One of my favorite basketball teams at the University of Kentucky is the 1977-78 squad which won the school’s fifth national title. And it happened while I was a student reporter at UK.
I have many stories about the 1978 Wildcats, who finished with a 30-2 mark, and several of them have been published in my UK basketball books and newspaper columns over the years.
With the forthcoming reunion of the 1978 national championship team taking place in Lexington during the Feb. 24 weekend of the Kentucky-Missouri basketball game, I thought I’d share one of the stories.
Remember 6-11 star Rick Robey? Of course, you do. The former All-American was considered that team’s leading spokesman along with fellow All-American teammate Jack Givens. Both seniors were likeable, articulate and popular with the news media.
In an exclusive interview that was published in my 1998 book, titled “Cats Up Close: Champions of Kentucky Basketball,” Robey reminisced the celebratory night after Kentucky beat Duke for the national title in St. Louis.
“I can remember flying home, and James Lee and I were sitting in the back on a private flight on Delta Airlines,” said Robey, who later played in the NBA for eight seasons. “We said, ‘By golly, we are going to drink a beer and celebrate.’ So, I went ahead and ordered a beer.”
Then one of UK’s assistant coaches saw what they were doing. “You all are not allowed to drink,” the aide told the players. (According to Robey, the assistant was either Dick Parsons or Leonard Hamilton.)
But Robey didn’t agree and said, “I no longer play for Kentucky. You know I am (over) 21 years old and I can have a beer if I want a beer.”
And coach Joe B. Hall came over to find out what the commotion was all about.
“(Hall) was still trying to be that protective father of you,” smiled Robey, who was the squad’s second-leading scorer with 14.4 points (behind Givens’ 18.1 points).
Robey didn’t say if they drank any more beer on the plane after that minor incident, but you can bet they probably had a few drinks after arriving in Lexington when Hall was out of their sight.
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Don’t expect to see former Wildcat Dwane Casey, who was a junior guard on that national title squad, at the team’s 40th reunion.
Several weeks ago, I texted Casey, who is the head coach of the Toronto Raptors, and asked him if he was coming to Lexington for the reunion. He said no, explaining that he would be very busy during that time.
By the way, Casey will be in Los Angeles to serve as the coach of Team LeBron in the 2018 NBA All-Star Game this weekend (Sunday night, Feb. 18 at 8 p.m. ET on TNT).
Casey, a former UK assistant who is one of the nicest coaches around, has guided the Raptors to the playoffs in the past four years. Now in his seventh year at Toronto, he was also the head coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves for two seasons.
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A new book about Kentucky’s 1978 national championship season is out. Author Doug Brunk has penned an engaging volume, titled “Forty Minutes to Glory” (University Press of Kentucky, $19.95), sharing many inside stories involving the players, coaches and student managers.
Along with the exciting moments during the memorable campaign, the 197-page paperback includes stories about hardships such as Jay Shidler’s 150-mile trip to visit his ailing mother in Indiana during the Final Four and the death of Scott Courts’ father several days before the national title showdown. It’s a nice read for a Big Blue faithful, who won’t be disappointed.
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the executive editor and founder 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.
UK Athletics Photo (1977-78 national title squad)