I think it is more than fair to say UK basketball fans especially love seeing home state boys wearing Big Blue uniforms.
Over the years, UK has had a lot of home state heroes, but it appears UK fans are going to keep seeing fewer and fewer Bluegrass boys at Rupp Arena.
Coach John Calipari has brought a different level of hoops recruiting to UK. He now recruits primarily blue chip Top 25-type high school players from all across America. The upcoming 2020-21 season, for example has several McDonald’s All-America players, but only one scholarship Kentucky boy on the team: 6-6 Dontaie Allen of Pendleton County (Falmouth).
After an astounding high school career as a 43 ppg star, Allen has because of injury and redshirting been waiting almost three years to get in his first game. He is not expected to be a one-and-done player, so he likely will be keeping the home state streak alive for a while.
There has never been a UK championship team that did not have any state-bred scholarship players. Hopefully, the state will produce a few more UK-quality players over the next few seasons and they don’t get overlooked, a la 6-2 Chris Lofton of Maysville, 6-2 Danny Schultz of Middlesboro, and 6-6 Allen Houston of Louisville – all who made All-America at Tennessee and often gave UK fits. In fairness, UK had no chance to get Houston since his dad was the head coach at Tennessee.
But UK in all likelihood will never equal the number of Kentucky-breds who led the Wildcats to the 1957-58 NCAA title with 11 of its top 12 players being home state boys.
That team included Vernon Hatton of Lexington, Johnny Cox of Hazard, John Crigler of Hebron, Adrian (Odie) Smith of Farmington, Earl Atkins of Ashland, Don Mills of Berea, Billy Ray Cassady of Inez, Lincoln Collingsworth of Salyersville, Harold Ross of Hickman, Bill Smith of Walton, and Lowell Hughes of Prestonsburg. The only non-Kentuckian on the team was 6-7 Ed Beck of Georgia.
That, coincidentally, was Adolph Rupp’s fourth and last NCAA championship team (23-6).
On a personal note, Cassady and Cox both deprived my former high school, Dilce Combs Memorial (near Hazard, now Perry County Central) a state championship. We beat No.1 rated Louisville Male in the first round of the 1954 state, but lost a close game to eventual state champ Inez as we finished 32-3. We also lost to eventual state champ Hazard in the district in 1955 (I scored 17 points, including 13 of 17 free throws).
Cox went on to make All-America for the Cats but I got a small measure of revenge when I scored 16 points for Lees Junior College (Jackson) in an upset victory over the UK Kittens freshman team in 1956.
Amazingly, I returned to college basketball as a 73-year-old in 2008-09 at Roane State (Harriman, Tn.), playing in seven games and scoring in three to become the oldest person to score in a college game. All that is a long story. You can find a lot of details on the Internet by Googling “Ken Mink basketball”.
Like tens of thousands of young Kentucky high school basketball players, I never had a chance to wear the Blue and White, but also like many millions of Kentuckians the Wildcats will remain No. 1 in our hearts.
(Ken Paul Mink is a former Herald-Leader sportswriter, author of 26 books, and a native of Vicco, near Hazard)