Hoops Homecoming for New Holy Cross High School Coach

Billy Turnage has returned to his high school alma mater, Holy Cross H.S., to take over as boys’ varsity basketball coach. (Photo: Courtesy of Billy Turnage)
Billy Turnage has returned to his high school alma mater, Holy Cross H.S., to take over as boys’ varsity basketball coach. (Photo: Courtesy of Billy Turnage)

Billy Turnage is heading back to Queens.

After spending the past 17 years as the head varsity boys’ basketball coach at Wings Academy, the Bronx, the St. Albans native has returned to his home borough to take over in the same role at Holy Cross H.S., Flushing.

After playing Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) basketball at St. Paschal Baylon, St. Albans, Turnage spent three years playing point guard at Holy Cross from 1989-1992. He graduated from Andrew Jackson H.S. and then went on to Stony Brook University and York College to complete his playing career.

As a senior at York, he tore his ACL — forcing him to miss significant time. Chuck Vance, the CYO parish athletic representative at St. Paschal’s, convinced him to coach an eighth-grade team as he rehabbed his injury.

Turnage loved coaching so much that he turned it into his career. He will remain a physical education teacher at Wings Academy as he coaches the varsity Knights.

He brings with him an impressive hoops resume. He led his teams to 12 Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL) Bronx ‘AA’ championships, 11 appearances in the NYC PSAL finals, and the 2015 NYC and New York State Federation championship titles.

For a nine-year streak under Turnage’s tutelage, Wings did not lose a regular season PSAL league game, which amounts to a 119-0 record during that span. The team finished as high as No. 15 in USA Today’s national rankings during the 2015 season. He was also named the Daily News Coach of the Year in 2010.

Even more importantly, Turnage’s student-athletes achieved a 95 percent college acceptance rate, as he emphasized the point that they are students first and athletes second.

Before arriving at Wings, Turnage was an assistant varsity coach at St. Mary’s H.S., Manhasset, L.I. He eventually became the head freshman and junior varsity coach there while remaining a varsity assistant.

He then coached for two years as a varsity assistant at Holy Cross before accepting the Wings job prior to the 2006-2007 season. Throughout each stop, his philosophy has remained the same.

“I want to bring an exciting brand of basketball,” Turnage said. “An up-tempo offense coupled with changing up the defense to keep opposing teams off balance.”

Having played and coached in the local CHSAA, Turnage knows the competitive nature of this league. Holy Cross is coming off a 6-21 season (2-15 in league play), so Turnage first hopes to re-establish the culture of what has historically been a top-notch program.

Playing the likes of Christ the King H.S., Middle Village; Archbishop Molloy H.S., Briarwood; Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge; St. Francis Prep, Fresh Meadows; and Bishop Loughlin H.S., Fort Greene, every night in the Brooklyn/Queens ‘AA’ division presents a challenge — one in which Turnage and his staff will be prepared.

“A challenge like that, it forces the coach- ing staff to be consistent as well as the players,” he said. “I believe that in any game or situation in life, your best comes out when you’re consistent with your approach.

“The fact that there are no easy nights in the Catholic League forces you to be on top of your game every night as a coach as well as a player. I feel like that brings out the best in everybody.”

Turnage understands that reigniting the Knights’ program will be a long-term goal. He plans to institute the values of discipline, mentality, and approach to his student-athletes, which will benefit them both on and off the court.

“I want to re-establish the program so that it’s relevant within the city,” Turnage said. “I think Holy Cross is a great situation to be in. I want to bring back the tradition that Holy Cross has.

“Maybe not winning the city title every year but definitely being mentioned as one of those teams that are in the running to compete for the city championship every year. That’s my goal.”

Turnage will not wait until the start of the season for this full-circle moment to commence. This summer, he will focus on teach- ing his philosophy to his players and getting them up to speed with his terminology.

“I want my team to expect to win every game,” he said. “We’re not going to win every game, but part of it is going into every game expecting you’re going to win it.”

This winning mentality and spirit are exactly what the Holy Cross Knights need in their new commander.

Contact Jim Mancari via email at