketball among children in Poland. As a matter of fact, the most recent time Mooney saw Hicks, he was volunteering at MTSU as a basketball referee.
“I’m so thankful and grateful for everything I have accomplished right now,” Hicks shared via his Instagram before traveling to Tokyo. “The journey was so hard, so many people (doubted) me or tried to put my name in the dirt these past years, but when the rain is finished, it’s always sunshine and I never gave up or let anyone tell me I couldn’t do what I love.”
He continued, “I made my own way. I love the best sport in the world and creating so many opportunities for me, I will forever be grateful.”
“He was born to be a basketball player,” Mooney said. “He’ll be a basketball player as long as he lives.”
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT, Rutherford County Schools