Mark Story

The quirky coaching tree that is giving UK basketball fans another reason to boast

Fast-break points from the Curry brothers’ reunion:

21. Frank Vogel. If media reports are correct, the former University of Kentucky men’s basketball manager (earned a UK letter as manager in 1996) is set to assume one of the most high-profile head coaching jobs in American sports — leading the Los Angeles Lakers.

20. Bill Keightley. Former student managers who worked under Keightley, a men’s basketball equipment manager at the University of Kentucky from 1962 until his death in 2008, continue to leave a substantial mark on basketball as head coaches.

Bill Keightley
Former Kentucky basketball equipment manager Bill Keightley, right, and then-UK Coach Billy Gillispie listened to the national anthem before the Cats played Marquette in the 2008 NCAA Tournament. It was Keightley’s last game on the Wildcats bench before he passed away on March 31, 2008. Lexington Herald-Leader

19. Two NAIA national championships. In March, former UK student manager Chris Briggs (earned UK letters as manager from 2002-04) coached Georgetown College to the NAIA Division I national title for a second time (2013 and 2019).

18. A juco national title. In 2002, ex-UK manager Jeff Kidder (lettered 1989) coached Utah’s Dixie State College to the junior college national championship.

17. Two Boys’ Sweet Sixteen crowns. Donnie Adkins (UK letters in 1973-75) coached Lafayette to the 2001 Kentucky boys’ high school basketball state championship, while Jeff Morrow (1989-92) led Jeffersontown to the 2006 state title.

16. Coaching LeBron. Now Vogel, who led the Indiana Pacers to five NBA playoffs appearances and two trips to the Eastern Conference Finals in six seasons as head coach (2010-11 through 2015-16), will apparently be LeBron James’ head coach next season.

15. The Bill Keightley “coaching tree.” Kentucky’s late, longtime equipment manager has a more significant ”coaching tree” than the head coaches at many high profile schools can boast.

14. Cat-heavy NBA final four. Since all four of the teams still alive in the 2019 NBA playoffs have at least one ex-Kentucky Wildcats player on their roster, who are you going to cheer for?

13. Eric Bledsoe. The ex-UK guard (2009-10) has averaged 16.0 points and 4.3 assists through nine playoff games so far for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Eric Bledsoe.JPG
Former Kentucky guard Eric Bledsoe, with ball, is averaging 16.0 points and 4.3 assists through nine playoff games for the Milwaukee Bucks. Michael Dwyer AP

12. Jodie Meeks. Former Kentucky guard (2006-09) has averaged 1.7 points in 10 playoff games for the Toronto Raptors.

11. DeMarcus Cousins. Ex-Cats big man (2009-10) averaged 5.5 points and 5.5 rebounds through the first two Golden State Warriors’ playoff games before being sidelined by a torn left quadriceps muscle. According to media reports, Cousins could return for the Western Conference Finals.

10. Skal Labissiere. The one-and-done Wildcats big man (2015-16) has appeared in two playoff games for the Portland Trail Blazers and has averaged one point.

9. Enes Kanter. A UK recruit (2010-11) who spent one school year in Lexington after not being cleared for eligibility by the NCAA, Kanter is averaging a double-double (12.9 points, 10.6 rebounds) in 12 playoff games for Portland.

8. Sawyer Smith. The former Troy University quarterback (1,669 yards passing, 14 touchdowns, six interceptions in 2018) announced Monday he is graduate transferring to Kentucky. The 6-foot-3, 219-pound product of Cantonment, Fla., has two seasons of eligibility remaining.

7. The book on Smith. Last season, Smith started the final seven games for Troy (10-3) after an injury sidelined regular QB Kaleb Barker. According to the Dothan Eagle newspaper, Smith was a proficient thrower of the deep ball and a good runner but was not consistently accurate in the intermediate passing game.

6. Mark Perry. Kentucky’s hiring in March of the ex-Lexington Catholic head coach away from Neal Brown at West Virginia to a quality control position working with quarterbacks would seem to have already paid off for Mark Stoops.

Mark Perry
Mark Perry is a former Kentucky Wildcats quarterback and Lexington Catholic High School head coach. Jonathan Palmer

5. Two new QBs. Kentucky’s class of 2020 quarterback commitment Beau Allen played his first two seasons of high school football for Perry at LexCath. A Hal Mumme-era UK quarterback (1997-2000), Perry was director of football operations at Troy last season with Sawyer Smith (see above).

4. Terry Wilson can run. The benefit of Kentucky adding an experienced quarterback to replace the departed Gunnar Hoak is obvious. UK can continue to use the mobility of starting QB Wilson (547 rushing yards in 2018) in the run game with the security that an injury would not leave the Wildcats’ fate in the hands of a QB who has never played in a college game.

3. Daniel Roberts. Only one college men’s hurdler, the iconic Renaldo Nehemiah (13 seconds flat), has ever run a 110-meter hurdles race faster than Kentucky’s junior star did (13.07) in winning at the SEC Outdoor Championships on Saturday.

2. Kentucky women’s track. In spite of losing NCAA individual champions Jasmine Camacho-Quinn, Sydney McLaughlin and Olivia Gruver from last season, the UK women finished third as a team in last weekend’s SEC Championships, one point out of second.

1. Lonnie Greene. With Kentucky’s men also finishing sixth as a team, the initial SEC outdoors meet yielded a strong showing for the first-year UK track and field head coach.

Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.