Bret Bearup, a heralded recruit who proved you could be a memorable Kentucky player without becoming a star, has died. He was 56.
Family became concerned this week when Bearup was not returning calls. His younger brother, Todd, discovered Bearup’s body on Thursday.
“Such a shock, such a shock,” said BethAnn Bearup, who was married to the former UK player for 29 years.
BethAnn Bearup said she did not know the cause of death.
“I pray he passed away in his sleep,” she said.
Bearup, who played for UK from 1980-81 through 1984-85, had been living and working in Denver for Stan Kroenke, a longtime friend and the owner of the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche.
BethAnn said Bearup had lost about 80 pounds in recent months and was feeling good.
“We just talked last week,” she said. “He was saying how blessed he was with good health. Everything was going great for him. He was so happy. I just don’t know. Bless his heart.”
Survivors include three children: A daughter, McKenzie, and sons Alex and Benjamin. Adding to the poignancy, McKenzie’s 25th birthday is Friday.
Bearup, a 6-foot-9, 230-pound forward, came to Kentucky as a highly regarded prospect. As a senior for Harborfields (New York) High School, he averaged 28 points and 17 rebounds.
“He was a terrific prospect,” his coach at UK, Joe B. Hall, recalled. “But he had trouble getting in the flow of the action. But he was a great athlete. One of the best ones I had.”
Bearup’s college career never gained traction. Contracting mononucleosis did not help. Neither did having to compete against Sam Bowie and Melvin Turpin for playing time. Bearup started only two games in his first three seasons.
“The most heartbreaking thing for me was when I realized I wasn’t going to be a first-round draft choice and make 500 grand a year,” Bearup told The New York Times in a 1985 interview.
Bearup made a bigger impact as a senior, in part because the expected center, Gunther Behnke, became homesick and returned to his native Germany.
Bearup averaged 6.3 points as a senior, and finished his UK career with averages of 3.6 points and 2.7 rebounds.
“This year has been worth it all,” Bearup told The New York Times. “To be a starting member of the Kentucky Wildcats team that’s in the (1985) NCAA regionals, to be able to be needed, is very satisfying.”