Vaught's Views: Kentucky fans have a fan in Keightley

November 19, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

He might not offer any insights into player personnel or game strategy, but there's no more entertaining personality when it comes to University of Kentucky basketball than Bill Keightley.

He was here Tuesday night to speak to the Danville-Boyle County UK Alumni Club and he did not disappoint the crowd at Danville Country Club.

"I want to commend you as fans," said Keightley, UK's equipment manager. "Fans are hard to please. I know because I'm a fan, too. But Kentucky has the greatest fans in the world."

"All you have to do is go on the road. I hear talk about Duke fans. I've seen them on a neutral floor. We have twice as many fans as Duke. We do work harder and are better because of you fans and I thank you for that."


No one at Kentucky understands what it means to be a Big Blue fan more than Keightley, an Anderson County native who seems to know someone in every city and/or county in Kentucky. He still remembers playing basketball against Danville in 1944 when he was at Kavanaugh High School in Lawrenceburg and beating the Admirals twice that year - even though the Ads reached the state tournament semifinals.

He calls former Centre College men's basketball coach Tom Bryant a friend. He still makes regular trips to Danville to buy salt rising bread at Burke's Bakery.

Keightley has been on the bench with five different UK head coaches since joining the Wildcats for the 1961-62 season. He's watched Kentucky win 997 games and lose just 304.

Keightley and legendary radio announcer Cawood Ledford are the only two people besides former players or coaches to have a jersey retired by Kentucky.

He's known affectionately to UK fans as "Mr. Wildcat." The current players have another nickname, "Smooth," for Keightley and he certainly justified that moniker during his talk here.

Start with Adolph Rupp, UK's all-time winningest coach at Kentucky.

"Everybody wants to hear Adolph Rupp stories," Keightley said. "There's just not many you can tell."

Then he proceeded to tell numerous stories about Rupp's off-court demeanor.

He's always been a Joe Hall fan, the coach who followed Rupp and won the 1978 national title.

"Joe Hall's record stands for itself," Keightley said. "He was one of the great coaches in the game. I'm the champion maker. I got him one in 1978."

Next came Eddie Sutton.

"I got him up on the top ring of the ladder, but he fell off," Keightley said.

Perhaps his best humor was poked at current Louisville coach Rick Pitino, the coach who moved Keightley from the end of the bench to his current spot beside the head coach.

"I cannot say that name, but little hot tamale came in and we got him up there (for a championship)," Keightley said. "But I won't call Rick a hot dog. He's a good man. I love him like a son, but as any of you know that have a son, sometimes he needs a butt-kicking.

"I saw the scoundrel two weeks ago. We still get along well."

However, not as well as he does with current coach Tubby Smith, who won a national title in 1998.

"I've loved every coach, but Tubby Smith is the best adapted, best acclimated of all the people we've ever had at Kentucky. If Tubby has a weakness, it's he is too good a person," Keightley said.

Amidst all the jokes and funny stories he told, including several on Smith, there was no doubt he was serious about his feelings toward Smith. He's seen how he handles players. He's seen how he cares about the program. He's seen what he's done to help others.

"You just won't find a better person than Tubby Smith," Keightley said.

He also hinted that you might not find a better team than Kentucky this year. He said the five-week stretch where UK plays UCLA, Michigan State, Indiana, Louisville and North Carolina will test the Cats. But he said Kentucky had "six quality players" - Cliff Hawkins, Erik Daniels, Chuck Hayes, Gerald Fitch, Antwain Barbour and Kelenna Azubuike - that can "go up and down the court the quickest of any team I've watched."

Keightley also pleaded with the fans not to expect too much, too soon from 7-foot freshmen Lukasz Obrzut and Shagari Alleyne.

"But we are going to be entertaining and we'll have a team I think everyone is really going to like," Keightley said.

Maybe not as much as UK fans like him, but if the Cats can be half as entertaining as him, they certainly should have a successful season.

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