Coaches, Players Remember Mr. Wildcat

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - There were days when Ramel Bradley would trudge onto the practice court at Kentucky and just be out of it.
No energy, no bounce, none of the confident swagger that defined the scrappy guard's career.
Then Bradley would walk over to longtime Kentucky equipment manager Bill Keightley, and the man who sat on the Wildcats bench
longer than anyone in program history - Adolph Rupp included - would tell him to snap out of it.
"If I was upset or feeling some kind of way, when you walked in, he was going to grab you up and hold you real tight and tell you, 'You're my boy, Little Smooth,"' Bradley said. "He made me feel like I was his favorite, and the thing about it is, he made everyone feel like that."
Keightley's nearly boundless energy made his death on Monday night all the more shocking to those who knew him, which was nearly
everybody associated with Kentucky basketball since Keightley became involved with the program in 1962. Keightley passed away in
Cincinnati at age 81 from internal bleeding caused by a previously
undiagnosed tumor on his spine.
A public viewing and memorial service will be held at Rupp Arena on Thursday, underneath the retired jersey for the man dubbed "Mr.
Wildcat" during his 48 years on the bench.
"Bill made a difference in so many peoples' lives on a daily basis," Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie said. "It didn't matter how old you were. It didn't matter how young you were. It didn't matter. He was something else, and he obviously has touched all of us on a daily basis."
Even as he aged and developed a staff - mostly undergraduate
students - of his own, Keightley would still push the laundry cart
around the court during practice, picking up discarded towels and shirts.
"He had a great amount of pride, making sure their shoes fit the way he wanted them to fit," Gillispie said. "I mean, you talk about preparing to win, he prepared to win and he was spending his time when our season was over trying to get ready for next year, he's a champion, no question."
Keightley saw plenty of championships during his time with the
Wildcats. Kentucky won 1,113 games with Keightley on the sidelines,
including two national championships.
Yet Keightley's importance to the program transcended basketball. His amiable nature made strangers feel at ease, yet those who knew him best held so much respect for him they referred to him as "Mr. Keightley."
Though Keightley held a healthy dislike for rival Louisville, he
remained friends with former Kentucky and current Louisville coach
Rick Pitino, attending Louisville's win over Tennessee in the NCAA
regional semifinals after the Wildcats were eliminated from this year's tournament.
"Mr. Keightley has been a confidant to so many coaches that have had the good fortune to sit alongside him," said former Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, now at Minnesota. "That is what it has been, us sitting next to him, not him sitting next to us. No one will ever love Kentucky basketball more than Mr. Keightley."

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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  • by kycats4112 Location: Lexington on Apr 3, 2008 at 01:44 PM
    Mr. Bill, You were such a special friend to me during my years working at UK Athletics. You always understood how I felt about the program because it was the same way you felt. We were both proud to be a Kentuckian. Thank you so much for always putting your faith in me when you needed something done because you knew I would take care of it whether it was my job or not. That always made me feel special when you would tell me that, but perhaps you did everyone that way. That was just the kind of man you were. There to always make us feel better about ourselves. I feel so blessed to have gotten to spend almost 17yrs working with you. I will never forget you or your hugs. Love ya......
  • by kywildcatgal Location: KENTUCKY on Apr 2, 2008 at 09:51 AM
    Let's all start a scholarship in Bill Keightly's name. And since people from all over the state knew him or knew of him, let it be good for any secondary education school in the state. Retire his seat, but first let it remain empty for the first few games of the next basketball season with a Wildcat cloth draped across it. I believe that will show how much he did love the basketball program. Having his funeral at Rupp Arena would be great, but all that is for his family to decide. I did love seeing him and his smile evertime I saw a game. I, and many others will miss him.
  • by KAREN Location: LEXINGTON on Apr 2, 2008 at 07:15 AM
    My husband & I have attended BB games for 40 years and have always looked to see if Bill was at the end of the bench, then we knew that the team and coaches were being taken of. We loved to see what he was wearing and sometimes he out dressed the coaches. I think we should all put our uk flags on our cars and fly them tomorrow in his honor.
  • by MS Location: georgetown on Apr 2, 2008 at 01:06 AM
    Mr. Keightley possessed a trait that has escaped so many people in this world today. He had pride. True Kentucky pride. It never dwindled. Kentucky has been blessed with his presence in this organization. He will be forever missed.
  • by Anonymous on Apr 1, 2008 at 06:01 PM
    This is a very sad situation and day for the state of Kentucky. I am very sorry for his family and wish for the best for them all. I'm also sorry for the recent players, coaches, and staff that knew him so closely. May God be with the family and friends throughout the rest of the week and throughout their lives.
  • by KB Location: Somerset on Apr 1, 2008 at 04:49 PM
    God bless you Mr. Wildcat! We will miss you dearly.
  • by C.A. Location: Carter, KY on Apr 1, 2008 at 03:54 PM
    Rest in peace Mr. Basketball hope you and Adolph Rupp are smiling down on our future Wildcats


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