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JAMIE H. VAUGHT: UK's Tony Barbee Glad To Be Back In Active Coaching After One Year In Administ


Tony Barbee sure has come a long way in going from a Wildcat opponent to becoming an assistant coach at UK.

Nearly 25 years ago when Barbee played at Rupp Arena, he tried to help his 1991-92 UMass teammates and then-coach John Calipari beat host Kentucky, which was coming off a severe NCAA probation.

But the UMass swingman couldn't do much that December night as his road-weary team got whipped by the Wildcats 90-69. Just right after capturing the Great Alaska Shootout title, the Minutemen had encountered airline problems and didn't arrive in Lexington until less than 24 hours before the tipoff.

On that night against the Wildcats, Barbee managed to get 13 points before fouling out and the Cats were led by a pair of 20-point scorers in Jamal Mashburn (28 points) and Richie Farmer (22 points).

And the 6-6 junior from Indianapolis had another opportunity that season to beat UK, facing the Cats -- who had four "unforgettable" seniors in John Pelphrey, Sean Woods, Richie Farmer and Deron Feldhaus -- in a Sweet Sixteen matchup during the NCAA Tournament.

This time in Philadelphia, UMass did much better before losing 87-77 with Barbee getting 10 points and six rebounds. Calipari's team finished the campaign with a remarkable 30-5 mark, while the Wildcats later completed with a national ranking of No. 6 and a 29-7 record after dropping to Duke 104-103 in overtime in a historic showdown.

Anyhow, before Barbee arrived at UMass, he was being recruited by Kentucky during the late 1980s. Other schools like Purdue and Evansville sought him as well. He was a pretty good player in the prep ranks, but not a superstar.

But he bypassed UK, which was under a very dark cloud of NCAA troubles, and took a chance at UMass, playing for second-year coach Calipari who was rebuilding the struggling program basically from scratch.

In Calipari's 1996 book, "Refuse To Lose," with Dick Weiss, Barbee discussed the schools. While his friends couldn't believe he went to Massachusetts, Barbee admitted that "UMass was one of the worst programs" in the 1980s but felt more comfortable with the coaching staff after getting acquainted with them, including Coach Cal, at summer camps.

After Barbee, who became a two-time All-Atlantic 10 performer at UMass, finished his playing career, he worked with Calipari off and on throughout his coaching career. He has had three coaching stints with Coach Cal, including his current stay at Kentucky.

In 2014, Barbee became a member of the Big Blue Nation, joining Calipari as a special assistant, after spending a total of eight years as the head coach at Texas-El Paso (UTEP) and Auburn, compiling an overall mark of 131-127. He had competed against Calipari and the Wildcats in recent years.

Calipari was thrilled to have Barbee back again on his staff. The coach added he "had the pleasure of watching him grow up and mature with this game since I started recruiting him when he was 16 years old."

And just recently, UK announced that Barbee will rejoin the bench as an assistant coach, filling the vacated position of Barry "Slice" Rohrssen, who became the associate head coach at St. John's.

After seeing Kentucky's historic 38-1 campaign in 2014-15, Barbee is very pleased to be back for another year at Kentucky.

“I really enjoyed my first season in Lexington and I’m looking forward to returning to the bench as a coach,” said Barbee, who has been a part of Calipari's basketball family for more than 20 years.