TV Time Out

Cats Head to Vegas, where Connections Abound

By: Steve Moss
By: Steve Moss

Kentucky's first appearance in the Findlay Toyota Las Vegas Invitational Basketball Tournament will be just UK's second appearance ever in the City of Lights. UK, 3-0 all-time against UNLV, last played in Vegas in 1980 -- a 74-69 win over the Runnin' Rebels. But there are plenty of Bluegrass basketball connections to the Vegas strip.

Kentucky's first appearance in the Findlay Toyota Las Vegas Invitational Basketball Tournament will be just UK's second appearance ever in the City of Lights.  UK, 3-0 all-time against UNLV, last played in Vegas in 1980 -- a 74-69 win over the Runnin' Rebels.

The Cats won't face Lon Kruger's team this time around.   But there are plenty of Bluegrass basketball connections to the Vegas strip.

On Friday, the Wildcats face another group of Wildcats in Kansas State.  The Manhattan Cats are off to a 5-0 start, despite the loss of Michael Beasley and Bill Walker to the pros.  KSU will play Oakland on Tuesday, before heading to Vegas for their tilt with Kentucky.

Remember Bill Walker?  He played briefly with O.J. Mayo at Rose Hill Academy in Ashland, before they both bolted for North College Hill in Cincinnati. 

The other teams in the Findlay tournament are Iowa and West Virginia.  You'll recall that Iowa knocked off the Cats in Kansas City, back in 2005, in the Guardian's Classic.  Prior to that, the two teams last met in 2001, with UK winning an NCAA second round game against the Hawkeyes.

Former Wildcat player and assistant coach Gale Catlett resurrected the West Virginia program, now run by Bob Huggins.  In that same Guardian's Classic, UK defeated the Mountaineers, then coached by John Beilein.

For years, Wildcat fans had been clamoring for UK to schedule Cincinnati, when Huggins was the coach there.  The Cats avoided any attempt to play the Bearcats, but finally met up with Huggie in the 2005 NCAA Tournament, a Wildcat victory in Indianapolis.

UK guard DeAndre Liggins will be making a return visit to Las Vegas.  Liggins, a Chicago native, played his final high school season at Findlay Prep in nearby Henderson. 

Cliff Findlay is the owner of nearly two dozen car dealerships in the Las Vegas area and has become quite a presence in the sports scene in the desert.  Findlay, a former 6-foot-8 forward at UNLV, lends his name to the Henderson prep school, as well as the tournament in which Kentucky will play.

Findlay Prep is located at the Henderson International School, which is owned by the Meritas Corporation.  Meritas also operates ten other schools, including one in Switzerland and one in Mexico.

A couple of the Meritas schools, including Findlay, are burgeoning powerhouses in athletics.  A few years ago, Meritas hired former Lexington Catholic coach Danny Haney as athletics director and basketball coach at North Broward Prep. 

Haney has since resigned his position as basketball coach, but now oversees all of the athletic programs for Meritas.  When the company needed a sponsor for the athletics program at the Henderson International School, Haney found Findlay. 

Findlay's son played basketball at a prep school, Maine Central Institute, and coach Max Good.  Good, of course, is the former EKU coach.

How about former Wildcat Derrick Jasper?  After being recruited to UK by Tubby Smith, undergoing microfracture surgery and enduring his sophomore season under Billy Gillispie, Jasper transferred to UNLV.  Jasper is sitting out the season, but will have two years remaining.  Wonder if he will show up at Orleans Arena, to cheer on his former teammates?

Dare I remind you that former Lafayette guard Junior Johnson made a name for himself in Las Vegas?  His PurchasePro was the darling of the dot com boom and made Johnson a billionaire.  Alas, Johnson's empire crumbled and recently he was found guilty of stock fraud and obstruction of justice.

Johnson's home, a 10,692 square-footer, is the most expensive bank-owned home in Nevada.  Valued at $10 million, Johnson was forced to forfeit the house, which now is owned by Lexington's Central Bank.

Call it the Six Degrees of Bluegrass basketball. 

WKYT will follow the Cats to Las Vegas.  Rob Bromley and yours truly will have reports beginning Friday at 6:00 p.m.

Those are the highlights... Stay tuned.

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