Kentucky native Ceal Barry's career in athletics has taken her from the hallowed floor of Rupp Arena to the high-stakes world of coaching and the behind-the-scenes grind of administration. Now, it's taking her to a spot among basketball's all-time legends.
Barry is one of seven honorees who will be inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville on Saturday. Also being inducted is former University of Tennessee assistant and University of Kentucky head coach Mickie DeMoss.
Barry was part of this year's NCAA Tournament selection committee and helped coordinate the Lexington Regional in Rupp Arena in March. Speaking with the Herald-Leader at halftime of Louisville's Sweet Sixteen win over Stanford, she said she was humbled by her Hall of Fame selection.
"I had an idea that it was going to happen for the last six months but you never want to get your hopes up until they vote," Barry said. "But in late February they called me at my office and told me and I was so thrilled about it."
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Barry, 63, grew up in Louisville and graduated from Assumption High School before enrolling at the University of Kentucky in 1973. She was the first woman to receive a basketball scholarship at UK and was a four-year letter winner, playing three seasons under Sue Feamster and one for Debbie Yow.
UK's biggest win during Barry's stint on the team was an upset of No. 2 Tennessee Tech in Memorial Coliseum her senior year. But one of her most cherished memories as a Wildcat was a loss.
Rupp Arena opened in November of 1976. In its inaugural season, the UK women got to play in the venue that would quickly become legendary. The Wildcats lost to Northern Kentucky, but the final score wasn't as important to Barry as the significance of the moment.
"That was a really amazing thing to be a part of," she said.
After graduating Barry chose to pursue a coaching career even though she excelled in her business and accounting classes at UK. That turned out to be a wise decision.
Barry spent two years as a graduate assistant at the University of Cincinnati before becoming head coach of the Bearcats for four years. That led up to a jump to the school and the city she calls home to this day.
Barry spent 22 seasons as head coach at Colorado. By the time she retired in 2005, she'd amassed a career record of 510-284. Barry's teams made 12 NCAA Tournament appearances including six Sweet Sixteens and three Elite Eights. She was named Big Eight Coach of the Year four times and was the U.S. Basketball Writers Association's National Coach of the Year in 1994.
After retiring from coaching Barry accepted a job as associate athletics director for student services and senior woman's administrator at Colorado. In 2014 she became senior associate athletics director for internal relations, a position she still holds.
She said her favorite part of working in administration is that she gets to help implement a "forward-thinking vision for women's sports."
"I really get to have an impact on the girls who join our programs and help assure they have a great opportunity to have championship experiences, and that's very rewarding," Barry said.
Barry has lived in Boulder since joining the Buffaloes' program. What's her favorite thing about her adopted city at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains?
"There's not a lot of humidity and the sun shines 300 days a year," she said with a laugh. "It's a great place to live."
Despite its well documented schizophrenic weather, Barry sill has lots of love for her native home. She returns to Kentucky several times a year to visit her 93-year-old mother, Adele, who still lives in Louisville, the city where Ceal Barry's basketball journey began.
Back then Barry never imagined that journey would lead her to the Hall of Fame.
"It's been such a great ride," she said. "I've had a really long and really fulfilling career in basketball and this is such an honor. Anytime you're recognized nationally by your peers it's incredibly humbling."