Six University of Kentucky greats will be inducted into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame in late September. The 2013 class includes former UK student-athletes and coaches Oliver Barnett (football), Rex Chapman (men’s basketball), Leslie Nichols (women’s basketball), Orlando “Tubby” Smith (men’s basketball), Press Whelan (track/cross country) and Jesse Witten (men’s tennis).
The class will be inducted during Hall of Fame Weekend, Sept. 27 and 28, in conjunction with the football game against the University of Florida.
Oliver Barnett (1986-89) capped his career as UK’s all-time leader in quarterback sacks. He earned third-team All-America and first team All-Southeastern Conference distinction as a senior. Barnett registered 271 career tackles and 26 quarterback take-downs as a defensive lineman. In addition to his tackling prowess, Barnett notched 12 forced fumbles and 43 career tackles for loss.
As a junior, he was named to the National Strength Coaches Association All-America Team for his on-field performance and excellence in strength training. Furthermore, he was tabbed All-America honorable mention and second-team All-SEC as a junior. His 850-pound squat lift is still the record at UK. Following his collegiate career, Barnett suited up for the Blue-Gray and Senior Bowl all-star games before beginning a six-year stint in the NFL. His professional highlights include a trip to the 1994 Super Bowl as a member of the Buffalo Bills.
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Rex Chapman (1987-88) is one of the most successful players in program history. In just two seasons in the Blue and White, he poured in 1,073 career points. He was a two-time All-SEC first team selection, while also garnering National Association of Basketball Coaches third-team All-America honors following his sophomore season.
Chapman claimed Most Valuable Player accolades at the 1988 SEC Tournament, while also excelling in the classroom and being named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll. After concluding two successful seasons as a Wildcat, Chapman was selected eighth overall in the 1988 NBA draft by the Charlotte Hornets. He had a 12-year career in the NBA before becoming an NBA scout and executive.
Leslie Nichols (1983-86) remains one of UK’s greatest performers on the hardwood. She was a three-time All-SEC honoree by the league’s coaches en route to a career record of 72-41 and a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances during her tenure. She still ranks fourth all-time in UK’s career scoring chart with 1,797 career points good for an average of 18.2 per game.
A four-year starter at forward, Nichols remains the only player in program history to log a triple-double. She totaled 18 points, 13 rebounds and 11 steals against Louisville in 1986. Furthermore, she ranks second all-time at UK in double-doubles (35), fourth in steals (278), fourth in career rebounds (877) and fifth in blocks (102).
Orlando “Tubby” Smith (1998-2007) coached the Wildcats to the program’s seventh national championship in his inaugural season. At the time, the 35 victories during the 1997-98 title run were tied for the second most in a season in program history. Smith was a three-time National Coach of the Year (1998, 2003, 2005), as well as a three-time SEC Coach of the Year selection.
During his term, the Cats claimed five regular-season SEC championships and five SEC Tournament crowns. In NCAA Tournament play, Smith finished his career at UK with the sixth-best winning percentage (.690) among active coaches with a sterling 29-13 record, including 23-9 while with the Wildcats.
In addition to the national title, he guided UK to three additional Elite Eight appearances. In SEC Tournament action, he owned a 20-5 mark in winning five of the events. Smith coached UK to 22 or more victories in all 10 seasons at the helm. Press Whelan (1957-61, 1967-73) starred as a national champion and All-American as an athlete before returning as UK’s head coach. As an athlete, Whelan won a national title in the two-man 10-mile relay. He set a record time while winning the 1957 SEC cross country championship and also captured the SEC track title twice in the two-mile run.
His stellar performances led the Cats to SEC cross country championships in 1958 and 1959. He then was an assistant coach in 1961. He was named the cross country/track and field head coach in 1967 and held the post until 1973.
Whelan guided the cross country squad to an SEC title in 1970. His athletes won four individual national titles and 33 conference crowns. Whelan played a role in the integration of the SEC as he coached the league’s first black track athlete, Jim Green.
After his collegiate coaching career, he worked for the U.S. State Department, coaching foreign track teams in Turkey and Lebanon. Over the years, he has continued to run, competing in three Senior Olympics and one national senior indoor championship. Jesse Witten (2002-05) capped his career as the most decorated men’s tennis player in program history. When he graduated, Witten was the only four-time men’s singles All-American in NCAA history. He earned five All-America honors during his career, four of which came as an individual and one as a doubles player.
Witten was a four-time All-SEC selection and the 2005 SEC Player of the Year after claiming 43 singles victories. He advanced to two Grand Slam finals (2004 ITA National Indoor Singles Final and 2002 NCAA Singles Championship) as a Wildcat, and he remains the only UK player in school history to achieve the feat.
His career got off to a blazing start as he hauled in SEC Freshman of the Year accolades after helping the Wildcats to a 23-10 mark and eighth-place finish at the NCAA Championships in 2002. As a professional player, he qualified for several Grand Slams including the US and French Opens.
The UK Athletics Hall of Fame was started in 2005 to recognize and honor those whose participation and contributions enriched and strengthened the university’s athletic program. A committee consisting of Hall of Famers, media members, campus representatives and current coaches and administrators elects new inductees annually.