Mark Story

Twelve years after Tubby Smith left UK, Jodie Meeks gives the coach’s legacy a boost

Fast-break points from the NBA Draft pre-party:

21. Jodie Meeks. The former Kentucky Wildcats guard (2006-09) played one minute total (Game 3) in the NBA Finals for the Toronto Raptors during their 4-2 series win over the Golden State Warriors — but Meeks will get an NBA championship ring.

20. The 14th. If my figures are correct, there have now been 14 ex-Cats to finish a season playing on an NBA championship team. Thanks mostly to Frank Ramsey, those 14 former Kentucky players have combined to win 21 National Basketball Association titles.

Cliff Hagan (6), Lou Tsioropoulos (16) and Frank Ramsey (30) all went on to play for NBA championship teams after their University of Kentucky careers under Coach Adolph Rupp, second from left, ended. John Wyatt Staff

19. Adolph Rupp era. Six players were NBA champions. Paul Noel (1951 Rochester Royals); Frank Ramsey (1957, ‘59, ‘60, ‘61, ‘62, ‘63 and ‘64 Boston Celtics); Lou Tsioropoulos (1957 and ‘59 Boston Celtics); Cliff Hagan (1958 St. Louis Hawks); Pat Riley (1972 Los Angeles Lakers); and Larry Steele (1977 Portland Trail Blazers) won titles.

18. Joe B. Hall era. Two champions. Kevin Grevey (1978 Washington Bullets) and Rick Robey (1981 Boston Celtics) earned rings.

Kevin Grevey with Joe B.
Former Kentucky player Kevin Grevey, left, the starting shooting guard on the 1978 Washington Bullets’ NBA title team, talked with Joe B. Hall during a UK alumni charity basketball game in Rupp Arena. Mark Mahan

17. Eddie Sutton era. No players recruited to UK by Sutton in his four seasons (1985-89) as Kentucky head coach went on to win NBA crowns.

16. Rick Pitino era. Three champions. Nazr Mohammed (2005 San Antonio Spurs); Derek Anderson (2006 Miami Heat); and Antoine Walker (2006 Miami Heat) were Pitino recruits who won it all in the NBA.

15. Tubby Smith era. Three champions. Tayshaun Prince (2004 Detroit Pistons); Rajon Rondo (2008 Boston Celtics); and now Jodie Meeks (2019 Toronto Raptors) have won NBA crowns. (Meeks signed with Smith and played his freshman season, 2006-07, under Tubby).

14. Billy Gillispie era. No players signed by Billy G. in his two-year stint (2007-09) as Kentucky head coach have yet won an NBA title.

13. John Calipari era. No players signed by Calipari at Kentucky (2009-through the present) have yet earned an NBA championship ring.

12. Anthony Davis. The pairing of the former Kentucky star with LeBron James on the Los Angeles Lakers roster as a result of Saturday’s blockbuster trade between L.A. and the New Orleans Pelicans could give a Calipari-era UK player a first NBA title next season.

Now that Anthony Davis has been traded from the New Orleans Pelicans to the Los Angeles Lakers, can the ex-Kentucky star become the first John Calipari-era UK player to win a NBA title? Jim Mone AP

11. Still a shot for Billy G., too. There were two Gillispie-era UK recruits, Patrick Patterson (Oklahoma City) and Darius Miller (New Orleans), on NBA active rosters in 2018-19.

10. Darrin Horn. The new Northern Kentucky University men’s basketball coach will inherit Kentucky’s 2018 Mr. Basketball, Trevon Faulkner, on the roster left behind by departed Norse head man John Brannnen.

9. Trevon Faulkner. In spite of scoring more than 3,000 career points as a high school star at Mercer County, Faulkner, a 6-foot-4, 195-pound guard, served as a defense-oriented role player as a freshman last season for NKU. He averaged 4.7 points and 2.5 rebounds.

Mercer County star Trevon Faulkner, left, was named the 2018 Mr. Kentucky Basketball. Matt Goins

8. ‘Incredibly high-character.’ From viewing last season’s NKU game video, Horn has developed an admiration of Faulkner. “He was high-volume scorer and a Mr. Basketball and a (offensive) focal point (in high school), and literally came in here and was turned into a defensive stopper and a sometimes offensive guy,” Horn said. “My first impression of him is that he is an incredibly high-character kid who is all about the right stuff.”

7. ‘King’ Kelly Coleman. Kentucky basketball lore has no larger figure than Coleman, the 1950s star from the Eastern Kentucky mountains, who died Sunday at age 80.

6. A scoring machine. Playing for tiny Wayland High School in Floyd County long before the three-point shot, Coleman tallied 4,337 career points. That is still more than any other boy ever to play high school basketball in Kentucky has scored.

5. The nickname. Coleman picked up the nickname, “King Kelly,” when a sportswriter wrote that coal was no longer the king in the Eastern Kentucky mountains, Coleman was.

Kelly Coleman, Wayland basketball star, was carried from the floor after he set an all-time four-game scoring record of 185 points in the 1956 Kentucky State High School Basketball Tournament in Memorial Coliseum. E. Martin Jessee Staff File Photo

4. Sixty-eight points. In his final high school game, Coleman set a Sweet Sixteen record unlikely to be broken when he rifled in 68 points in the 1956 state tournament consolation game vs. Bell County.

3. Off-the-court legend. According to Dave Kindred’s book, “Basketball: The Dream Game In Kentucky,” after Coleman’s epic 68-point performance vs. Bell County, the guard, then 17, left Memorial Coliseum without showering, hailed a taxi, and was in a Lexington tavern consuming “three mugs” of beer as Carr Creek was winning the 1956 state finals.

2. Humsey Yessin. Yessin, now 91, was one of the referees who called the 1956 15th Region Tournament in which the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Coleman starred while leading Wayland to the championship.

Humzey Yessin, now 91, was one of the referees for the 1956 15th Region Tournament where Wayland star Kelly Coleman led the Wasps to the championship. Herald-Leader

1. Looked like a football guard. “Kelly Coleman looked like anything but a basketball player,” Yessin recalled Monday. “He had a gut. He had heavy legs. He looked like a guard in football, not basketball. But he was quick, could stop and go just like that. And he had an incredible jump shot.”


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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.