Mark Story

Ex-UK basketball star headlines 2019 Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame class

SEC’s first black football player sees progress in race relations

On the 50th anniversary of becoming the first black football player to play in the Southeastern Conference, Kentucky's Nate Northington is asked about racial progress and the current NFL protests.
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On the 50th anniversary of becoming the first black football player to play in the Southeastern Conference, Kentucky's Nate Northington is asked about racial progress and the current NFL protests.

Former Kentucky Wildcats basketball star Derek Anderson, UK football barrier breaker Nate Northington, and ex-Wildcats radio announcer Ralph Hacker headline a 2019 class of six inductees into the Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame.

Also chosen for enshrinement are former Louisville Cardinals football star and Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch, longtime Kentucky State University coach and administrator William Exum, and Willis Augustus Lee, a seven-time medal winner at the 1920 Olympics as a shooter.

The Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame Banquet and induction ceremony will be held Aug. 19 at the Galt House Hotel in downtown Louisville. For ticket information, call (502) 587-6742.

Founded in 1963, the Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame has been owned and operated for the past two years by the Louisville Sports Commission. A selection committee that included 16 media members from around Kentucky as well as a separate “bygone era committee” selected this year’s inductees.

In alphabetical order, here is a closer look at the class of 2019:

Derek Anderson: A high school star at Doss in Louisville, Anderson, now, 44, played his first two college seasons at Ohio State but transferred to the University of Kentucky in 1994. After sitting out a season, Anderson became the starting small forward (9.4 points a game) on Rick Pitino’s 1996 NCAA title team. The following season, Anderson became a UK star and was averaging 18.7 points a game when his season was cut short in January by a knee injury. A first-round draft pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1997, Anderson played 11 years in the NBA (12 ppg and 3.4 assists career averages) and was a member of the Miami Heat’s 2006 NBA championship team.

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Former Kentucky star Derek Anderson, right, was honored in 2013 at Rupp Arena along with other members of UK's 1995-96 NCAA championship team. Mark Cornelison Lexington Herald-Leader

Deion Branch: An all-conference receiver for Louisville in 2000 and 2001, Branch, now 39, played 11 seasons in the NFL for the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks. Branch was named Super Bowl XXXIX MVP after catching 11 passes for 133 yards in New England’s 24-21 win over Philadelphia. Branch played in 140 career NFL games and had 518 receptions for 6,644 yards with 39 touchdown receptions.

Deion Branch
Former Louisville Cardinals star Deion Branch, right, went on to become an NFL standout with the New England Patriots. EFE

William Exum: The first black football player at the University of Wisconsin, Exum enjoyed a long career as a coach and athletics director (1949-1977) at Kentucky State University. In 1964, Exum coached KSU to the Division II men’s cross country national championship. Exum was head manager of the 1972 and 1976 USA Men’s Olympic Track and Field Teams. Exum died in 1988.

Ralph Hacker: For almost three decades, Hacker worked on the University of Kentucky football and men’s basketball radio broadcasts as both an analyst and play-by-play announcer. Prior to his work calling UK games, Hacker had also done radio broadcasts of high school games in his native Richmond as well as Eastern Kentucky University football and basketball.

hacker
Former Kentucky Wildcats radio play-by-play announcer Ralph Hacker, right, talked with then-UK men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith after a game in 2001. David Coyle

Willis Augustus Lee: An Owen County native and U.S. Naval Academy graduate, Lee earned seven medals — five gold, a silver and a bronze — in the 1920 Olympics as a member of the U.S. Rifle Team. Lee went on to build a distinguished career as an officer in the U.S. Navy, including leading a task force of American battleships to victory over a larger Japanese force at Guadalcanal. Lee died in 1945.

Nate Northington
Former Kentucky Wildcats safety Nate Northington, the first black player to play in an SEC football game, served as UK's honorary game captain for its 2017 contest against Eastern Michigan. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Nate Northington: A graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School in Louisville, Northington shattered the color barrier in SEC football when he played for the University of Kentucky against Mississippi on Sept. 30, 1967. Eventually transferring to Western Kentucky, Northington was the starting fullback on WKU’s 1970 OVC championship team. In 2016, UK unveiled statues of Northington, now 71, and three other former Kentucky football players who integrated the Wildcats’ program.

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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.
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