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
"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 three 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
"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.)