JAMIE H. VAUGHT: Ex-Wildcat Star Kevin Grevey Recalls Encounter With UCLA Legend John Wooden
By Jamie H. Vaught
For many years, Kevin Grevey has worked as a scout for NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers.
And the ex-Cat All-American said in a recent interview with this columnist that he is having more fun in following NBA as the league is now loaded with former UK hoops standouts.
“I love my Kentucky Wildcats,” said Grevey (pictured with friend and UK teammate Jim Duff) who played as a 6-5 forward at Kentucky during the early 1970s.
And that could be a little bit of a problem when the Kentucky players are included in Grevey’s scouting reports. Over the years, Grevey also has attended games at Rupp Arena several times a year to watch the prospective pro players.
A 10-year NBA veteran with the Washington Bullets and the Milwaukee Bucks, averaging 11 points in 672 games, Grevey admitted that the Lakers organization sometimes believe he is too close to the Wildcats to be objective when giving out his reports involving collegiate prospects from UK.
“I’m a little biased when we are in the conference room with the Lakers in the front office and the Buss ownership,” said Grevey. “Every time I speak for positively for a Kentucky player, there’s like ‘Oh yeah, right. Grevey bleeds Big Blue. You know we have to temper his positive comments about these guys because he is biased.’
“Maybe I am (biased) but daggone it, these Kentucky kids have done so well in the NBA and Coach Cal has done a magnificent job since he’s been here, bringing in these kids and preparing, making them ready for the high level game in the NBA.
“So it is a lot of fun to watch them play and I’d make a point try to get out and say, ‘Hi to every player that played at Kentucky.’ And we’ve drafted a little bit so it’s neat.”
In 2014, ex-Wildcat Julius Randle went to the Lakers as the league’s 7th overall selection in the NBA Draft.
Last fall, when the current season began, UK led all schools with 24 players on an opening-day NBA roster. Duke was second with 19.
Grevey, who is currently No. 7 on UK’s all-time scoring list with 1,801 points in three years, was excited to learn about the blockbuster trade in late February that sent ex-UK 6-11 star Demarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans to join forces with another big man from Kentucky, Anthony Davis.
‘’Wow! That could be really special if they can sign Demarcus Cousins to a long-term contract and keep Anthony Davis,” commented Grevey, who also works as a radio broadcaster for a national network. “They got two of the best big men in the NBA so they’re on something special. Still my head’s spinning. How New Orleans was able to get Marcus for as little as they gave (for) him but he is a heck of a player. I hope those two guys learn to play together and (have) good chemistry, and bring some pieces around them they could be a force in the NBA for a long time.”
Grevey, a two-time SEC Player of the Year who recently closed his popular restaurant in the Washington, D.C., area, knows something about winning. He was a member of a Kentucky team that almost won the national championship in 1975 before losing to famed coach John Wooden and his UCLA Bruins. Against UCLA, Grevey was sensational, scoring a game-high 34 points, but his effort wasn’t enough as the Wildcats dropped in a 92-85 decision.
That Kentucky squad, led by third-year coach Joe B. Hall, also stunned top-ranked and then-unbeaten Indiana Hoosiers, coached by Bobby Knight, 92-90 in the NCAA regional finals in Dayton, Ohio.
While in NBA, Grevey helped the Dick Motta-coached Bullets capture the 1978 championship, beating out the Seattle SuperSonics (now the Oklahoma City Thunder) in seven games. During that surprising title season, Grevey averaged 15.5 points. Two of his teammates, by the way, were future Hall of Famers Elvin Hayes and Louisville native Wes Unseld.
One of Grevey’s close friends is Jim Duff, who also lives in the Washington, D.C. area. Duff, who also played on the UK freshman team with Grevey, has some stories about the UK great, and they both grew up in the Cincinnati area.
“Kevin and I have been in the same town our entire lives — 62 years — and are the best of friends, so I have many stories about him,” said Duff in 2016. “I guess one of my favorites is that years after the 1975 national championship game which UK lost to UCLA, Kevin met Coach Wooden at a banquet and had the courage to say to him, ‘Coach, I think if you had not announced your retirement right before that game, we would have been national champions….’
“And he was right. We had beaten Indiana’s undefeated team and it was not one of UCLA’s better teams. But Coach Wooden timed his retirement announcement to elevate his team’s play. And he was also very clever about how he got on the refs — he waited until the cameras were off during commercial breaks to work them over. In that game, though, he actually got a technical foul and he even went out on the floor yelling at them when Kevin was shooting the technical foul shot, which disturbed Kevin’s shot.
“We would have won nine out of 10 games against that team, but that isn’t how the tournament works. And just think, if we had won that one, we would have nine championships (total) and UCLA 10. I hope we pass them in our lifetime.”
Grevey said Duff’s comments were right on the mark.
For years, Grevey had not been very happy about Wooden and his announcement. “I held a grudge against him for a long, long time and had a chance to meet him,” he said.
After Grevey and Wooden had exchanged pleasantries in that meeting, the former Wildcat said he told the former UCLA boss that Kentucky’s national championship banner would have been hung at Rupp Arena, not at Pauley Pavilion, if the legendary coach hadn’t famously announced his retirement during the Final Four Easter weekend in San Diego.
Grevey said, “He (Wooden) looked at me with a smile. When the kindness came off his face, (he) said, ‘If you played a little defense, you would’ve won.’ He turned and walked away from me so he got me back again.”
Nevertheless, Grevey said he was flattered that Wooden remembered him and recognized his accomplishments. Grevey recalled Wooden saying, “Kevin Grevey, lefthander, 34 points in the championship game, you were terrific and you had a good NBA career, Kevin.”
And 1978 was a very special year for Grevey personally. In addition to winning the NBA title that season, he also witnessed Joe B. Hall’s Wildcats capturing the 1978 NCAA crown as his 1975 freshman teammates at Kentucky -- Jack Givens, James Lee, Rick Robey and Mike Phillips -- helped UK win it all as heralded seniors. In addition, Grevey met his future wife, Sandy, who was working in the office of U.S. Senator Lowell Weicker of Connecticut.
“Probably the best year of my life other than when my children were born,” smiled Grevey. “It doesn’t get much better than that. I don’t know if I’ll have a year that will be near that one in 1978.”
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of KySportsStyle.com magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.
Photo by Jamie H. Vaught