Mark Story: Catching up with the quietly Unforgettable Feldhaus

One legendary Cat prefers staying out of limelight

mstory@herald-leader.com,Mark StoryDecember 17, 2010 

When the NCAA Tournament fires up again in March, it will have been 19 years — 19 years! — since Christian Laettner's last-second dagger broke the hearts of Kentucky's Unforgettables.

Good grief. Where does the time go?

A 2010 roll call of the beloved senior class from the 1992 Kentucky Wildcats finds three of the four in the news.

Having already notched two state-wide election victories for commissioner of agriculture, Richie Farmer is running for lieutenant governor of Kentucky in 2011.

John Pelphrey has already led two different schools to NCAA Tournament berths as a college head basketball coach and, as head man at Arkansas of the SEC, works in one of the marquee leagues in college sports.

As head coach at Mississippi Valley State, Sean Woods is fighting to establish himself in the college coaching ranks. The ex-Cats point guard will bring his team to Rupp Arena on Saturday night to face his old team.

Then there is Deron Feldhaus.

If not exactly the "forgotten Unforgettable," the former Mason County High School star is certainly the least visible.

"Which is the way I like it," he said Wednesday.

Feldhaus, who turned 42 Thursday, lives in his hometown of Maysville. Along with his father and step-mother, he is the owner of the Kenton Station Golf Course, a nine-hole course in Mason County.

After Feldhaus wrapped up his Kentucky playing career with 1,231 points and played five years of pro ball in Japan, many assumed that coaching would be his destiny.

Basketball coaching, after all, is the Feldhaus family business.

Deron's father, Allen Feldhaus Sr., was the coach who first built Mason County High School into a perennial state power in the 1980s.

Allen Feldhaus Jr., Deron's oldest brother, is the long-time and successful head man at Madison Central. The middle of three Feldhaus brothers, Willie, is head coach at Russell County.

Deron decided to go his own way.

"After UK and Japan, I think by the end he was burnt out on basketball," Allen Jr. says of his brother.

Turns out, Deron loves running a golf course. He likes working outside, enjoys giving lessons to kids in the afternoon and finds it an interesting challenge to maintain the grounds.

"If I had college to do over again, I might have tried to put myself in position for a career in golf-course management," Deron says. "I really like it."

I think all of us would like to think that The Unforgettables — the guys who signed with Eddie Sutton at UK; stuck with the program through scandal and NCAA probation; then helped Rick Pitino launch the modern golden era of Kentucky basketball — have a lifelong bond.

It's not like they talk every day, but Feldhaus says the four always stay in touch.

He and Pelphrey met in Lexington earlier this year to play golf and had dinner at The Merrick Inn.

Though Feldhaus says he hasn't attended a UK basketball game so far this season, he will be in Rupp on Saturday night. "To see Sean," he said of Woods.

As for Farmer, "I run into Richie every so often here in Kentucky," Feldhaus said.

In the UK days, Feldhaus always saw the outgoing Woods as a potential salesman. "I could see him as the chief recruiter at a big school," he said. "His personality, every time he sees my mom, he gives her a big hug. Everybody loves Sean Woods."

Back when they were playing in Rupp Arena, Feldhaus says he definitely had Pelphrey pegged as a future coach.

"Our last year, John was always in Billy Donovan's office looking at film," Feldhaus says of the then-UK assistant. "From back then, I always thought John would be a college coach."

On the other hand, in their days together in the Joe B. Hall Wildcat Lodge, Feldhaus says he did not see Farmer as a future politician.

"No, not really," Feldhaus says. "But with his name recognition and popularity, especially in Eastern Kentucky, it does make sense."

Next spring, Farmer will be running in the GOP primary as the number two man on a slate headed by gubernatorial candidate David Williams, the current state senate majority leader. "Just my opinion," Feldhaus says, "but I wish Richie were running at the top of his own (slate)."

When they do get together, Feldhaus says The Unforgettables do not rehash the end of the Duke game. As we see replayed constantly each March, he and Pelphrey were both defending Laettner on the fateful final play.

"We should've been more aggressive," Feldhaus says. "But the thing in that situation, you couldn't afford to foul. You just couldn't."

Feldhaus and his wife of nine years, Amy, have a 3-year-old boy, Jake William. In basketball-mad Mason County "he's already playing in a basketball league," Feldhaus says. "Where else but Maysville would you have a basketball league for 3-year-olds?"

We've all seen, over and over and over, the TV commercial that The Unforgettables did for the Department of Agriculture's Kentucky Proud program that promotes home-grown farm products.

Why, I have long wondered, do only Farmer and Pelphrey talk during the heart of that commercial?

Feldhaus laughed.

"That was the way Richie wanted it," he said.

Pause.

"But it's the way I wanted it, too," Feldhaus says. "I just don't like the limelight."

Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or mstory@herald-leader.com. Your e-mail could appear on the blog Read Mark Story's E-mail at Kentucky.com.

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