Ranking the top 10 teams of the John Calipari era at Kentucky
The reality of death is hitting home for a former University of Kentucky player who made a lasting impact on the program. Reggie Warford, whose example on and off the court was instrumental in UK basketball fully integrating in the 1970s, has suffered from a series of major medical setbacks in the last decade.
Two heart transplants. Kidney failure. And more recently a severely diminished lung capacity that can make speaking difficult. He needs assistance to move around.
Death, he acknowledged, comes to mind at this time.
“Oh, I think about it every day,” Warford said in a telephone conversation this past week. “Every day. Half the time begging for it. And half the time dreading that it’s sneaking up on you.”
Warford, who will be 65 on Sept. 15, said he has been reflecting on his life. Did he do his best? Could he have done more?
These thoughts seemingly prompted a recent dream. As Warford explained the dream, it sounded like a variation on the holiday movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Instead of Jimmy Stewart contemplating a world in which he never existed, Warford dreamed about the times he approached a crossroads in his life. If he had taken the other path, how would that have impacted himself and others? What if he had chosen to pursue a potential girlfriend rather than walk away from what he saw as an impossible long-distance romance?
What if he had taken no for an answer when his future wife, Marisa, initially rejected his advances? Marisa punctuated her no-thanks by showing Warford the engagement ring on her hand. Of eventually marrying Marisa, Warford said with a laugh, “I was a good recruiter.”
Warford saw the dream as an accounting of his life.
“It was about being a nice guy,” he said. “‘Is this enough for you to join us (in heaven)?’ It was a very tough dream because you’re required to be more than a nice guy. You’re required to elevate the lives of people that you have contact with.
“That was my dream. And it set me back.”
His UK basketball contemporaries spoke glowingly of Warford’s ability to impact and elevate. As UK’s second black player (and the first to graduate), he keyed the integration of the program.
“You could see things change, and people accept us as we were because we tried to be good people (and) good citizens,” said Dwane Casey, who came to UK three years after Warford. “Go to class. Do the right things. Reggie kind of set the way.”
Kevin Grevey, who came to UK a year before Warford, said a mix of intelligence, athleticism and friendliness made Warford the “perfect person” to ease the fear of integration.
But as the lone black player on the UK team in 1972-73, it could be a lonely challenge to change people’s minds and hearts.
Merion Haskins, who came to UK the following year, recalled meeting Warford on a recruiting visit. “He looked at me,” Haskins said, “and said, ‘I need you, man.’”
In the recent telephone conversation, Warford chose not to address challenges he faced as a UK player. A world today marked by us-versus-them divisiveness does not need to revisit the challenges he faced almost a half century ago, he said.
“I’m punching my ticket out,” he said, “and I don’t want to contribute to anybody even mistakenly coming to a conclusion about something.”
In comparing the challenge of integrating UK’s program with his current health issues, Warford said there is no comparison. “The hill I had to climb (in the 1970s) ain’t nothing compared to this one,” he said.
Warford fondly recalled the tough love then-UK Coach Joe B. Hall administered. It sustains him even now.
“He made us tough,” Warford said of Hall. “So when life tries to knock you down, you’re not down for the whole count. You know, I get a little wobbly here, a little shaky there.
“But I’m kicking death’s ass.”
Growing up in a church (his father, Roland H. Warford, was a Pentecostal minister) inspired that last comment.
“I don’t know if death is a he or a she,” he said. “It’ll see me, but it won’t be for long. Because I’ll rise again.”
Hurrah for UK
Tony Thomas, who described himself in an email as a “HUGE UK fan,” applauded Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart’s decision not to expand alcohol sales to all fans at Kentucky games. Thomas has seven tickets for UK home games.
“My seven tickets are VERY happy there is NO alcohol,” he wrote.
He explained why. “There are few places parents can take their kids where there is NO alcohol,” he wrote. “Hard to teach them not to drink when everyone around them is getting ‘tipsy.’”
Thomas, a Lexington native who graduated with a degree in architecture in 1988, offered other problems he would have had with expanded alcohol sales.
“Upper arena is bad enough with spilled Cokes,” he wrote. “Spilled beer and alcohol smells awful. I know, because I used to go to concerts AND clean Rupp Arena after concerts.
“Also, people already fall down the bench seats without alcohol (one recently died). Alcohol would just make it worse.”
Thomas acknowledged that alcohol is and has been a part of Kentucky football. “Those are probably the people behind me that slur out ‘expletives’ the entire game and make me want to leave,” he wrote.
In case you missed it, SI.com recently revisited the 2012 NBA Draft. More precisely, the website did an if-we-knew-then-what-we-know-now re-drafting.
Now, as then, UK’s Anthony Davis would be the first overall pick. SI.com’s Harris Ahmadzai wrote that Davis is essentially a 6-foot-10 guard who “can do virtually everything on the basketball court.”
UK’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the second overall pick in 2012, slipped to No. 10 in the upon-reflection draft. MKG “has size, intelligence and athleticism to stick with the league’s top scorers,” Ahmadzai wrote in saluting Kidd-Gilchrist’s defensive ability. “And could blossom into an all-NBA talent if he ever becomes a 15-18 point per game scorer.”
And Terrence Jones, whose veteran presence contributed to UK’s 2012 national championship, slipped from 18th to 27th. He split last season between stints with the Houston Rockets, the team’s G League affiliate and a team in the Philippine Basketball Association.
Kentucky was ranked No. 186 — No. 186?! — in the 2019 NCSA Power Rankings’ Best Division I Basketball Programs in the U.S. for Student-Athletes. Next College Student Athlete (NCSA) released its rankings early last week.
Of course, No. 186 does not jibe with the Big Blue Nation’s perception of UK basketball as the Harlem Globetrotters and all the other programs as the Washington Generals.
But the NCSA’s rankings are not based on athletics performance. NCSA is a recruiting network that tries to help athletes find the best school to play their sport and attend college.
The NCSA rankings include a nod to Kentucky basketball’s exceptionalism. UK’s program ranked fourth in popularity among basketball players using NCSA. That’s one metric used in NCSA power rankings analysis. Some 3,796 athletes listed Kentucky men’s basketball as a favorite.
Only Duke (6,454), UCLA (3,931) and Arizona State (3,821) had more athletes naming them as a favorite destination.
According to NCSA calculations, UK basketball’s overall power ranking suffered because of low ratings for other metrics including graduation rate (No. 452) and US News and World Report academic rating (No. 795). The latter two rankings include all schools and all divisions.
Former Tennessee player Admiral Donovhan Schofield majored in African Studies. He was born in the Westminster area of London at the same hospital (St. Mary’s) where Princess Diana gave birth to Princes William and Harry.
As he played a piano recently, ex-Cat Reggie Warford thought about getting another chance to play at a church service.
What song would he play?
“Falling in Love With Jesus,” he said.
Warford said the congregation might find his styling interesting.
“I played those songs like Mahalia Jackson,” he said of the entertainer known as the Queen of Gospel. “So they’re a little more upbeat than they are in the Methodist hymnal.”
To UK president Eli Capilouto. He turned 70 on Thursday. … To Todd Tackett. He turned 40 on Thursday. … To former Mississippi State coach Richard Williams. He turned 74 on Thursday. … To PJ Washington. Paul Jermaine turned 21 on Friday. … To Richie Farmer. He turns 50 on Sunday (today). … To UK Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart. He turns 60 on Tuesday.