Many of the younger Wildcat fans only know Mike Pratt as being the color analyst for the UK basketball team. Pratt, and play-by-play man Tom Leach, form one of the best broadcasting duos in college sports. We, as UK fans, are truly fortunate to have them both.
But, Pratt has done so much more. He played on some of the best UK basketball teams of all time. The 6'4", 217 pound forward starred for UK from 1967 to 1970. He, along with Dan Issel and Mike Casey, form one of the best recruiting classes in the illustrious history of Kentucky basketball. Pratt's UK team's three year record stands at an impressive 71-12. If you're counting at home, that's an .856 winning percentage. Wow!
Pratt capped off his rather impressive college career by being named an All-America in 1970. He was also First Team All-SEC in his senior year (Second Team his junior year). Pratt scored 1,359 points in 81 career games (25th in UK history), good for a career average of 16.8 points per game (he had a career high 42 points versus Notre Dame in December of '69). At only 6'4", he averaged 9.5 rebounds per game his senior year, 8.7 for his career. Pratt also made 48% of his career field goal attempts (53.9% his junior year). The Dayton, Ohio native was also an Academic All-America his senior year.
After graduating from UK in 1970, Pratt played two seasons with the Kentucky Colonels, where he averaged 5.6 points and 2.7 rebounds per game. Soon after leaving professional basketball he ventured to UNC-Charlotte, where he was the head coach from 1978 to 1981. He posted a 55-52 record while at Charlotte.
Mike Pratt is one of the many illustrious figures in UK basketball history, but I feel he is a bit under-appreciated. After-all, he played alongside the leading scorer in UK history in Dan Issel (2,138 points), and with another great Wildcat, Mike Casey, who scored 1,535 points in his career. Good for 13th on UK's all-time scoring list. But it was Pratt who not only averaged 14.1, 16.9, and 19.3 points per game in his three years, he also led the team in assists in both his sophomore and senior years (3.0 and 3.5 apg respectively). His rebounding numbers (8.7 for his career) are also outstanding, especially when considering that he's only 6'4". UK fans are indebted to all three players, but Mike Pratt stands out in my eyes as a player who could do it all; shoot, rebound, and pass. I wonder if he has any eligibility left?
That group was also on the receiving end of an unfortunate bit of bad luck, when Casey broke his leg in a car accident the summer before their senior year. The injury left him unable to play the '69-'70 season. With him they surely would have won Rupp another title.
Mr. Pratt recently took the time to answer my questions regarding a variety of issues, including: His time in a UK uniform, his take on Billy Gillispie, this years prospects at having a successful season, as well as other topics:
ASOB: You're originally from Dayton, Ohio, did Ohio State, Indiana, or any of the other Big Ten schools recruit you out of high school? Did coach Rupp have to do much persuading to get you on campus?
MP: "Yes. Big Ten schools recruited me and I considered Ohio State, Michigan and Indiana. Joe B. Hall was the main recruiter back then, and my senior year coach Rupp had the highly publicized Rupp's Runts, which gave them lots of national exposure, so that helped.
Coach would call me from time to time, but Joe B. was the guy who was always in Dayton. My final choice got down to Dayton, Cincinnati, and UK. The hardest thing I had to do at that time was to tell coach Don Donoher of Dayton that I was going to UK."
ASOB: You played for coach Rupp at the tail end of is career. Do you think the Baron mellowed with age?
MP: "I only have to go on what I experienced, and what I heard from players who were there years before me. And from those conversations I would say that he did, but he still was a very demanding coach both on and off the floor. He coached to find perfection and pushed his team to find it also. He was very proud of his players after basketball, and what they had accomplished in their lives."
ASOB: I hate to bring up an unpleasant memory, but: Jacksonville, the team that eliminated UK from the 1970 NCAA Tournament, was led my All-America center Artis Gilmore. Was he the most impressive player that you ever played against, along with Pete Maravich?
MP: "The Jacksonville game was a heart-breaker, to say the least. All four teams in the regional were ranked in the top seven in the country. All four teams sent multiple players to the pros after their college days. I would have liked to have played them (Jacksonville) without referees because Issel (Dan),Larry Steele and myself all fouled out. Our young players almost pulled it out for us.
Artis was sensational, as Pete was in a different way. I also played against Austin Carr (Notre Dame), Larry Miller and Charlie Scott (N. Carolina), Don May (Dayton), Bill Hosket (Ohio State), George Thompson and Dean Meminger (Marquette), Rudy Tomjanovich (Michigan), and many top players in the SEC: Neal Walk (Florida) and Perry Wallace (Vanderbilt)."
ASOB: You were the head basketball coach at UNC-Charlotte from 1978 to 1981. Do you look back fondly on those years?
MP: "Absolutely. I went down there with Lee Rose and Everett Bass. Lee was the athletic director/head coach and Everett and I were his assistant coaches. We had some fantastic success going to the NIT Championship game in 1976, and the Final Four in 1977. Lee left one year after the Final Four to coach at Purdue, and I was given the head coaching job, but not the AD job. A fellow was brought in from Kansas to be the AD.
I knew even before I coached a game that I was in for a rocky road when the new AD told me over lunch that he would not have hired me if he had been there at the time. I had four years as a head coach, with only the third year being a losing one, and that came about after our leading scorer broke his jaw after three games, and our center flunked out at Christmas. We started three freshman most of the year and managed a big win over Marquette late in the year.
A major problem there at that time was the administration felt they should go to the NCAA Tournament every year, and the Final Four on occasion. I was fired and the fellow who followed me had three losing years and was fired along with the AD.
We were fortunate to have so many wonderful players in our program and I still hear from some of them. We were in the original Sun Belt Conference which had coaches such as Gene Bartow, J.D. Barnett, Cliff Ellis, Tates Locke, and Lee Rose, who came back to the league at South Florida. The quality of the coaching, and the teams, were challenging to say the least."
ASOB: From the beginning of last season, to the end of the year, there was a readily noticeable change in Billy Gillispie's attitude and demeanor, especially when he dealt with the media. Do you attribute that change to the team beginning to win, or to Gillispie becoming acclimated to the demands of the job?
MP: "Billy seemed to really become more comfortable as the season rolled on, especially in the SEC regular season. I give the credit for the UK turnaround in the second half of the season to a combination of Billy, Ramel Bradley, Joe Crawford all coming together for a common cause -- winning. Joe and Ramel were use to a different coaching style, and Billy wanted to do things his way. That situation is not unusual after coaching changes, and many times it never gets resolved. That is why I give all three of them equal credit for getting together and making the necessary changes. It could have continued down the road it was headed through the U of L game, but those three wouldn't let it."
ASOB: You have a very unique perspective on all things UK basketball; early on last season, did you have a sense that UK could turn their season around in such a dramatic fashion?
MP: "Having been around basketball so long I sensed the above issue as we moved through November and December. But, what made it even harder to see the light at the end of the tunnel were the injuries to Meeks and Jasper. Those were major problems for Billy to overcome. I am sure he had planned on those two being key players on his first team, then to lose them, or get one back not fully recovered, had to be extremely tough on developing a team in your mold. They were really coming together right when Patrick Patterson went out for the year. The job the team did after that was terrific."
ASOB: Coming into the '08-'09 season, which UK player do you think has improved the most since last year?
MP: "I would have to say Meeks, if only for the reason that he was hurt last year and we didn't see what improvement he had made then. Also, I see a real confidence growing in Perry Stevenson. He is the key in the early part of this season because so many new players have to be moved in at key positions"
ASOB: Do you think Jared Carter will challenge for playing time this year?
MP: "Carter should see playing opportunity in the middle, then it's up to him to make the most of the opportunity. It would really help out in the rebounding area if he can play big minutes."
ASOB: Over the last several months there has been much speculation and conjecture surrounding UK's lead guard situation. How do you see the lead guard position shaking out?
MP: "Billy is looking for someone to grab hold of the spot: Run the offense, distribute the ball as Billy wants, and to 'D' it up. The one who does those things the best will end up as the lead guard.
I haven't seen enough of Galloway to have an opinion on him yet. Porter needs to not make turnovers and hit the open 'J.' Liggins seems to have the most talent at that position but he still has a long way to go; he's only a freshman, so it is gong to take time. As with Galloway, in a sense he is new also. Because of that, Porter is the current starter."
ASOB: One of the great things about the beginning of basketball season is the overwhelmingly optimistic outlook most fans have for the upcoming season. Most fans are counting wins and losses, and hoping for a deep tourney run. Do you think UK will be significantly better than last year?
MP: "I think we all have the right to be optimistic about the season, but we must remember that it is way too early to be talking NCAA runs. We need to watch how this team develops at lead guard, and a third perimeter shooter, and hope that we avoid injuries like we had last year. With the way college basketball is now, with the early entries into the NBA, etc., the way to judge a team is the game to game improvement by individuals, and as a group, in executing the coaches style of play. If you want to look at the big picture to start a year, look at the recruiting and see if the weakness of a team can be addressed by the people who sign for next year.
NCAA's are won by teams with talent, and ones who, game by game, develop as a team -- not by a preseason pick. I think this team should be better than last years, and I will be watching the game by game development of the group and individuals."
ASOB: Gillispie seems to be loving life in the Bluegrass. Do you see him staying long term (10-12 years)?
MP: "Billy seems to really be enjoying himself at UK. This is a tough job, and if you are not one-hundred percent familiar with the situation it can overwhelm you at first. In this day and age of college basketball, seven to ten years seems to be the optimum coaching span, but everybody's approach is different, and Billy might be comfortable coaching at UK for fifteen to twenty years. If he does, then we all will have enjoyed some fantastic basketball seasons."
ASOB: With UK losing to yet another unlikely opponent, how do you think UK fans should react to the loss? Be very, very worried, or chalk it up to being a 'flukish' loss?
MP: "It was a very disappointing game. The team didn't seem to be in the game mentally from the start. It is tough to play a team like VMI, not only because of their style of play, but also because of the perception of them by everyone. An experienced team wins that one even when playing poorly, but a young team loses those because they don't know any better ... like life, it is a tough price to pay to learn that lesson!!
This team needs to find a couple of pieces of their game; point guard leadership,and another shooter from the perimeter. It could be a very rocky next two months, but once we see development in the above two areas, we should see this team really blossom. Let's wait until SEC play to really judge them."
I want to thank Mr. Pratt for taking the time out of his brutal schedule to answer my questions so candidly. It is truly appreciated.
For previously posted interviews with other UK legends, follow the links:
Heartfelt Happy Birthdays go out to my father Coleman, my niece Jasmine, and my niece Lydia!
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats! Beat the Heels!