This is the second article in a weekly series of 4. Each article will highlight 25 of the most influential people in the history of the University of Kentucky athletic program, counting down from 100 to 1. What makes a person “influential”? We used a variety of criteria, including: individual accomplishments, team accomplishments, impact to their particular sport, impact to the overall athletics program, cultural importance, and fan popularity. You may disagree with some of our selections, and that’s OK. Our goal is to not only provide recognition to some of the most important names of the past, but to also create discussion amongst the Big Blue Nation. The greatest fanbase in all of sports.
#75: Jeff Sheppard (Men’s Basketball)
Wanna feel old? There is a large chunk of Kentucky fans who look at this picture and say, “Hey, that’s Reed’s dad!” Not even knowing that Jeff Sheppard played on two national championship teams and was named the Most Outstanding Player in the 1998 NCAA Tournament. For us old fogeys who remember “Reed’s dad”, if I close my eyes I can still see those curls at the top of the key, and the high-flying athleticism that the kid from Peachtree City, GA brought to every game he played in. Here’s to hoping that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
#74: Jerry Tipton (Media)
Jerry Tipton began his job at the Lexington Herald-Leader in 1981, and began to exclusively cover the basketball program as the papers beat writer in 1987. While many members of the UK media are beloved (see our earlier posts on Alan Cutler and Rob Bromley), Jerry Tipton has always been the UK media figure that many UK fans love to hate. While being constantly criticized for his negativity, don’t expect anything to phase Tipton. After all, he still had to cover the team after the Herald-Leader printed their infamous article in 1985 detailing all of the NCAA violations that had been committed by the Commonwealth’s beloved basketball team. The most entertaining part of a John Calipari press conference can often be the playful ribbing and back and forth between the coach and Mr. Tipton.
#73: Hal Mumme (Football)
There was a time where Hal Mumme was on the fast-track to become one of the best coaches in college football. Nobody would have guessed it when he was hired by C.M. Newton from Division II Valdosta State without a drop of D1 experience. But the connection between he and quarterback Tim Couch was magical. The “Air Raid” offense produced some of the most exciting offenses to ever take the field. Mumme’s problem however, was that he didn’t bring the same excitement to the other side of the ball. Oh, and that whole thing where he sent money to high school coaches that left the team in the mess of a devastating probation era. The effects of that would be felt for years during the Guy Morriss and early Rich Brooks days. Despite all that, many fans have fond memories of the Mumme era, and often call into UK sports radio shows longing for an offense that was as pass-happy as Hal Mumme’s.
#72: Victoria Dunlap (Women’s Basketball)
Victoria Dunlap had quite the Junior year: She led the Kentucky Women’s Basketball program to its first ever Elite 8 appearance in the NCAA Tournament (2010); was voted a First-Team All-American; and was the SEC Player of the Year. Dunlap left UK as the #3 all-time leading scorer, and ranks #2 in games started, rebounds, and blocks. Since 2010 the Cats have made 2 more trips to the Elite 8, but it was Victoria’s squad that broke the mold to show that it was possible for Kentucky to have March success in both the men’s and women’s game.
#71: J.B. Holmes (Golf)
A Kentucky native, JB Holmes was a golf prodigy from an early age. He was on the Taylor County High School golf team when he was in the 3rd grade, meaning that he played varsity golf for a decade. After choosing to go to school at UK, Holmes led the Cats to their only SEC Championship in 2005. That same year he also earned the distinct honor of becoming Kentucky’s only SEC Golfer of the Year. Holmes owns 5 career PGA Tour victories, but met his most difficult challenge in 2011 when he underwent brain surgery. He was a recipient of the 2016 Ben Hogan Award in recognition of his determination to continue staying active in golf despite a physical handicap.
#70- Terry Shumpert (Baseball)
Terry started for 3 years in the infield for the legendary Keith Madison at Kentucky before being drafted in the 2nd round of the 1987 draft by Kansas City. If you were at a UK baseball game in the mid to late 80s, you did not want to leave your seat for any Cracker Jack’s when Shumpert was on the field. In his final season for the blue & white, he was named an All-American and finished the year with a .376 batting average and 32 stolen bases. He remains one of the all-time best in both categories and played 14 productive seasons in the Major Leagues.
#69: Dermontti Dawson (Football)
Before he was a Steeler, Dermontti Dawson was a Lexington native who decided he wanted to stay at home to continue his football career. Everyone at Kentucky knew Dawson would be good, but I’m not sure how many predicted he would one day be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and recognized by The Athletic as one of their top 100 players in NFL history. At UK, Dawson earned second-team All-SEC recognition as a senior, before being picked in the 2nd round of the NFL Draft by Pittsburgh, where he was chosen as a seven-time Pro Bowler and became one of the most iconic players in the storied history of Steelers football.
#68: Will Levis (Football)
Some may think this is a bit premature to put current quarterback Will Levis this high, but hear me out. Levis single-handedly created the biggest viral social media trend in Kentucky sports history when he posted a TikTok video eating a whole banana, peel and all. Sideline reporters and studio analysts across the country began to see if they could keep up with Kentucky’s QB1 in eating a banana in such a bizarre way during broadcasts. That’s pretty influential. After a solid first year in Lexington (2,800 passing yards, 33 total touchdowns), Levis’ stock has exploded this off-season and is projected by many draft experts to be a top 10, and potentially even number ONE pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. In a year from now, having Levis at #68 may not be high enough.
#67: Kenny Walker (Men’s Basketball)
As a self-proclaimed Star Wars nerd, there are few things cooler to me than the fact that we had a player with the nickname “Sky” Walker. Kenny Walker proved worthy of that name by winning the 1989 NBA Slam Dunk Contest with the New York Knicks. He finished his outstanding career at UK as the school’s number 2 all-time leading scorer (finishing only 58 points behind Dan Issel). Walker was a first-team All-American (1986) and won back-to-back SEC Player of the Year Awards (’85 and ’86).
#66: George Blanda (Football)
Until Tom Brady came along, the idea of playing football at an elite level well into your 40s was something no one thought possible. Unless you are old enough to have witnessed the remarkable career of George Blanda. Blanda played the sport, successfully, until the age of FORTY-EIGHT! And unlike Tom Brady, he also did the kicking. His numbers at Kentucky under the legendary Bear Bryant were somewhat ordinary (1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns over 2 seasons), however he exploded in the professional ranks, finishing his 26-year career with 26,920 passing yards, 236 touchdowns, 943 extra points, and 335 made field goals. Blanda was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981.
#65: Johnny Cox (Men’s Basketball)
Johnny Cox grew up deep in the heart of Appalachia in Neon, where in the 1940s and 50s, there wasn’t much else to do other than play basketball. He eventually moved over a few counties to play at Hazard High School, where his legendary skills were only rivaled by the other best player in the mountains, “King” Kelly Coleman. At UK, Cox helped lead the Cats to the 1958 national championship, a season in which he averaged a double-double. He followed that up with by being a consensus First Team All-American in 1959. Between his eastern KY roots and winning a national championship, there are few players more beloved than Johnny Cox.
#64- Jim Host (Media)
You can find Jim Host’s fingerprints on so many things in the state of Kentucky: Rupp Arena, the Kentucky Horse Park, and even the YUM! Center in Louisville all have a debt of gratitude to Host for being completed. He was a marketing genius who could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves. Many might not know however that Host started his career as a baseball player at UK, where he boasted a 1.66 ERA. 13 years after graduating, he founded Host Communications and within a couple years had acquired the broadcast rights to UK sports. In 2007, IMG acquired Host Communications through a $74.3 million deal.
#63: Arin Wright (Women’s Soccer)
Arin was nicknamed the “Energizer Bunny” as a child, which is a name I’m confident that many exhausted parents gave to their kids in the late 80s and early 90s. But there was certainly no one more deserving of the name than Arin as she overcame a torn ACL in her freshman year at UK, only to “keep going and going” to a full recovery and eventually becoming the first player from UK to be drafted into the National Women’s Soccer League in 2015. Wright was Ms. Clutch at UK, setting a school record with eight career game-winning goals, and she led the Cats to their only NCAA Sweet 16 appearance. Wright was also an NSCAA All-American, and a finalist for the 2014 ESPNW Female Athlete of the Year.
#62: Aaron Harrison (Men’s Basketball)
Aaron Harrison was never named to any All-American teams at Kentucky, nor was he ever a First Team All-SEC selection. He averaged a respectable 12 points per game, but in the pantheon of UK basketball players, we’ve seen countless players average that. The fact of the matter is, if you take away just 3 games from his career, Aaron isn’t even sniffing this list. But boy were those an incredible 3 games. In 2014, Harrison knocked out one team after another with ice cold daggers from the 3-point line: Louisville in the Sweet 16, Michigan in the Elite 8, and Wisconsin in the Final Four. It was arguably the most magical run by a Kentucky team in NCAA Tournament history. In the words of Jim Nantz in the closing seconds of the Wisconsin game, “This is the point where he always hits it!”
#61: Sam Bowie (Men’s Basketball)
To NBA fans, Sam Bowie will always be remembered as the guy the Portland Trail Blazers infamously selected ahead of Michael Jordan. In Lexington, KY he was one of the most impressive specimens to ever play on the hallowed court at Rupp Arena, and one of the biggest “what-if’s” in the program’s history. After a stellar sophomore year in which he was selected as a First Team All-American, Bowie missed the next two seasons with a stress fracture before being granted a medical redshirt to play a final season. It appeared it would be fairy tale ending for Bowie, as Kentucky advanced to the Final Four, only to see the team shoot 3 for 33 in the second half in a shocking loss to Georgetown.
#60: Tony Delk (Men’s Basketball)
In modern history, the mid to late 90s were the golden era of Kentucky basketball. And the brightest star during that run was number 00, Tony Delk. Kentucky won 86% of games that Delk played in; made 2 Final Four’s; and won a national championship in ’96. He was selected as a First Team All-American and SEC Player of the Year in that final championship season, in addition to being named Most Outstanding Player of the 1996 Final Four. Delk still holds the school record for career 3-point field goals at 283, 7 of which came in the national championship game against Syracuse. And who can forget his freakishly long arms? The man had a 7’2” wingspan but stood only 6’1’’ tall.
#59: Ralph Hacker (Media)
After serving as the right-hand man to the legendary Cawood Ledford for 26 years, Ralph Hacker became the lead play-by-play announcer for both men’s basketball and football in 1993. Hacker was the voice that many heard when the Cats won national championships in ’96 and ’98. After his career was finished, Ralph had dedicated 34 years of his life as a radio announcer for UK Athletics. Hacker was always ready to speak his mind on anything that upset him. From calling out the Lexington Herald-Leader to criticizing John Calipari’s home schedule, Hacker was never one to pull punches.
#58 Oscar Tshiebwe (Men’s Basketball)
If UK fans were able to go into Frankenstein’s lab and create their ideal basketball player, it would be hard to come up with anyone more perfect for BBN than Oscar Tshiebwe. He will never be outworked, but finds a way to do everything with a joy and gratitude unlike anyone we have ever seen here. After a dominant 2022 season in which he averaged a double-double, led the nation in rebounding (15.1 per game), and swept all of the National Player of the Year Awards, Oscar shocked many in the college basketball world by announcing he would return for his senior season (the first player of the year since 2008 to return to school). There is a great chance that Oscar will skyrocket up this list next year, and if he were to lead Kentucky to the promised land, could have the credentials as the greatest to ever play basketball in Lexington.
#57: Cotton Nash (Men’s Basketball)
Charles “Cotton” Nash was a bucket. He finished his playing days at Kentucky as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,770 points (although Dan Issel didn’t let him keep that title for long). Nash was a consensus All-American for all 3 years he played at UK, highlighted by a first team selection in 1964. It is rare for athletes to excel in more than 1 sport, but Nash also was a phenomenal baseball player, a sport he also played while at UK. He also holds a unique honor that only 13 other athletes can claim of having played in both the NBA (Lakers and Warriors) and in MLB (White Sox and Twins).
#56: Rachel Komisarz Baugh (Swimming & Diving)
A lingering fear of water doesn’t seem to be the best trait for a swimmer to have, but it never slowed down Rachel Komisarz Baugh. At UK she was honored as a six time All-American across five different events, was the only Cat to ever be a three-time SEC champion women’s swimmer, and owns multiple school records. After UK, Rachel was a member of the 2004 US Olympic Team and won a gold medal in the 800-freestyle relay, and the silver medal in the 400-medley relay. Not bad for someone who had to overcome a fear of swimming.
#55: Henri Junghanel (Rifle)
Question: Who is the best shooter in UK history? Answer: Henri Junghänel. The German native was selected as an All-American all 4 years he was at Kentucky, culminating with being named the World Shooter of the Year in his senior season (2013). Henri was the leading shooter on UK’s first national championship rifle team in 2011. After leaving UK, Junghänel won a gold medal for Germany in the 50-meter prone rifle at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
#54: Jared Lorenzen (Football)
The Hefty Lefty; The Pillsbury Throw-Boy; The Round Mound of Touchdowns. The man who walked off the bus looking like an offensive lineman (listed at 6-4 and 260 lbs), became a fan-favorite from day one. Lorenzen was captivating, in part because of how talented he was at playing quarterback, but also because nobody had ever seen someone of that size play college football at an elite level. Jared set six NCAA records in his four years at UK, finishing with over 10,000 passing yards and 78 passing touchdowns (both were more than former #1 pick Tim Couch). Lorenzen passed away in 2019 after struggling with health issues around his weight, but the legacy of number 22 will never be forgotten.
#53: Harry Lancaster (Athletic Director)
Harry Lancaster wore a lot of hats at Kentucky: assistant men’s basketball coach, head baseball coach, physical education professor, and athletic director. There are very few people who spent more time with legendary coach Adolph Rupp. Harry sat next to Rupp on the UK bench for 22 years, and was part of 4 national championship teams. An interesting tidbit- as a sophomore at Georgetown college, Lancaster scored the first two points against Rupp’s first UK team in 1930. Lancaster became AD in the late 60s, and oversaw the construction of Commonwealth Stadium as well planning for Rupp Arena which opened the year after he retired. UK’s Lancaster Aquatic Center was named in his honor.
#52: A’dia Mathies (Women’s Basketball)
In the storied history of UK’s men’s and women’s basketball program, A’dia Mathies was the first player to finish their career with 2,000 points, 600 rebounds, 300 assists, and 300 steals. Mathies did it all at Kentucky, including winning. Mathies’ teams only failed to reach the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament one time in her four seasons. She earned back-to-back SEC Player of the Year crowns in 2012 and 2013. Adia’s outstanding college career earned her the 10th pick in the WNBA Draft by the LA Sparks.
#51: Jim Green (Track & Field)
As a young, black athlete at Eminence High School in the late 1960s, you could have understood if Jim Green didn’t want to enroll at Kentucky, a school in the Southeastern Conference during the time of segregation. But Green blazed his own path for other young black men in the Commonwealth to follow, becoming the first black student-athlete to graduate from UK, as well as being one of the first in the SEC. Green won 3 NCAA titles (one in the indoor 60-yard dash and two in the 100-yard dash). The track and field program continue to honor his important legacy by renaming its annual opening indoor met each year as the “Jim Green Invitational.”