Print this Post

1996 players appreciate finally getting championship rings, but does Pitino get one

photo by Clay Jackson, all rights reserved

photo by Clay Jackson, all rights reserved


After Kentucky won the 1996 national championship, the UK players did not get title rings from the university because the NCAA thought the rings were too expensive. Other Kentucky championship teams after that, though, got rings and Wednesday night the 1996 national champions got their UK rings during a halftime ceremony of Kentucky’s win over Mississippi State.

“This means a lot to all of us,” said Wayne Turner, a backup guard in 1996 who also was UK’s starting point guard on the 1998 national title team. “We appreciate coach (John) Calipari taking care of this for us.”

Most of the players on the team were present and three — Nazr Mohammed, Allen Edwards and Mark Pope — who couldn’t be had messages played on the video boards at Rupp Arena. However, players such as Tony Delk, Walter McCarty, Anthony Epps, Antoine Walker and Jeff Sheppard were all there.

Calipari was coaching at Massachusetts when UK won the 1996 national championship. His team beat UK during the regular season but lost to the Wildcats in the Final Four.

“Let me just tell you the best thing, they were terrific players. They sacrificed more than any team I’d ever seen. When you talk about guys getting 20 minutes who deserved 40 minutes and accepting it, it was incredible,” Calipari said. “The other side of it is you’re talking about a very intelligent group of young people. Now you’re seeing that as they grow and they’re now men, you’re looking at them and what they’re able to do, you’re talking about a group that was really intelligent that sacrificed for each other, that never changed who they are.

“Any time I see them, they’re always kind to us and this program. I’m just happy that the university stepped up and did what they did. I think it shows a lot that we do reach back. If there’s anything that we can make right, we do.”

Calipari joked that he was “mad” that the 1996 championship rings were nicer than the ones the Cats received after winning the championship last season.

“We let them design their own rings is what we did. What design do you want? They came up with that design. When I looked at it, I said, ‘That’s nicer than our ring, that makes me mad.’ But it’s nice,” Calipari said. “Again, I think they’re really proud. They tried to get back (for the ceremony). The ones that couldn’t get back were playing or coaching tonight, couldn’t get away.

“It’s interesting, these guys have stayed together, stayed in touch. That’s what this is all about. It’s fun when our players that I’ve coached here are the same way. They stay in touch with each other. They have dinner when they’re in town together, when they’re playing in the NBA, all that other stuff. It’s good.”

Current Louisville coach Rick Pitino was UK’s coach in 1996. Calipari was asked after the game if the championship rings were for players or if the coaches would also get on.

“I don’t know what they did with that. But I do know (player) Scott Padgett, who takes every free lunch he can get, called and said, ‘Am I getting a ring?’”

Padgett was academically ineligible the second semester and returned home to Louisville. He came back to UK the next season and was a starter on the 1998 national title team.

“I know Scott didn’t get one. I don’t know if they made them for the coaches or not. They may have,” Calipari said.

Permanent link to this article: http://vaughtsviews.com/1996-players-appreciate-finally-getting-championship-rings-but-does-pitino-get-one/


Skip to comment form

  1. Anonymous

    It would certainly be a class act to send one to Coach Pitino…he earned it!

    1. UKFAN197TONE


  2. Eric

    I agree with Anonymous. Despite peoples opinions, he resurrected us from the dead. And for those that are to young to remember, we were DEAD!

  3. Sonny

    Absolutely he gets one…..that’s the greatest basketball team of all time…and that’s not even an opinion

    He is responsible for the 96 Cats, what should have been first of a 3 peat. His coaching job the next season with our under-manned squad was even more impressive…

    Send that man his ring

  4. Kokamo Joe

    Did Calipari get a ring last year? Pitino was riding high and we thought as much for him as we do Calipari now. Actually, Pitino brought UK back from probation and had them ranked in his second year. So, yes Pitino deserves a ring. UK could have scheduled the honor on a night when Louisville was not playing. I hope that this is not a slight done with purpose. If you disagree, ask your self this question: suppose some 15 to 20 years from now UK invites last year’s team to come to Rupp for an honor and they leave out Calipari? So what if Pitino left and coaches at a rival team. The man coached the 1996 team. It degrades the University if they choose to leave the coach out. I trust that this is not the case.

    1. UKFAN197TONE

      I doubt it was done on purpose.

  5. Juan4UK

    I think he should get one.

  6. Ruralvillefan

    He should get a ring. As a long- long time U of L fan I must say that I was very envious of UK when Coach Pitino was there. As Eric said earlier, you all were dead & all but buried until he came. I know that there is a lot of animosity that UK fans have toward him & to some degree I can see why. However, he is a huge part of UK history. Just think…What if UK had hired a Billy Gillespe after Sutton? Where would you be now?

    1. larryvaught

      Ruralvillefan, you are right. Pitino deserves ring. NO doubt in my mind about that. Also he did revive UK basketball. No doubt about that. Why I will always respect him for job he did here and still is doing at Louisville. Is he perfect? No. But neither am I. To me, you can’t think of UK basketball history and not include what Pitino did.

  7. uk

    He EARRRNED it.

    1. Catfanforevah

      LOL, resurrecting John Houseman. I agree sir. Give that man his ring.

  8. Greg Alan Edwards

    He should get the ring…..I don’t know how they handle it money-wise, but he should get one.

    Do coaches pay for theirs? Did coaches get one back then?
    Roy Williams supposedly has a briefcase full, where did all of his come from?

  9. King Ghidora

    Pitino certainly deserves that ring. And he had a big hand in putting the Cats back on top. But IMO it was the players who stayed at UK that put them back on top. The Unforgettables are the real story. Pitino didn’t put the Cardinals back on top. Why is that? I want to give him his due but to say it was all his doing is too much. The tradtion of UK basketball had everything to do with the Cats coming back. And I don’t think the Cats were dead before RP came to town either. The NCAA tried to kill the program but they’ve tried that before. They’ve tried it many times in fact. They have failed every time. Heck even a NY judge tried to kill the UK program. He threatened to hurt the team if Rupp didn’t retire after the point shaving scandal. But the evidence was there that Rupp didn’t have anything to do with that. It was the players involved and no one else. Rupp told that judge to forget it, he was staying. He did too and he won another title after that and very nearly won a few more. The NCAA stole one title from the Cats when Issel was a senior and they called his last foul on a play when he was 3 feet away from the guy he supposedly fouled.

    I’m not knocking Pitino but even when people were thinking he walked on water I thought it was the tradition that brought the team back. He did a good job of coaching the returning players for sure but they did a good job of getting it done too. It was the same kind of team that Rupp would have put together. We had several guys from the mountains of eastern KY who could shoot the ball. They were taught how to play defense and how to get open on offense. That’s pretty much how Rupp did it all those years.

    I think Pitino put himself up against the UK tradition when he took the UL job. I think that’s why he took that job. And instead of proving that he was the driving force behind UK rising from the ashes he proved that he wasn’t that driving force because he still hasn’t gotten it done at UL. He wanted to be bigger than UK’s program. He found out he wasn’t.

    Pitino was a great coach at one time. He has lost his edge IMO though. He is no longer an innovator. He brought European style basketball to the US and he won with it. He hasn’t done much with it since. Let’s not forget that there’s another guy who picked up that style and won two titles with it back to back. If not for his half step to the NBA he would probably have won more. He may win another one this year. RP has lost his ability to motivate players to play at the top level IMO. It’s hard to convince players to do their best and play by all the rules when you don’t do it yourself. In that department Cal has it all over RP. Cal walks the walk completely. And he will leave a bigger mark on the sport than RP has. Think about it. What mother is going to really completely overlook the things RP did? Mothers influence where their kids go to school. Yes he still gets talent but IMO they lack something, They lack that total commitment to team and school and to themselves. Rupp looked for that first in the players he picked. Cal looks for it. RP lacks the ability to draw those types of players because of the things he has done including trying to make himself the king of Kentucky by going to UL. He showed no loyalty to a program that did tremendous things for him. How do you inspire your team to be totally loyal when you aren’t? Last year’s UK team showed that tremendously. The 1996 UK team did too and so did the Unforgettables. But when you fail to lead by example you fail to lead period.

    1. Kokamo Joe

      In Sutton’s last year the Cats went 13 and 19 and the Cats were in trouble. Sutton had gotten us in trouble with his probation and alcoholism and the potential for next year was lost because Leron Ellis, Chris Mills, and Eric Manuel were not allowed to remain on next year’s team. Pitino inherited the unforgettables and went 14 and 14. Calipari has some advantages that Pitino did not have. 1. He brought his Memphis recruits from Memphis to UK and that was very good for UK and bad for Memphis. 2. Pitino had to face probation and Calipari did not. 3. Pitino’s first team was thin and his preconference schedule included Indian, Kansas, North Carolina, Louisville and Notra Dame which was a schedule far more difficult that UK plays today. Pitino’s stay at UK was right up there with Rupp and Calipari.

      Are UL players without a commitment to themselves and to the University of Louisville? I doubt that. I don’t know if many of them staying around long enough to earn a degree is a tribute to their support of the University and team or a lack of talent. I highly suspect that our one and dones have a higher commitment to their “dream” than they do to the University that they spend a few months at. But that is college basketball today.

      Should Pitino taken the UL job because it might ruffle the feathers of some of the fans of his former school? I say that in this country a person has a right to work wherever he chooses and I say that having two top basketball programs is good for the state. Some believe that Barnhart was pushed to bring in Calipari, a coach he passed over when he hired Gillispie because Pitino was doing well at UL.

      Is UL doing as well as UK? In spite of this year when they clearly are, they are not when you consider Calipari’s past at UK and the potential for the future. But what school in the country has matched Calipari in the past 4 years?

      Has Pitino’s conduct hurt his recruiting? I don’t think so, and I see that as a sad statement. What is Calipari draw that is bringing these super stars to UK. Is it the tradition? I think not, tradition did bring this type and number of recruits here under Gillispie and Smith. It is one thing…the allure of big money…big money after one or two years in the NBA. It has come and it will continue to come and that will bring winning seasons to UK year after year after year.

      1. larryvaught

        Great comments Kokamo.

  10. Anonymous

    Hey Mark Pope,…that was a cool move on your part–BBN loves you too!

  11. Judi Cole

    I’m with all the others who have commented. Pitino certainly deserves a ring for bringing us back to national prominence. He was a great coach at UK!

  12. Shanghai

    Thank you Mr. Jackson for the photo. Do you have any others that are closer up. Maybe as individuals or a smaller group. Larry can you identify the players left to right? At 60 plus and after many strokes my memory fades. Remember the game very well as my oldest daughter kept hiding in the bathroom when ever the game got close. Fond memories. Thanks.

    1. larryvaught

      Shanghal, we have a whole photo gallery of shots from the 1996 team. Just check the site and you will love them

  13. Robbin

    Oscar Combs said the coaches on the ’96 got rings in ’96. Oscar saw the rings in person. So NO, I don’t think they deserve a 2nd ring. The question is, why the team didn’t get rings when the coaches did. I’ve read that the rings started with UCLA in’95.

    1. Karen Sprinkle

      It’s my understanding that the team got the championship rings provided by the NCAA in 1996, but that the NCAA did not approve the rings that UK wanted to provide at the time saying they were an excessive benefit. The rings they got Wednesday were rings that UK provided. Correct me if I’m wrong, Larry.

      1. larryvaught

        Correct. Normally school provides rings, but UK did not in 1996. It did in 1998

  14. Anonymous

    RP deserves the ring, but I’m not a fan of his for leaving. He should have stayed at UK. Many of us won’t ever forget. Now he is at a program that wants to beat our brains out, in everything. That’s his legacy now. UK paid him well, and he still moved on. So all of you who want to cozy up to ole Rick, it’s your choice. I don’t like what he did.

  15. Anonymous

    He deserves the ring no doubt about that, but I still don’t like him. He left UK, we didn’t leave him. UK paid him well in those days and don’t owe him a dime now. He is trying to build a better program at our biggest rival. If some of you want to cozy up to RP that’s fine with me, but I don’t like what he did. There are a few of us out here too.

  16. carrol

    it is so hard to read the hatred some uk fans have against pitino for taking the ul job i was there when he took the uk job i know what they were facing he did a super job with that program and is doing it now at ul you haters need to get over it ,you think cal has a clean record if you do you need to take off the blinders .

    1. UKFAN197TONE

      Apparently he does and even has a letter from the NCAA to prove it. Now, put your blinders back on.

  17. nate

    well im a true blue uk fan and i depise that pitino went to louisville, not that he left uk for the celtics job , he coulda taken any job in the country im talkin kansas or carolina, so he knew what he was doing when he took the job a loserville ! so no i dont have to forgive him for that and with all that said: its a joke if he doesnt get a ring for the 1996 championship too….

  18. toots

    The players in the photo from left to right are; Antoinne Walker, Oliver Simmons, Jeff Shepard, Jared Prickett, Walter McCarty, Jason Lathrem, Anthony Epps, Tony Delk, Derek Anderson, and Wayne Turner. Missing; Mark Pope, Ron Mercer, Nazr Muhammad, and Allen Edwards. Scott Padgett was suspended from the team the second semester of the school year.

  19. toots

    I said Jason Lathrem not being able to see a close up. Also could be Cameron Mills or Chris Harrison, but neither were listed at more than 6’3”. That guy is taller than that.

  20. Nick

    Pitino better get his ring but he’s wearing a ring during the games thought it was the 1996

  21. Nick

    Pitino got one from the NCAA Not UK I was right that’s the ring he wears

Comments have been disabled.