For those of us who grew up with the Joe B. Hall era of Kentucky Wildcats basketball, the years since 2010 have been filled with one unhappy surprise after another.
All five died before reaching age 60.
One can only imagine how trying it has been for Hall to keep getting the news that one former player after another has died.
"It hurts, I'll tell you," Hall said Monday.
He was 49.
He was 59.
He was 49.
He was 55.
His family subsequently said Bret Bearup had suffered a massive heart attack.
He was 56.
"It's shocking, first," Hall, 89, says of how he has processed so many recent deaths from among his former UK players. "Then you start thinking about all those days you spent together, how (the deceased player) fit in with the group, the memories of recruiting them, meeting their families You get emotional."
When Bearup came to Kentucky from Harborfields High School in Greenlawn, N.Y., in 1980, he was one of the most highly touted players in the country. At 6-foot-9, Bearup boasted both a bouncy athleticism and the ability to shoot from distance.
"And his hands," Hall said. "Gosh, he had great hands."
Yet at Kentucky, the sum of Bearup's game never really equaled the individual skills he seemed to possess. He scored only 410 career points at UK from 1980-85 (he redshirted in 1981-82).
To this day, Hall wonders if Bearup's keen intelligence — he was whip smart with an irreverent sense of humor — hampered him as a college basketball player.
"He was one of the brightest kids we ever had. He was brilliant," Hall said. "I think maybe he was so smart, he needed to understand every little thing about everything he did on the basketball court before he did it. For whatever reason, he just had a hard time getting going and just reacting on the court."
Forged in the crucible of high expectations that is Kentucky basketball, the bond between ex-UK teammates and among players and former Cats coaches might be somewhat similar, Hall thinks, to the ties that bind the members of "a (U.S.) Marine Corps unit."
How acutely ex-players feel the loss of a teammate was driven home for him, Hall says, this past February when Kentucky honored its 1978 national title team on the 40-year anniversary of its triumph.
With Phillips' passing, that team's five starters were not together at the reunion.
They will never be together again.
"The other kids (on that team), they really missed Mike at that reunion," Hall says.
Having so often in recent years gotten word of the passing of a former player, Hall could not be blamed if he now cringes at the sound of his ringing phone.
"Next to (losing) your family, (the death of an ex-player) is the worst thing that can happen to you," Hall said.
Mark Story: 859-231-3230; Twitter: @markcstory