Kentucky-UTEP possible in 2016 for 50th anniversary of 1966 title game

jtipton@herald-leader.comOctober 23, 2013 

March 19, 1966. Kentucky's Larry Conley (40) is hemmed in by three Texas Western players as he tried to move the ball in the first half of the NCAA championship game last night. From left are Willie Worsley, Orsten Artis (23) and Harry Flourney (44). Pat Riley of Kentucky moves into the play at the right. Texas Western vs. Kentucky 72-65 (Texas Western won the game) x.637 E Envelope 2 Lexington Herald-Leader Photo Archive, Lexington, Ky. Photo published in the Sunday Lexington Herald-Leader on March 20, 1966. This photo was published as an Associated Press Photo, but the photo belongs to our Photo Archive.

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When Kentucky Coach John Calipari sought feedback on the idea of marking the 50th anniversary of the historic 1966 national championship game, Larry Conley offered some advice.

"You better hurry up," Conley said. "We're all going to be dead."

Mortality rates aside, UK and UTEP (then known as Texas Western) are working on scheduling such a game. UTEP Coach Tim Floyd told a tip-off luncheon crowd Wednesday that the schools are exploring playing on Martin Luther King Day, 2016, in Maryland's Cole Field House, the site of the 1966 game.

Conley said last week that he had been asked by Calipari what he thought of UK and UTEP playing such a game.

"It's fine," said Conley, who continues to be struck by the original game's long-lasting impact on college basketball. With an all-black lineup, Texas Western beat all-white Kentucky to not only win the national championship but also shatter racial stereotypes. Until then, it was believed that any team needed at least one contributing white player to win a championship.

That thinking, utterly ridiculous today, was accepted as conventional wisdom a half-century ago. Conley noted how that span of time might make basketball in 1966 seem like ancient history.

"It was 50 years ago," said Conley, who had 10 points and eight rebounds for UK in the 1966 game. "Think about that. Somebody 18 years old then, they'd be 68. I just don't think there are a lot of people around who will know what it was all about. For those people old enough to remember, it'll be something of interest. That probably represents about 5 percent of fans."

Conley, who will turn 70 on Jan. 22, acknowledged the game's impact. He said he'd probably discussed the game with 100 media people over the years. For the UK players, it was a championship basketball game, he said. Only four or five years later did he fully appreciate the civil rights component.

"It took on a life of its own," Conley said. "It took on a different meaning."

UK spokesman John Hayden said Calipari would not have a comment on a possible game against UTEP to mark the anniversary. Kentucky has not played a non-conference game after the beginning of Southeastern Conference play in Calipari's five seasons as coach.

Cole Field House is the only on-campus arena to play host to more than one Final Four. UCLA beat Jacksonville there to win the 1970 national championship.

Maryland played its last game in Cole Field House on March 3, 2002. The Terps' first game in the building was on Dec. 2, 1955. Both games were victories over Virginia.

Since the men's basketball team moved out, Maryland has used Cole for classrooms and intramural sports. The school staged its "Maryland Madness" in Cole last Friday.

Conley noted how a starter for each team had passed away: UK's Tommy Kron in 2007, UTEP's Bobby Joe Hill in 2002.

As time passed, the players on both teams moved on with their lives. Whatever the game's historic significance, the players turned to what Shakespeare called the "petty pace" of living.

"My life didn't end at age 22 in College Park, Md.," Conley said. "Other things happened to me that were far more important. My children and my grandchildren.

"Would I like to have that game? You bet your ass I would."

UK guard Young hurt

Freshman guard James Young sprained his left shoulder during practice Tuesday and is listed as day-to-day, UK said Wednesday.

The left-handed Young, one of Kentucky's six freshman McDonald's All-Americans, has been touted as one of the team's three-point shooting threats this season.

Young joins sophomores Willie Cauley-Stein (stitches in hand) and Alex Poythress (hamstring) as players who have faced injuries early in UK's camp.

Kentucky makes its next public appearance Tuesday night with the annual Blue-White Scrimmage in Rupp Arena.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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