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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.

29 Responses to Former UK great Jeff Sheppard thinks current players have a ‘little’ sense of Kentucky history

  • steve says:

    no mention of Cawood Ledford in this article? maybe jeff should have stayed a year or two more.

  • John says:

    I think Cawood had retired by the time Jeff got to UK.

    Perhaps Jeff and Sean Woods (remember last year) were right. I would like for these guys to know what they are walking into. UK is much more than an NBA prepping center.
    We should let Cal know that these guys need to know how UK got to be UK.
    Don’t take this as bashing Cal, I think he is spot on in everything he has done here. I just think you get good direction from knowing where you’ve been.

  • Larry Pup says:

    I would think Coach is already doing some of this. Besides, most of these elite players know that UK is a storied program. They don’t have the knowledge a Jeff Sheppard has for sure, so what? A big reason they sign is UK’s name and the legacy of the program. It is what it is. As long as the current situation of sending guys to the NBA early exists, why not enjoy what we have and quit worrying about stuff we can’t change. I am more interested in our boys winning than them knowing everything there is to know about UK basketball history. They will eventually get it.

  • Jim says:

    I don’t like Sheps voice in the media. In my humble opinion, he should keep his mouth shut if he can’t say anything positive about his former school. For the record, Pitino snubbed a KY kid to take Shep, and that kid went to Louisville. He was a better player than Jeff. I don’t hear him popping off about his former school.

  • William W. says:

    I have to say maybe Jeff should keep some of those opinions in a smaller crowd. He is all over the place with comments and sometimes I wonder if he understands what these can do to morale.

  • Kokamo Joe says:

    Jeff represents the old traditions. UK always had vital players on the roster, players who grew up wanting to be Wild Cats. As he indicated, even players not from Kentucky would be influenced by Kentucky kids and maybe even their parents.

    Jeff must realize just as we must realize that we now have a new system. Players come to UK not to wear the Big Blue especially, but to play for the coach who puts kids first and gets them to the professional level quickly. And with the very best recruits that departure will be soon. One just has to watch what happens and listen to the coach and accept the truth.

    So the history and tradition of UK cannot be as easily understood or appreciated by kids who come here from across the country and maybe from around the world as it would be for kids who were raised in this state and grew up listening to Caywood and pretending to be Cats while they shot baskets in the back yard. Why should the be dwelling on Rupp, Ralph Beard, Cliff Hagan, Joe Hall, Anthony Epps, and the whole parade of greats and what they have done? The goal is not to be a Cat, but to make millions of professional dollars. So what?

    Times change. Why in the world would we turn on a former Cat who just says the truth?
    It would be nice to hold on to the old ways. I admit I’d like to watch these kids a little longer, but I have accepted the new system and am proud of it. Let’s not put down a man who was once part of what we cherish. We have a great crop of the new breed and we can watch them strut their stuff. We can marvel as Calipari scours the country for the next batch. We can be sure that UK basketball will be top notch.

  • BigAndy says:

    I like the things Sheppard says. We have to remember that he is South Georgia boy who came to UK highly recruited. I lived in South Georgia and Shep is still talked about in circles near Columbus. He is a blue blooded Wildcat. I would much better he be speaking of the current program than Cousins or Teague, Blevins or Wall.
    The AAU circuit, private schools (Oak Hill, Huntington Prep, etc) and the five thousand recruiting/rating services now trying to make themselves important (and cash in $ on the high school scene) have made many of these kids star struck. I have friends who are Tarheel fans and they feel similar: our players do not get what it means to be at this school.
    They are superstars! Basketball is God!

    I want UK to win. I think high character kids like Gilchrist and Anthony D have pride in their decision and possibly “got it.” I think Cauley-Stein and maybe Polythress is a Cat. Will they ever understand it like Polson or Hawkins? Probably not. I wonder if Wiltjer really ever bought into being a UK Wildcat? I also am honest enough to say that if Miller was not part of the last championship team; I would not have enjoyed the ride nearly as much.

    Speak on Jeff.

  • Larry Pup says:

    Joe I don’t think any person on this blog has turned on Jeff, but he has said some things that should not have been said publicly, and he got called on it.

  • King Ghidora says:

    Jeff is stuck in the past and that never works. He seems to have missed the effort Cal has made to reach out to past players. Maybe he’s mad that he wasn’t one of them. Something is sure wrong with his attitude.

    Says the truth? That’s a laugh. He clearly doesn’t know the truth. And we didn’t turn on him IMO. He turned on us. The program is what it is and I hate to tell him but Cal is the best recruiter ever at UK. He’s already brought home one title (much faster than Jeff’s coach did) and he had some other great teams too.

    I don’t know what burr is under Jeff’s saddle but he’s hurting the program and he needs to shut it. Every player that goes to UK learns to say positive things about the program if they talk at all. Jeff is going down the road Mel Turpin did and it ends up in a lonely place. I loved the way Jeff played the game but what he keeps saying about the team is nothing but trouble. It’s like he can’t stand it that Cal is doing better than Rick did. Rick bailed on him in case he forgot. Cal is going to stay.

    Something is wrong with his attitude. It is not the “truth”. It’s his rotten view of things IMO. Who is he to bash the current players for the way things are? If someone offered him millions and millions of dollars to go pro after one year he would have been a fool to turn it down. That’s the truth.

  • Bill Jones says:

    Maybe Sean Woods was right, and maybe Jeff is as well…but can’t all the guys AT LEAST make it to the campus before he declares them entitled?

  • Larry Pup says:

    Right on King!

  • King Ghidora says:

    I just have to finish what I started here. All Cat fans would love to see players stay 4 years but UK doesn’t own the lives of those players. They have families and they want a better life for themselves and their families. Who the heck are we to ask them to delay that? If they play like Jeff did they need to stay 4 years. But someone tell me why Cousins should have stayed at UK for 4 years? So UK fans could get their jollies? So Cal could get richer? I would like to see players stay 2 years but that’s because it’s better for them. Any more than that is asking a lot of them. This is America. We have this thing called freedom where people get to act in their own interests. It works pretty well. Who the heck are we to demand restrictions on someone else just so we can watch them play a game for our favorite team?

    And who the heck is Jeff to bash them for having success he didn’t have? His team mates left early BTW. He probably wouldn’t have even got to play if they hadn’t. Maybe he should think about that. If Mercer had stayed Edwards would have gotten a lot more playing time at the guard position sharing that time with Jeff. Jeff had to red shirt to get to play too. He certainly wouldn’t have taken time from Anderson. Obviously he got hurt but Jeff didn’t know that would happen. But IMO he benefited greatly from Mercer going pro early (after just two years BTW).

    He’s really irking me because he could derail the recruiting train or just slow it down and that stinks.

  • UKLARUE says:

    Jeff needs to keep his mouth shut. All this negative publicity is getting on my nerves. Jeff ought to know that every kid out there knows about Monster Mash, Tony Delk, Antoine Walker and Walter McCarty is. I honestly think Jeff is mad that no one knows who he is anymore. When people outside the state think of great UK players his name isn’t mentioned and its getting to him. Shut your trap Jeff. Quit bein so sore.

  • hawaiibillT says:

    I think people are worrying to much about what Sheppard is saying. We are due for a drop off in recruiting anyway and its not going to be Sheppards fault. Its going to be other coaches learning to play Cals recruiting game.

  • Kokamo Joe says:

    We agree that Shepard is stuck in the past. When I say that he says the truth I mean this: these great kids that we are now getting cannot possibly understand the history of UK basketball like we do or like Kentucky bred players of the past. That is what he said and that is the truth. Some of us are in a time warp as bad as Shepard if we believe that our current players are not here primarily because of John Calipari. Maybe that hurts the feelings of those who long for the old days when players dreamed about playing FOR the Cats and not playing for the coach who wants to coach for the name on the back of the jersey rather than the name on the front of the jersey. Of course that is a new way of saying that Calipari wants to put kids first. I say…so what as long as the great recruits continue to come. We cannot go back. I accept the truth and enjoy the ride. You are absolutely correct when you say that Calipari is the best recruiter we have ever had and that he is producing the results that we can all enjoy.

  • Kokamo Joe says:

    Re: star struck

    The freshmen that we are getting have almost all played for special basketball academies. They have played AAU ball and been introduced to each other by competing with other schools and AAU teams and by all star games. If they are good enough to be recruited by Calipari they have been groomed for years and have had their sights on the NBA for a very long time.

    AAU basketball has gotten to the point that there is now a AAU national championship for get this….6 year old FIRST GRADERS. How could kids at talented as UK recruits not be looking to the NBA. Calipari gives them the quickest path to their dream.

    After recruiting them it becomes Calipari’s job to blend them into a motivated team. If he can do that with all of his freshmen dominated teams he are sure to win and be in the running for a national championship. That is the new UK tradition and it is on the crest of modern college basketball. It is as much a trend setting movement as Pitino brought years ago to UK with his three point, hustle and defense.

    IMO if the recruits keep coming at the present rate there can be no more Millers, unless the Kentucky kid is made of the stuff that Calipari’s other recruits are made of. And if we find a Kentucky kid that good, he will go too.

    So, we either long for the past like Sheppard, or we accept the future and rejoice in what we have.

  • King Ghidora says:

    Due for a dropoff? If by that you mean Cal can’t possibly keep up the incredible pace he has set so far then yeah I guess we will probably see a drop off. How many times in a row can you have the best recruiting class in history anyway? Just doing it once sets the bar mighty high to keep from having a drop off.

    As for keeping a great team on the floor it remains to be seen if he can keep that up. Wooden did it. I think Cal is better at recruiting than Wooden. Wooden really did buy his players for one thing or Sam Gilbert did actually. And with UNC facing a major bloodbath over their practices and the possibility that K will retire (he said yesterday he had been thinking about it) it could be that UK will be so far ahead of everyone else that recruits will line up to ask to play for Cal. They did it for Rupp.

  • SuzieCat says:

    I don’ t believe the kids are aware of the legacy, but their parents are. I am sure Cal informs players of what is expected of them and how it is their duty to continue the tradition and pay back. Get off Cal’s back, he has a plate full and is doing a great job.

  • King Ghidora says:

    People didn’t understand when I said I thought he was jealous. You have hit the exact reason I said that. He led the team to a title. That is special no doubt. And he is largely ignored by some factions. And I think he’s sore that Cal didn’t invite him to come around and meet the team like he did some other former players. I think that’s why he calls Cal the enemy and why he feels more at home in Loserville. Maybe he has reason to be jealous. That still doesn’t make it a good thing. He should have contacted Cal and talked to him about being part of the program now.

    The thing is that not every UK player can be seen as a pivotal star in the long history of the program. Jeff accomplished a tremendous amount during his time at UK and I think he is a very talented athlete. He never did get the credit he deserved for that. I still say he shot himself in the foot by not showing up for the NBA combine. Yes they did sell him short. They didn’t realize what a great jumper he was IMO. They didn’t realize that he was quick and a good defender. He thought they should after he led the team to the title. But people saw that team as almost a fluke. They won in a down year to be honest and there were other players on the team that were more obvious talents in the eyes of some. They were dead wrong about Jeff and it’s a shame he didn’t get drafted. I really think he would have blown away a lot of people at the combine showing his leaping ability etc.. Instead he became an instant has been when he should have had a promising career in the pros. He just didn’t seem to realize that there are a lot of great players trying to make the pros. Winning a title isn’t a ticket to being drafted. I really think he was overlooked maybe worse than any other UK player I can remember. But he should have known what was coming when he was invited to the combine in the first place.

    So instead of getting drafted like he should have been he signed on with Atlanta as a free agent and got very little playing time in just 18 pro games. They don’t promote guys that don’t show up as stars in the first place. That’s just how they do things in the NBA and especially if you’re a UK player. So what pro ball he did play was mostly in Italy. He was certainly better than that and he should have gotten more money for playing than he did. I’ll always think that.

    Now I see him as taking a sour grapes attitude. He is jealous of guys that really aren’t any more talented than him that got big contracts with guarantees. Non-drafted players don’t get those. But he was a part of why that happened. Nazr is still playing in the NBA. Padgett played 8 years in the NBA after being a first round pick. Mohammed was right behind Padgett in the draft at #29 also in the first round. But Jeff was probably the best talent on that UK team. That doesn’t mean the NBA people knew it. He blew it by not going to the combine IMO. He could jump better than maybe any UK player I’ve ever seen. He could jump better than Chapman or Bowie or Sky Walker. He could really get up there and he had serious hang time. But apparently the NBA people didn’t know that or they wouldn’t have asked him to the combine. I’m pretty sure he had some stuff come up that kept him away but that’s something you don’t miss out on IMO. Of course there are family issues that sometimes keep you away anyway. But IMO it cost him millions of dollars. Why wouldn’t he be jealous? Still that’s not a mature way to act even if you feel it. Heck I could get mad all day long about breaking my leg but where would that get me? It won’t bring back my chance to play for the Big Blue even if it was as a practice dummy. Who knows, right? It can happen. Polson did it. Not likely at all but a guy can dream. I’d rather hold onto those dreams than be bitter about what happened. That gets me nothing. Now I can think that maybe I would have made it as unlikely as it seems. It’s just more fun that way IMO. Being bitter gets me nothing.

    • larryvaught says:

      King, I’ll never buy that Jeff is jealous or petty. Just a guy who speaks his mind. But he also still does an awful lot to help UK

  • The Wanderer says:

    I find it strange that Jeff is so critical or un-accepting of today’s UK players when “his coach” (Pitino) was as or more guilty than any BB coach UK has had (aside from Billy Clyde who just didn’t have good sense) to ignore UK’s legacy. I always thought and still do think that Pitino is a great collegiate coach – on of the best, but before he got his comeupance (failing so miserably in the NBA with Boston) his ego was the size of Texas.

    He felt that he was coaching the University of Pitino, not Kentucky and I resented that greatly. Rupp, Hall and all the great players that came before Pitino deserved more credit than Rick was willing to give them and I will never forgive him that.

  • FloridaCat says:

    I was just at the National AAU Champion games at Disney. Self, Alford, Izzo and many more were there selling their programs. I would bet the best of the kids were listening to which program they think can get them to the League. I doubt if anything that happened five years ago means very much to a group of 17-18 year olds who have played all over the country being sponsored by shoe companies. The whole basketball community has become jaded. I wish it was like it used to be but it is not and it isn’t Cal’s fault. Shep can speak his mind but he seems to have an agenda.

  • King Ghidora says:

    I have no problem with him speaking his mind of even some constructive criticism. You know him better than I do. But calling Cal “the enemy” was pretty far over the line IMO. That’s what has made me upset with him.

  • GrampyBlue says:

    MKG, Anthony Davis, Erick Bledsoe, Boogie and others are coming back to work UK camps this summer maybe if they had stayed five years they would be working @ UL. I don’t think Sheppard understands the BBN and Kentucky basketball as well as he thinks he does. You don’t constantly trash your family!!! #BBNFamily

  • Kokamo Joe says:

    I agree, when Pitino was at UK it became as much about him as it was about UK.
    The reason was because he was winning and we tend to glorify those that make us win. IMO, it is now more about Calipari now than it was ever about Pitino. Now, DON’T TAKE THAT AS A NEGATIVE. It is Calipari that keeps UK in the news today with his exceptional PR ability. It is Calipari that is bringing and had brought for four years the number one recruiting class. It is Calipari that has us chomping at the bit just thinking about next year. Rupp, Pitino and Calipari were IMO the captains who brought the most to UK during their eras and these coaches are the ones most associated with the UK name. I’ll take the name “The University of Calipari” and smile as the Cats dominate the SEC and hunt for a national championship, and reload and do it again next year and the year after that and the year after that and…………….

  • Kokamo Joe says:

    King: As you well know, Calipari coach UMass, a UMass team that beat Sheppard and UK. He was the enemy THEN. From the remarks made by Sheppard I doubt that he thinks that Calipari is the enemy NOW. He feels comfortable in Pitino’s office? Pitino was his coach for FIVE year, what should we expect him to feel about his ex coach? Kenny Payne once played for Louisville. Do you suppose that he hates Denny Crum now because UL is the enemy?

    Sheppard’s main point centered about the one and done rule. He does not like it. He stayed at UK for five years and was a MPV in a final four. From his viewpoint that is the way to go. His view is not modern and Calipari is the apex of modern college basketball. Unless the NCAA changes the rules, Calipari will continue to ride the one and done wave. Personally I hope that he does.

    I continue to say that as a UK great, he has a right to his opinion. He, of course is not alone. Not all of the BBN is down with the one and done system. As I have posted before our opinions will have no effect on what Calipari does or how successful he will be. The system was tested last year and fund lacking. IMO, this was temporary and should be a distant memory. But I do realize that pressure will on Calipari this year to bring the Cats back to the NCAA tourney as a favorite. IMO, he must make the great eight. If he does not, you will see the enemies of the one and done system rise up and make their opinions forcefully.

    Concerning what Sheppard was quoted as saying and how it will affect UK: I think that our reaction depends on our personal philosophy and how we feel about ex UK greats and the over all strength of the program.

  • Kokamo Joe says:

    Florida Cat:

    Of course you are right. It is the league that shines in these kids eyes and minds. College is only a brief stop in the road. If we are going to get the very best recruits we have to accept that the times are changing.

    There are now two systems that are working:

    Calipari’s system depends on talent as the number one strength. Calipari has a final four and a national championship. He does it future NBA players and he keeps them as a short time as possible.

    Pitino keeps them around for up to four years and he puts far less in the NBA and those that he does place there are not drafted nearly as soon. He has a final four and a national championship.

    Of the two, Calipari’s ability to reload faster makes him a better chance to win it all more often IMO.

    Other coaches are trying to figure it out.

  • TheProfessor says:

    If the question is “CAN” this UK team win the championship, the answer must be a resounding ‘YES” because it is within their reach, and they will have the opportunity. If the question is “WILL” this UK team win the championship, there is no answer available for anyone, only opinions. Jeff Sheppard has his. He expressed it. The odds are heavily in his favor that he will be right because the odds of any single team winning the basketball national championship is long for even the most favored of all teams. Team X v the field, I would always bet the field.

    My opinion is that 2014 will provide the UK program with the next opportunity to add #9 to the rafters at Rupp. Time will tell if that actuallyt happens.

    So, on that basis, I align myself more with King’s comments than against King’s comments. I don’t know Jeff Sheppard. I have always been a Jeff Sheppard fan, and I appreciate his contributions to the UK program. However, I do wonder why a member of the family would publicly discount the Program’s ability to succeed, regardless of his private opinions about what will probably happen in the upcoming basketball season, especially when he did not speak publicly 6 to 8 years ago when Tubby Smith had this program mired in mediocrity, with no chance of playing in a final four, much less compete for championships.

    Why now Shep?

  • King Ghidora says:

    Some people might want to notice I never even commented on Jeff talking about UK’s ability to win it all. I thought that was bad but it wasn’t nearly as bad as calling the coach the enemy. That was just ridiculously over the line IMO. And Prof. you are so right that there was no bellyaching by Jeff when Smith had the team in the worst shape it had been in for 75 years. Not only was he failing to recruit talent near the end but the talent he had was at each other’s throats according to lots of credible sources. Players like Rondo and Sparks had a much talked about feud going. I wasn’t there so I’m not certain about this but I saw how they played and they did not play as a team. Not only did Smith have a team that became known as Team Turmoil (the team with Jason Parker et al.) but he had Team Turmoil Two, which was the Sparks/Rondo team. Didn’t those guys fail to understand the UK way far more than say the 2012 team, which had the character of the Rupp teams where no one player stood out on offense. The first thing my dad taught me about UK was their system was to have several guys average double figures with no one forcing themselves into being the star. That’s a perfect description of the 2012 team and it’s one of the first I’ve seen since Jeff’s team played for UK. Well there was the Chuck Hayes led teams but mostly Smith’s teams were never known for being team oriented. It was like Smith only cared that no one score on his team. He didn’t seem to mind if they lost as long as they played the old fashioned way of never allowing anyone to get an easy basket. That’s a great way to play D but it drains players and takes away from their offense. Rupp took great shooters and taught them to play defense. That was more the UK way than Smith’s teams. Smith reminded me of the way Bill Cosby described his high school basketball team in Philadelphia. They had that standard of never allowing an easy basket and not concerning yourself with scoring. I would argue that was never the UK way and it was Jeff’s second coach that taught that style. Where were his complaints about that?

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