This is the third 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.
#50: Chanda Bell (Softball)
It wasn’t always expected that the University of Kentucky women’s softball team would make the NCAA Tournament. In fact, UK had NEVER made an NCAA Tournament in 2009. Which happens to be the first year Chanda Bell set foot on campus. Head softball coach Rachel Lawson said it best, “She (Bell) was the catalyst of all the success the program has enjoyed over the past decade.” Bell led Kentucky to its first four NCAA Tournament appearances, and their first Super Regional. She was the first UK pitcher to throw a no-hitter in 2009, and would have four more of them before she finished, including the school’s first perfect game in her Senior season. Chanda is now the Associate Coach of the softball team at her home-state Indiana University.
#49: Gay Brewer (Golf)
Gay Brewer grew up in Lexington and played most of his golf on a course that is now named in his honor. While at Lafayette High School, he played golf with former Governor, John Y. Brown. Brewer initially went to UK on a football scholarship, since golf was not an official sport at that time. Brewer is best known for earning a green jacket when he won the 1967 Masters. He also was a member of the 1967 and 1971 Ryder Cup teams. At the time of his passing, John Y. called Brewer “The Tiger Woods of golf in Lexington in the ‘50s.”
#48: Marsha Bond (Volleyball)
Marsha Bond is the only two-time All-American in the history of UK’s volleyball program (earning those awards in 1982 and 1983). In her Senior season, Marsha led the Cats to their first ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Her career .380 attack percentage was one of the best in the history of the SEC and the best ever by a UK player.
#47 Eric Quigley (Tennis)
Eric Quigley won an NCAA record 172 matches during his time at Kentucky. That’s so many matches that even an avid Tinder user would be jealous. During his Senior season, Eric advanced all the way to the finals of the 2012 NCAA Singles Championship before losing to the #1 overall seed (Steve Johnson). Quigley was a five-time All-American (3x in singles and 2x in doubles) and 2012 SEC Player of the Year.
#46: Press Whalen (Cross Country)
Press Whalen is one of the few people who can say they were both a player and a head coach in their particular sport at the University of Kentucky. Whalen won a national championship in the two-man, 10-mile relay. After his undergraduate days were over, he returned to UK to become the head cross country/track and field coach in 1967. As head coach, Whalen helped secure four individual national titles. He was also crucial in helping to integrate the Southeastern Conference, coaching the league’s first African-American track athlete, Jim Green (#51 on our list).
#45: Mitch Barnhart (Athletic Director)
Barnhart is currently in his 20th season as UK’s Athletic Director, and has been recognized nationally as one of the best AD’s in the country. In fact, he was named AD of the Year by the SportsBusiness Journal in 2019. Under his watch, we have seen the football team reach unprecedented levels of success, the basketball team win a national championship, as well as making practically every sport on campus a contender for both conference and national titles every season. Most importantly, he will be getting rid of the checkerboard logo and serving alcohol to fans next season* (Please. Please, Mitch*). He has also overseen a countless number of new facilities and much needed renovations, including a new baseball stadium and overhaul of Rupp Arena.
#44: Sonny Collins (Football)
A native of Madisonville, Sonny Collins held the UK all-time rushing record for over 40 years. He finished his career with 3,835 yards (and 26 touchdowns). A mark that would not be broken until Benny Snell came along. Despite that, many who watched him play say he is still the best running back to ever play at Kentucky, and he was named SEC Player of the Year in 1973. Collins still remains 14th in SEC history for career rushing yards. There are also few players who were as cool and stylish as Sony Collins, who would come to press conferences wearing a feather boa, and rocked a large afro. The fact that fans later figured out the afro was a wig, just makes him even more awesome.
#43: Kyle Macy (Men’s Basketball)
If there were ever a UK basketball player who was as cool as the other side of the pillow on the basketball court, it was Kyle Macy. While he probably wasn’t the most talented player on the 1978 championship team, he was probably the most beloved. Every kid growing up shooting baskets in their driveway at some point envisioned themselves as Kyle, sinking a game winning free-throw. Oh, his famous free-throw routine. Macy’s habit of wiping his hands on his socks before each shot has become legendary in UK folklore. This famous habit all started because Macy’s dad (his high school coach), would keep the gymnasium so hot that it was the only way to get his hands dry before taking a foul shot. Macy finished his outstanding UK career being named SEC Player of the Year in 1980.
#42: Madison Lilley (Volleyball)
The girl who helped make Kentucky a volleyball school. Madison Lilley’s credentials are truly unbelievable: SEC Player of the Year, First Team All-American, NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player, ESPY Finalist for Best Female NCAA Athlete, National Player of the Year, and NCAA National Champion. In the history of the UK Athletics program, only Anthony Davis can also boast a POY, NCAA Tournament MOP, and National Champion in the same season. What she accomplished was remarkable, and her skill at being one of the best setters to ever play the game captivated Big Blue Nation during their magical post season run in 2021.
#41: Molly Belcher (Softball)
In her career at UK, Molly Belcher heard that word “first” so many times it might as well have been her middle name: UK’s first All-American in softball; UK’s first four-time All-SEC recipient; led the Cats to their first NCAA Tournament appearance; and remains first on the schools all time list of home run and batting average leaders. Not to mention she has some gold medals hanging in her trophy case as a member of the US National Team. After her playing days, Molly became an Assistant Coach under Rachel Lawson, and has been sharing her wisdom of the game with the Softball Cats for 12 seasons.
#40: Orlando “Tubby” Smith (Men’s Basketball)
One of the greatest coaching jobs in the history of college basketball is what Tubby Smith accomplished in 1998. Taking over for the departed Rick Pitino, Tubby took Big Blue Nation on a magical ride through the ’98 tournament to earn the schools 7th national championship. Without a single “superstar” on the roster, Kentucky came back from a 17-point deficit in the 2nd half to Duke in the Elite 8, a 10-point deficit to Stanford in the Final Four, and a 12-point deficit against Utah in the championship game. Smith was the first, and only, African American head coach in Kentucky’s history. Something I’m sure he may have never thought possible when he was growing up with his SIXTEEN brothers and sisters in the 1950s and 60s. Tubby was never able to recapture the magic of that season. He never reached another Final Four, and eventually parted ways with UK after the 2007 season. He returned to Rupp Arena on New Years Eve 2021 to have his jersey retired to the hallowed rafters.
#39: Kendra Harrison (Track & Field)
World records are not easily obtained. But if you Google “Women’s 100-meter hurdles record holder” you will find the name Kendra “Keni” Harrison (who owns the best time of 12.2 seconds). The former Cat was named National Track Athlete of the Year in her Senior season, a year in which she won the national championship in the indoor 60m hurdles and outdoor 100m hurdles. Harrison also helped her outdoor team finish in 2nd place that year (2015), which is the best in school history.
#38: Benny Snell (Football)
Who didn’t love Benny Snell? His contagious smile, his flashy mouthpiece, the way he always seemed to find the TV camera during every game; not to mention that he broke or tied FOURTEEN school records in his time in Kentucky. Snell’s records include career rushing yards (3,873), total TDs (48), rushing TDs (48), and 100-yard games (19). Not to mention that he also came to my wife’s classroom to read books to her 2nd graders. In 2018 Benny helped lead Kentucky to their best record in 41 years (10-3), and also rushed for 175 yards at The Swamp, which helped break the merciless streak to Florida. Is he the best running back in school history? Snell Yeah!
#37: Vito “Babe” Parilli (Football)
The leader of the heyday of Kentucky football under Bear Bryant, was quarterback Vito “Babe” Parilli. Babe was twice named a first-team All-American (in 1950 and 1951). He finished fourth and third in the Heisman voting those years, respectively. He boasted a 28-8 record as UK’s starting QB, and led the Cats to the most prestigious of Bowl Games: Orange, Sugar, and Cotton. After that string of New Year’s Day bowls, Kentucky did not make another New Year’s Day Bowl until 1999. A span of nearly 50 years (The curse of Bear Bryant is strong!). The Kentucky Babe also had an outstanding professional career, throwing for more than 20,000 passing yards in the pros, and is a member of the New England Patriots Hall of Fame.
#36: Jack Givens (Men’s Basketball)
“The Goose was golden!” If you don’t know anything else about the remarkable career of Jack “Goose” Givens, you probably know about his unstoppable game against Duke in the 1978 national championship; a game in which he scored 41 points and led the Cats to their 5th NCAA championship. That title was very important to the basketball program, as it proved Kentucky could remain a national power and win championships in the post-Rupp era. Jack continues to appear on radio broadcasts for the UK Sports Network, as well as TV shows to give his insight on all things Kentucky basketball.
#35: Harry Mullins (Rifle)
Who has the most dominant team in UK sports right now? Basketball? Nope. Football? Not yet. Cheerleading? Maybe a few years ago. The juggernaut in Lexington right now is Harry Mullins’ rifle team. In a sport that has been dominated for decades by West Virginia and Alaska-Fairbanks (yes it is a real school, look it up), Mullins has won back-to-back national championships and 4 titles in the past 12 years. Born in Germany, Mullins has been a part of the UK rifle program in some fashion since 1982. First as an athlete, and later as a coach where he’s been named Coach of the Year four time. And one more piece of knowledge for your UK trivia bank: Harry Mullins is one of only 2 coaches in UK history to win at least 3 national championships. The other? Adolph Rupp.
#34: Rhyne Howard (Women’s Basketball)
I could name all of the awards that Rhyne Howard earned in her time at Kentucky, but I think our server has a limit on how long these articles can be. Howard was an absolute STAR at Kentucky, and put up numbers never seen before. She scored 30 or more points in 10 games (including 43 at Alabama); she played and started in 114 games, never once coming off the bench; and she ranks first all-time in career three-pointers made with 284. She is the school’s 2nd all-time leading scorer (behind Valerie Still-more to come on her in these rankings) and her 2,290 points put her at 17th in the history of the SEC. Fans fell in love with her and the 2022 squad when they beat South Carolina to earn the program their first SEC Tournament title since 1982.
#33: Ralph Beard (Men’s Basketball)
Bobby Knight once brought Ralph Beard to Bloomington to talk to his Indiana players. Knight introduced Beard as “the Michael Jordan of his time.” Beard’s own Hall of Fame Coach, Adolph Rupp, said that Ralph was the best player he ever coached. That is high praise from 2 of the best coaches of all-time. And it was deserved. Ralph Beard was the floor general of the beloved “Fabulous Five” that won back-to-back national championships in 1948 and 1949. Those teams helped revolutionize the game of basketball with something known as “the fast break.” A cloud of controversy will always surround his legacy however, as he was arrested in 1951 as part of a point-shaving scandal. As part of his punishment, he was banned from ever participating in organized sports again.
#32: Tom Leach (Media)
When I go to work, I have to sit in a cramped cubicle. When Tom Leach goes to work, he gets to sit in the best seat in the house at Rupp Arena. Not a bad gig. The current “voice of the Wildcats”, Leach will be starting his 26th season calling games for UK football, and his 22nd for UK basketball this year. He is a six-time winner of the Kentucky Sportscaster of the Year Award. So many fans love listening to a Tom Leach broadcast that they will bring headphones to the games, or mute their TV and turn on the radio at home.
#31: Ashley Judd (Other)
Most major athletic teams have a celebrity fan that will sometimes attend games, however I will go to bat that none of them are as passionate as UK’s biggest celebrity fan, Ashley Judd. The Ashland native grew up in eastern Kentucky, went to school at UK, and is a self-proclaimed basketball nut. There is always a buzz in the air whenever Ashley is at a game, and fans flock to get their pictures with her. But at the same time, it’s the one place she can be where she is just like everyone else, a passionate fan cheering on the Cats. Not to mention, Judd graced the most popular poster in the history of UK Athletics, the 1998-1999 UK hockey poster. A quick Google search and you will find these posters still selling for $150 online.
#30: C.M. Newton (Athletic Director)
Few people have played such a prominent role in UK Athletics in so many ways as C.M. Newton. You can start with his playing days, where he was a member of the men’s basketball team that won a national championship in 1951. Though his career led him to other places, making coaching stops at Transy, Alabama, and Vanderbilt, Newton found his way back to Lexington when he was named Athletic Director in 1989. Newton walked into an absolute mess as the basketball program was under probation from the end of the Eddie Sutton era. He knew he needed to get the right man in charge of men’s basketball, and knocked it out of the park with the hiring of Rick Pitino, who led the climb from probation to national champions in 1996. C.M. also made other important hires while at Kentucky, appointing Bernadette Maddox as the first African-American women’s coach, as well hiring Tubby Smith to replace Pitino in 1998.
#29: 1988 National Champion’s (Women’s Cross Country)- Lisa Breeding Duerr, Sherry Hoover Bordner, Valerie McGovern Young, Don Weber (coach)
It might be a bit of cheating on my part to put 4 people as the 29th ranked person, but I’m going to anyway. In part because this group of people deserve to stay together. UK winning a national championship in cross country was an amazing accomplishment by an extraordinary group of individuals led by head coach Don Weber (who also ran track and cross country from ’68 to ’72). His star athletes on the ’88 team included: Lisa Breeding Duerr, who was national champion in the 3,000 meters as a freshman; Sherry Hoover Bordner, a seven-time All-American who broke 10 school records during her career; and Valerie McGovern Young, who won three individual national championships in the 5,000 meter run. The ’88 squad remains the only UK women’s team to have won a national championship.
#28: Matt Jones (Media)
The Middlesboro native started his career as a lawyer, before deciding to make his love of UK sports a profession. The founder of Kentucky Sports Radio (better known as KSR), there has arguably never been a media personality with more influence on Big Blue Nation than Matt Jones. His radio show is broadcast all over the state, and fans have learned to block off 10am-Noon every day to hear what Matt and co-hosts Drew Franklin and Ryan Lemond have to say about the Cats. Jones also hosted a television show called “Hey Kentucky!” for nearly 3 years on LEX-18. As someone who followed KSR from its early days of the Jai Lucas and Patrick Patterson recruitments, KSR and Matt Jones were major influences on us here at Lex, Buds & Pick ‘n Roll to start our own podcast and website.
#27: Bill Keightley (Men’s Basketball)
If ever there was someone deserving of the nickname, “Mr. Wildcat”, it is Bill Keightley. You know you have to be pretty special to get your jersey retired in Rupp Arena without ever having played or coached a game, but Keightley was exactly that, special. Mr. Wildcat spent nearly 50 years of his life as the Equipment Manager for the men’s basketball team, but he was so much more than that. You could even argue that Keightley better represents Kentucky Basketball better than anyone possibly could. Coaches come and go, the player’s names change on the back of the jersey from season to season, but Keightley was always there. Decade after decade. Proof that Kentucky basketball is the gold standard no matter who is playing or coaching the team. During his time on the UK bench, he was a member of 3 national championship teams and served under 6 coaches, from Rupp to Gillispie. UK continues to honor Bill with a permanent spot on the Rupp Arena floor in front of Mr. Wildcat’s seat on the bench.
#26: Eddie Sutton (Men’s Basketball)
While most of the people on this list have influenced UK sports in a positive way, there are a few who had such a negative impact that they have to be included. And when you cause the university’s premier athletic program, men’s basketball, to be put on 3 years’ probation and almost single-handedly destroy the entire program, then your place on this list is earned and not given. The Sutton era started out good enough, he was named SEC and AP Coach of the Year in his first season (1986), and lead the Cats to the Elite 8. But it did not take long for things to begin falling apart. Sutton’s bag man sent money to former player Chris Mills’ father that was infamously found in an opened air-express package in L.A. in April 1988 that triggered the NCAA’s investigation into Kentucky. Although the consequences could have been worse, the 3 years of probation from the NCAA included a 2-year ban on postseason play and scholarship limitations. It was devastating and took one of the greatest coaches in the history of college basketball to lead Kentucky out of the darkness…Rick Pitino.