When Walter McCarty takes the stage at the Lexington Opera House on Sunday night, he will be pursuing new glory just two blocks from the main stage for some of his old glory days.
In the mid-1990s, McCarty was a star forward for the University of Kentucky men's basketball team, including the squad that won the 1996 national championship. But even as he was draining threes for the Cats, McCarty had his eyes on a music career.
"I have always been into music and always been able to do shows, even when I was in the NBA," says McCarty, who played in the pros for 10 years, including a few seasons under his former UK coach, Rick Pitino, with the Boston Celtics. "People always say you have to choose one, and I never believed that. I always thought you could do both. ... Being a professional athlete, when it's time to walk away from basketball or time to get away from basketball, I have this other outlet where I can go to music and it will keep me busy and I can have fun at the same time."
Now that McCarty, 37, is away from basketball — his last post was as an assistant with his home-state Indiana Pacers — he's trying to elevate his musical game with Emotionally, an album of mostly slow-jam songs that reflect his own musical passions as a fan of Michael Jackson, Brian McKnight and Boyz II Men.
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Like many chart-toppers, McCarty says his love of music began in church in his hometown, Evansville, Ind.
"My great-great-aunt had us growing up singing in the choir," he says. "We did church services in the afternoon where we would go visit other churches, and myself and my sisters and cousins would all sing songs together as a small youth group."
In high school, McCarty says, his favorite teacher was his music teacher, and his second favorite was his basketball coach. "They had a good relationship and understood that I had a passion for both," he says.
He tried to carry that duality into his UK career, initially enrolling in the College of Fine Arts. But it soon became obvious, he says, that the demands of concerts and recitals would not mesh well with the demands of an elite college basketball program. Still, McCarty says, it was known on campus that he was a musician, and he even sang the national anthem a few times before games.
"A lot of the Greeks (sororities and fraternities) would ask me to perform at whatever events they were having, and I was always performing on campus, so everyone on campus knew that I was a musician," McCarty says.
Being in the NBA helped him meet some of the biggest chart-toppers and writers of the past few decades.
"Every place I've been has been because of basketball," McCarty. "Harvey Mason Jr., who's the biggest R&B producer, is a big basketball fan — I think he played on scholarship for the University of Arizona. I remember when I was out playing for the (Los Angeles) Clippers, I had injured my hand, and I walked to the gym where we practiced, and Harvey Mason Jr. and Justin Timberlake were at our practice."
That led to working in the studio with Mason. "I met all types of people who were big time in the music business," McCarty says. "If it wasn't for basketball, I wouldn't have had that opportunity."
Now, McCarty has the opportunity to focus on music and trying to get his album, which he self-produced and played most of the instruments on, to a wider audience.
"It was a great experience, it was a risk-taking experience because I didn't know how it would sound being my first project that I produced myself," McCarty says.
"I wrote plenty of songs and played, but I never put it on CD to listen to," he says. He recorded a 2003 album, mostly as a personal project, although it is commercially available.
"I'm pretty proud of it," McCarty says of Emotionally. "I think that it's pretty good music."