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By LARRY VAUGHT
Jeff Sheppard thinks current Kentucky basketball players have a “little” sense of UK history, but not as much as they probably should.
“I would have been the same way if I left after my freshman year (for the NBA),” said Sheppard. “I came in and had Travis Ford, Jared Prickett, Gimel Martinez and Jeff Brassow, all veteran players, to take me under their wings. Travis Ford would take me home to Madisonville and that’s when I really knew this Kentucky basketball thing was unbelievable. I don’t know how many current players get to do that now and go around the state and see what Kentucky basketball is all about. There is a respect for the tradition, but it is just different.
“I have a great relationship with Rex (Chapman), Sam (Bowie), Kyle (Macy) and all those old Kentucky basketball players that used to play a long time ago. Us young guys have a real respect for them. But I was at UK five years.”
Sheppard thinks current players also miss the benefit of having Bill Keightley, UK’s long-time equipment manager who was known as Mr. Wildcat for his years of work, around daily like he did. Keightley passed away before UK coach John Calipari arrived.
“One guy we miss at Kentucky basketball more than any individual to bridge the gap from old and new was Bill Keightley. He was the last one to bridge gap from Cotton Nash to Demarcus Cousins,” Sheppard said. “He did it well with few words. He knew everybody and everybody loved him. When he passed away, I never thought I could miss a non-family member as much as Mr. Keightley.”
Sheppard said players always found time to visit Keightley, and he always welcomed them and entertained them with UK stories.
“When you had an hour between appointments, you would stop by the equipment room. You did not go to see the coaches or the gym or the (Wildcat) Lodge. You went to the equipment room,” Sheppard said. “You might see the governor talking to Dan Issel. You might see coach Pitino talking to Ralph Beard. In between was Mr. Keightley telling a story.
“He bridged everything together. He was best recruiter of all time at Kentucky. He had way about him about how to work hard and treat people right without saying a word. You just had to watch him. We miss him a lot.”
Sheppard also offered a variety of other insights last week during his talk at the Ohio UK Convention.