During the 2012 Big Blue Madness event, during the introductions of some of the past players from previous championship teams, it occurred to me that not since the 1992 team has any player from any era since (or previous for that matter) had their jersey retired. Seeing as how there are requirements in place that a potential player first must be 10 years removed from playing at UK and a member of the UK Hall of Fame…there are three men who deserve recognition in the rafters for their contribution to the legacy that is UK basketball. With Coach John Calipari’s insistence that this is a player’s first program, it’s time to recognize 3 players who have added to UK’s tradition…and wouldn’t it be nice to do it during the 60th anniversary of the 1954 perfect season (as Cal hopefully is going for his own perfect season). Three celebrations…
First off, there are a number of players out there who still are a great part of UK’s legacy, but either they do not meet the requirements, or just fall short of having a more complete resume than Tony Delk, Adrian Smith, and Mike Casey. In some of the comparisons to current players who have had their jerseys retired, I will be using instances not to belittle the current jersey retiree, but merely as a method for inclusion for the three aforementioned players.
Seeing as how Anthony Davis just capped off an amazing year at UK with an Olympic gold medal, my first hopeful for a jersey ceremony also has Olympic gold. But with Adrian Smith, his gold came on one of the most dominant Olympic basketball teams in history (inducted with the 1992 "Dream Team" into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a complete unit)…one of five players to average double figures (behind, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Jerry Lucas, and Terry Dischinger) in the 1960 Olympics. Smith also was the starting guard on Kentucky’s 1958 Fiddlin' Five championship team and if his jersey is retired he would become only the fourth Kentucky born player to win both a title at UK and a Gold medal at the Olympics. Although his UK career was a scant 51 games (at a time when "one-and-done" referred to marriage) "Odie" contributed to the legacy throughout his career…he was the MVP of the 1966 NBA All-Star game…by having his jersey retired, UK would have retired the jerseys of all the eligible UK Olympic basketball gold medalists, earned or otherwise (Sam Bowie was awarded a Gold in 1980 even though the US team boycotted the Moscow Olympics) with the exception of Tayshaun Prince (who became eligible this year for jersey retirement…but will have to wait).
If the pain of the East Regional in 1992 and the recognition The Unforgettables brought back to UK (as well as the final game of Cawood Ledford’s legendary career) by simply taking the eventual champion and #1 Duke Blue Devils team to OT before losing, and having the entire team’s starting five placed in the rafters (keeping in mind too that the Unforgettables last victory came vs. John Calipari and his 92 UMass team), then I thought, when would the first player of the 1996 team (UK’s version of the Redeem Team, the Untouchables) be selected. The 96 team, with 9 future NBA players on the roster, is widely considered to be one of the all time great college teams, as well as one of, if not the best UK squad (1948-49 certainly challenges)…and in that same year of deflation during spring of 92, it still heralded the arrival of Tony Delk on UK’s campus. The eventual 96 Consensus All-American, MOP of the Final Four, MOP of the Regional Final, and SEC player of the year would finish 4th (at the time) all time on UK’s scoring list (eventually passed by Keith Bogans)…UK’s all-time leader in 3 pointers (hitting a record tying 7 in the Final vs. Syracuse) is also 2nd all time in steals and 5th all time in scoring, while bringing UK its first title since 1978 (a team with 3 players who have retired jerseys). Tony also enjoyed a 10 year NBA career. It’s time for the best player on one of UK’s best all-time teams to have his 00 retired.
Unlike the previous 2 candidates for jersey retirement, Mike Casey never won an NCAA title. Dan Issel seems to think that were it not for a 1969 car accident which shattered Casey’s leg (as well as UK’s title hopes for 1970), that Casey would have enjoyed that honor…and may well have had his jersey retired sooner, rather than posthumously as, sadly, it must be now. I know there must be a legion of UK fans who remember the kid from Shelby County; the one who declared his allegiance to UK when he was 10 years old, one who would draw favorable, albeit later comparisons to a future hall of famer like Larry Bird. Mike Casey would score more points for UK than Riley, Hagan, Cox, Macy, and Ralph Beard. Casey was an iconic UK presence whose absence in the 69-70 season could have prevented Rupp from getting his 5th and last title. Sam Bowie’s stoic tenacity in returning from not one but two knee injuries to take UK to a final four is worthy of being remembered in the Rupp rafters; but by that same token, one of the greatest players ever at UK needs to be recognized as such. Perhaps Mike didn’t have the stats and titles that others have enjoyed, but he certainly was part of Rupp’s last great team. Mike Casey passed away a mere 8 days after UK hired John Calipari as its head coach. It’s time that Mike Casey be placed up high for not only what he meant to UK, but what he meant to the kids born in Kentucky in the 50’s and 60’s who wanted to follow in his footsteps and be a home-grown boy playing for the Blue and White.