Former BYU Cougar, longtime prep basketball coach Jim Jimas dies at 74

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) Brighton High School's head coach Jim Jimas during a game in March, 2000.

After playing for some of the most legendary basketball coaches in state history at Bingham High School and BYU, Jim Jimas became one himself, guiding Hillcrest and Brighton high schools to state championships over a 22-year head coaching career.

Jimas, forever a Cougar hoops hero after making one of the most memorable plays in program history to secure a victory in the NIT championship game over Army, died early Tuesday morning at his home in Salt Lake City.

He was 74.

One of Jimas’ former players at Hillcrest, Marty Haws, said the boyish-looking coach laid the groundwork for most of what he accomplished at BYU.

“Coach Jimas certainly played a big part in my basketball development,” said Haws, father of recent BYU players Tyler and TJ Haws. “Coach is someone that always believed in me and made me think I was a better player than I actually was as a teenager. I carried that belief with me through my whole basketball life.”

Brighton assistant coach Ben Matheson, who played for Jimas’ Brighton teams in the mid-90s and remained close to his family, said the longtime coach passed away peacefully in his sleep after having seen his health decline rapidly the past few months.

“Coach Jimas obviously had a huge impact on my life,” Matheson said. “He was a fierce competitor, but as a player you always knew that he cared about you individually. Winning was important to him, but he also really cared about every guy on his team. He loved all of us, and you could really feel that in the way he coached.”

Jimas grew up in Copperton and played for coach Udell Wankier at Bingham, where he led Class A in scoring his junior and senior seasons.

He played for coach Stan Watts at BYU from 1964-67 and teamed with Craig Raymond, Gary Hill, Neil Roberts, Dick Nemelka, Ken James, Jim Eakins, Steve Kramer, Bill Ruffner, Randy Schouten and others to form some of the best teams in school history. They won the Western Athletic Conference championship in 1964-65, the NIT championship in 1966 and were WAC co-champs in 1966-67.

During that final NIT game in New York City in 1966, Jimas made a late steal and basket at Madison Square Garden to help the Cougars upset Bobby Knight-coached Army for the championship.

In 14 years as Hillcrest’s coach, where he was tutored early in his career by Art Hughes, Jimas compiled a 208-99 record and guided the Huskies to the 4A state championship in 1980. They also had three second-place finishes.

Jimas was out of coaching for four years, then took over at rival Brighton in 1992 and coached the Bengals for eight years.

His Brighton teams posted a 126-60 overall record, won the 5A state title in 1996 and finished second twice. He coached more than 30 all-state players at the Salt Lake Valley schools, and two first-team All-Americans — Haws (1984) at Hillcrest and Garner Meads (2000) at Brighton.

“I will miss coach,” Marty Haws said. “My thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time.”

Last year, Jimas was honored before a Brighton-Hillcrest game and the name of the matchup was changed from the “Battle of the Jug” to the “Battle of the Jimas Jug” because he coached at both schools.

Matheson said in 1995 a Jimas-coached Brighton team was ranked highly the entire season, but was upset by Highland in overtime in the state tournament. Jimas inspired his team to win the consolation bracket that year after the loss, and it paved the way for them to win it all in 1996.

“He has been very supportive of every coach at Brighton that has followed him in every way possible,” Matheson said.

Funeral services are pending.