UK Men's Basketball

UK great Rex Chapman joins Tubby Smith in Cats' next Hall of Fame class

Former UK great Rex Chapman said some fans had a "chilly" reaction when he entered the NBA Draft after his sophomore season.
Former UK great Rex Chapman said some fans had a "chilly" reaction when he entered the NBA Draft after his sophomore season.

The perspective time provides weighed on Rex Chapman's mind when he learned that he would be among this year's inductees in the University of Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame.

When he departed UK after his sophomore season to enter the 1988 NBA Draft, such a move was unheard of. Freshmen and sophomores (and, sometimes, juniors) waited their turn for center stage. So Chapman's decision to leave voluntarily and prematurely caused an immediate reaction.

"Chilly, to say the least," Chapman recalled Monday. "People were upset. I still run into people not a little put out, but upset."

Now, of course, UK basketball is synonymous with freshmen entering the NBA as so-called one-and-done players.

"I'd be a veteran," Chapman said of his two-season UK career. "Maybe now I'm off probation."

To put it delicately, this year's Hall of Fame class has another example of welcoming back a former hero who departed under untidy circumstances. Tubby Smith, who guided UK to its 1998 national championship and three other Elite Eight appearances in 10 seasons as coach, is in the class. He left chilly Kentucky for a warm welcome as Minnesota coach in 2007.

Other members of this year's UK Hall of Fame class are football lineman Oliver Barnett, women's basketball player Leslie Nichols, track athlete and later coach Press Whelan and tennis star Jessie Witten.

The class will be formally inducted the weekend of Sept. 27-28, which will also include a football game against Florida.

After starring for Apollo High in Owensboro, Chapman arrived at UK in 1986 as one of the most celebrated recruits in the program's history. The Latin derivative of his name made the title "King Rex" inevitable as well as fitting. In 1986-87, he became the first freshman to lead the Wildcats in scoring (16.0 ppg) since the abberant World War II seasons of 1944-45 (Alex Groza) and 1943-44 (Bob Brannum). No other freshmen would lead UK in scoring until John Calipari and John Wall arrived in 2009 as coach and star point guard, respectively. Since then, a freshman has led UK in scoring every year, with each then entering that year's NBA Draft: Brandon Knight, Anthony Davis and then Archie Goodwin.

One other factor contributed to Chapman's decision to leave after two seasons. "We all knew there was impending doom coming," he said of sanctions imposed by the NCAA in 1989.

"I want to thank my coaches and teammates — from Ed (Davender) to Rob (Lock), 'Ced' (Cedric Jenkins), Paul (Andrews), Winston (Bennett), James (Blackmon), Reggie (Hanson) — as well as my homeboy Cliff Hagan," Chapman wrote in a followup text message. "All were instrumental to anything I was able to accomplish while at UK."

Chapman acknowledged surprise when former UK All-American Kenny Walker called to tell him of his inclusion in this year's class.

"I didn't know there was such a thing," he said of the UK Hall of Fame. "If I knew, I'd probably felt a little left out."

Within a few days, Chapman got on his computer and discovered that UK began its Athletics Hall of Fame in 2005.

The player who blazed a trail in the 1988 NBA Draft might be doing the same with the UK Athletic Hall of Fame. There's no reason to believe the UK Hall of Fame won't soon include many other basketball stars who briefly blazed across the sky and then disappeared. Now, it's accepted as the price to pay for doing basketball business. In retrospect, Chapman did what anyone (everyone?) would do.

"I guess I'm just riding the coattails of these one-and-doners," he said. "They're going to start inducting these guys soon, as well they should. Times have certainly changed."