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Q & A with Kentucky Basketball Legend Kyle Macy

As I sat and watched the seconds slowly tick away in Kentucky's 94-88 national championship victory over the Duke Blue Devils on March 27, 1978, I wanted to be Kyle Macy, and believe me, I wasn't alone in that sentiment.  Afterall, Macy was the leader of one of the greatest UK teams to ever grace the hardwood.  He was as cool a customer as existed in college basketball, and it seemed he never made a mistake.  He was that good, and to me, he was Kentucky basketball.

The fact that Macy stood-out so boldly on a team full of great players is a testament to not only his ability, but even more-so, to the discipline he exhibited on the court.  Never one to rush a pass, or take a quick shot, Macy led the Wildcats almost effortlessly.  Or at least it seemed that way.

The son of Hall of Fame Indiana high school coach Bob Macy (he scored over 1,000 points as a player, and recorded over 500 victories as a coach), Kyle learned at an early age that having structure within the context of the game will more often than not lead to victory, because most times the opponents won't be so thoroughly schooled in playing within the team concept.  Macy knew that all the components of the team must work as one unit, none more important than the other.  Most importantly, the transplanted Hoosier knew one great player will almost never defeat a great team.

Macy brought that mindset with him to Kentucky after having perfected his father's teachings at Peru High School in Peru, Indiana.  Macy, who scored 2,137 point in his prep career, won Indiana's Mr. Basketball award in 1975, as well as being named a Parade All-America.  After his illustrious high school career ended, he chose to attend Purdue University to play for coach Fred Schaus.  But, after one year, a year in which Macy averaged 13.8 points per game, and led the Boilermakers to a 16-11 record, Macy decided to transfer.  Luckily for UK, he chose the 'Cats.

After sitting out the '76-'77 season due to NCAA transfer rules, Macy embarked on a Wildcat career best described as legendary.  Leading a team comprised of All-America's and future NBA players, Macy's calm, focused, business-like demeanor left his Kentucky teammates no choice but to follow, or get out of the way.  Rick Robey, Jack Givens, Mike Phillips, James Lee, Truman Claytor, and Jay Shidler are just a few of the names that donned the back of UK jerseys during that most storybook of seasons, but Macy knew the name emblazoned across the front of his jersey was the only one that mattered.  

The 1978 Wildcats, led by the 6'3", 180 lb point guard finished the season 30-2 (16-2 in the SEC), and won the University of Kentucky its fifth national title.  Macy averaged 12.5 points, 5.6 assists (his 178 assists are the most ever by a UK sophomore), and 2.4 rebounds per game.  He made an unheard of 53.6% of his shots and 89.1% of his free throws (third highest single season average for a Wildcat).  Macy was named First Team All-SEC, Third Team All-America (UPI), and proved to be clutch when it matters most, winning the NCAA Mid-East Regional Most Outstanding Player award. 

After losing an abundance of talent to graduation, the 1979 'Cats, mostly due to Macy's leadership and outstanding play, finished the year 19-12 (10-8).  Not one to bemoan his or his team's fate, Macy led the 'Cats into the newly minted SEC Tournament (the tourney had been scrapped in 1952) and announced UK's presence with authority -- In round one versus Ole Miss and All-SEC performer John Stroud, Macy made 12-20 shots, and 8-11 free throws for a career-high 32 points in UK's 82-77 win: In round two against Alabama, and Tide great Reggie King, Macy made 9-16 shots and 4-4 free throws, good for 22 points.  He also dished out seven dimes in Kentucky's epic 101-100 victory over 'Bama (still one of the most exciting basketball games I've ever witnessed): Round three brought the No. 8 ranked LSU Tigers and DeWayne Scales, but Macy could not be controlled -- He made 10-15 shots from the floor, and 9-9 free throws, resulting in 29 points.  He also distributed four assists in the Wildcats 80-67 victory over Dale Brown's squad: Finally, though, in the tourney finals UK ran up against Tennessee.  The Vols, led by 'Cat killer Reggie Johnson, Howard Wood, and Terry Crosby bested UK 75-69 in overtime.  Macy made 4-9 shots, 2-2 free throws (10 points) and handed out six assists.

Macy was so fabulous, though, he was named the tournament MVP, even though UK lost in the finals.  A look at his cumulative numbers from the event tells the tale -- 35-60 from the floor (58.3%), 23-26 from the charity stripe (88.5%), and 20 assists (5.0 per game) to go along with his 23.4 scoring average.

For the year, Macy averaged 15.2 points (on 50.4% shooting), 4.2 assists, 2.6 rebounds, and 2.2 steals per game (his 69 steals are the most ever by a Wildcat junior).  He continued his superb free throw shooting by making 86.8% of his tries.  After the '79 season was concluded, Macy was named a Second Team All-America, and First Team All-SEC.

In the summer of 1979, Macy, as a member of the USA's national team, competed in and won the Pan Am Games held in Puerto Rico.  The team, coached by then-Indiana coach Bob Knight, finished the tournament 9-0. 

Kentucky entered the '79-'80 season ranked No. 4 in the country, and throughout the year never fell below No. 6.  They put together two lengthy winning streaks of 12 and 11 games, and ended the season 29-6 (15-3).  But, unfortunately for UK and UK fans, the season ended as it began -- With a loss to a Duke team led by Mike Gminski, Lexington native Vince Taylor, Gene Banks and Kenny Dennard.  The 55-54 setback left UK fans with only memories of #4.

Memories that included a senior season where Macy averaged 15.4 points (on 52.5% floor shooting), 4.7 assists, 2.4 rebounds, and 1.7 steals per game.  The end of the year brought even more accolades for the Kentucky hero -- He became only the seventh Wildcat ever named a consensus First Team All-America (Jamal Mashburn in 1993 became the eighth).  Macy was also voted the SEC Player of the Year, at the time only the fourth Wildcat to ever earn that honor (there are now 10 UK players who have won the award a total of 12 times).  Macy also was named to the All-SEC Tournament Team, as well as the SEC's Male Athlete of the Year.

Kentucky's record during Macy's reign as the "Top Cat" was an outstanding 78-20 overall (.796 winning %), and 41-13 in the SEC (.759 winning %).  Macy left UK as the top career free throw shooter in the program's history by making 331 of 372 charity stripe attempts (88.97%), an honor he still holds today along with Jodie Meeks.  He is also one of only seven UK players who hold the distinction of being a three-time All-America, and one of only 13 Wildcats named First Team All-SEC three times (the latest being Kenny Walker).  He is still No. 6 in career assists at UK after accumulating 470 during his three year UK career.  And of course, Macy's #4 jersey hangs in the rafters at Rupp.

His career numbers look like this -- 14.4 points (1,411 career points), 4.8 assists, 2,5 rebounds, and 1.9 steals per game.  He shot 52.1% from the floor.

After Macy graduated from UK in 1980, he was selected with the 22nd overall pick of the NBA draft by the Phoenix Suns.  He played five years with the Suns, and one year each with Chicago, and Indiana.  Not surprisingly, Macy's teams made the playoffs all seven years of his NBA career.  His under-appreciated NBA career numbers look like this -- 9.5 points, 4.0 assists, and 2.2 rebounds per game.  He shot 50.1% from the floor, and 87.3% from the free throw line.  In 44 career playoff games, he averaged 9.1 points, 3.9 assists, and 2.5 rebounds per game.  He followed up his NBA career by playing three years in Italy.

Macy entered the college coaching profession in 1997 as the head coach at Morehead State.  He led the Eagles to their first 20 win season in nearly two decades in 2003.  He left Morehead in 2006.

Legend isn't a big enough word to describe how revered Kyle Macy is to fans of UK basketball.  Simply put, he was the consummate point guard, the consummate leader, the consummate teammate, the consummate champion, and now, he is the consummate icon.

I recently had the great honor of speaking with Macy about his UK career, and all things Kentucky basketball.  Here's what #4 had to say:

ASOB: You transferred from Purdue to UK, did coach (Joe) Hall recruit you out of high school?

KM: Yeah, he definitely did.  I was real late in deciding, it must have been May.  Purdue was just an hour away, but it came down to those two schools.  Coach Hall needed me to make a decision because there was a player named Truman Claytor he could sign, so he needed to know something, and I wasn't ready to make a decision.

ASOB: Did Indiana recruit you?

KM: Bob Knight didn't really recruit me very hard.  He already had a bunch of great players, and didn't really need me.  But later on, coach Knight told me if he had it to do all over again that he would recruit me, and I thought that was nice of him to say.

ASOB: What happened at Purdue, why did you leave?

KM: Purdue's a great school.  I still have lots of friends from those days, but I wasn't happy with the basketball program, particularly the coach.  There wasn't enough discipline in the program, and of course coach Hall believes in discipline, so I thought it was best to leave.

ASOB: The 1978 title team had the reputation of being all business.  Did that result in a more focused team?

KM: The higher level of focus that the team had, the more fun we had ... when you win that many games it's a lot of fun.  But our goal was to win it (the national championship), not just get there.  That whole "all business, no fun" thing was blown out of proportion.  Some of those guys had been to the final game (1975), and won the NIT (1976), and played in East Regional tournament (1977), so we were focused on one purpose.  We had a purpose, and that's what we wanted to accomplish.

ASOB: Jack Givens took 27 shots (he made 18, for 41 points) in the title game versus Duke, when, during the course of the year he averaged taking 13 shots.  Were the number of shots he took a result of design, or did it just kind of happen through the flow of the game?

KM: No, he was just gunnin' that day (laughs).  Actually, a little bit of both.  My first look down the floor was to try and find Jack.  Duke was playing a 2-3 zone andthey never adjusted.  He'd flash behind the front guy, and in front of the back defender, and he was quick enough and strong enough to either get to the paint, or pull up for a shot.  Early on he was making all kinds of shots ... banking in shots from the corner.  We kind of knew it was his day.

But an overlooked factor in that game was that (Rick) Robey had 20 points.

ASOB: How did that team deal with the expectations of the fans? 

KM: We didn't really get caught up in the expectations of others, because we expected so much from ourselves.  Nobody wanted to lose, and nobody expected more from us than we did.

ASOB: I know you've been asked this question a thousand times, but I'm going to ask anyway -- Rubbing the socks at free throw line, when did you develop that habit?

KM: My father taught me how to play basketball, and he taught me to develop a routine, so you know exactly whats going to happen. 

When you play, you sweat profusely and my dad would crank up the heat in the gym, it would be really hot -- At the ballgames it would be cold outside and people would come in wearing their winter coats, and when they took it off they'd have short sleeve shirts on.  They knew it was going to be hot in the gym --  We use to wear two pairs of socks, and the outside socks would be dry, so it became a habit for me to wipe my hands on my socks.  Also, the bending down helped bring me my focus at the free throw line.

ASOB: If the three-point shot would have been in effect in 1978, do you think that would have changed the way the UK offense was run?

KM: I don't think our offensive sets would have changed.  We all could shoot it long-range ... Jay Shidler, Truman Claytor, Jack ... and we did.  But our first look would have been inside.  That was the key to that '78 team; we could do it all -- We were underrated defensively, and we had good depth, we had great outside shooters, and great post players.  But we ran a lot of plays that resulted in a long-range shot.

ASOB: Coach Hall is famous for his conditioning and weight lifting programs.  Do you think that lifting weights has adversely affected the shooting percentages of players over the last couple of decades?

KM: It can.  It's important to keep stretching.  The muscles will tighten up if you don't stretch before and after lifting, which can result in bulkier muscles, like a football player.

One aspect of conditioning that's often overlooked is the mental aspect ... knowing you've accomplished what you have (in conditioning).  In the game you have the mindset that you've worked harder than the guys you're playing, and that can give you an advantage.

ASOB: At UK, for your career, you dished out 470 assists to only 191 turnovers, for a 2.5-1 assist/turnover ratio.  Did you employ a particular technique in order to post such outstanding numbers?

KM: My father and coach Hall put a tremendous value on possessing and taking care of the basketball.  Plus, you have to want to pass the ball.  My role was to distribute the ball ... my job was to get the team into the offense, and get the ball to a teammate in a position to score. 

I wasn't the fastest guy in the world, so I would work on my ball-handling skills, and using my body to protect the basketball.

ASOB: Before we get into talking about today's UK team, I have to ask you -- You played one year with the Bulls.  How was it playing with Michael Jordan?

KM: Actually, it sounds funny but it was a disappointment.  I was brought in to play along side him, but he got hurt and only played in 15 games.  I didn't really have the opportunity to do what I was brought in there to do.

ASOB: What are your thoughts on how John Calipari has handled the Kentucky job thus far?

KM: I don't know if someone talked to him, but he understands the job.  He's been in the right places and said the right things.  That's what the program was looking for.  They're paying him to not just coach, and he gets that.

ASOB: As a former player, do any of Calipari's "run-ins" with the NCAA concern you at all?

KM: I would hope that before he was hired that UK checked with the NCAA, and I would hope their concerns were alleviated.  In the search, the background check, that should have uncovered any potential problems.

ASOB: John Wall has been tabbed by some as the preseason player of the year.  Do you think the expectations for this team are too high?

KM: First off, they have a lot of talent.  But, realistically, I don't see how you can label a player who's never played in college, national player of the year.

They do have a very talented team, though.  The challenge will be developing team chemistry.  You have new players, you have 13 guys learning a new system.  Talent can overcome a lot of things, but team chemistry is very important to the team's success.  It could be ugly early on, but later in the season they should be coming together.

ASOB: Being an outstanding point guard yourself, do you have any advice for John Wall and Eric Bledsoe?

KM: Listen to the coach and enjoy the experience.  Don't get caught up in the outside distractions, and do what the coach wants, not outside influences.

Great players have an innate ability to let the game come to them.  They have a knack for knowing when to force things, and when to let the game flow to them.  There are players on this team that are capable of being great, but will they allow themselves to learn?

I want to sincerely thank coach Macy for being to generous with his time, and forthright with his answers. 

Currently Macy is the Vice-President of Basketball Operations and head coach of the Bluegrass Stallions, an ABA team based in Lexington.  The Stallions have a definite Kentucky flavor with several former UK and Kentucky college alums on the roster -- Ravi Moss, Bobby Perry, Lukasz Obrzut, and Wayne Turner, all UK alums.  Former Henry Clay, and Georgetown College star Aubrey White is also on the team, with former Tates Creek and Georgetown College product Justin Taylor.  Darnell Dialls, of Lafayette High School and Eastern Kentucky University, has also been tabbed for the team.

The Stallions will play their home games in the new arena at the Kentucky Horse Park.  The first home game of the season is November 29, at 3:00 pm EST versus the Music City Stars.  For ticket, and other information about the team, go to the teams web-site here --  Bluegrass  

Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!