LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) They were talking basketball and, Russians love basketball like we do, the Russians were talking about basketball and my nephew said well I have an uncle that was, you know, he played a little basketball. You probably have never heard of him. His name is Kelly Coleman. The (Russian) guy says "King Kelly Coleman”? So somebody in Russia knew who I was too!
It is impossible to find someone who loves Kentucky high school basketball and not have heard the name of King Kelly Coleman. His name conjures images of greatness, but his story is also one myth, vulnerability, and humility. Fifty years after his most legendary feat, he never understood the acclaim which surrounded him.
"What it is? I don't know, said Coleman in a 2005 interview. “It's possibly a lot of it is because a lot of the records that I had then they are still standing. That could be probably a part of it I would say."
The numbers Coleman put up in the seasons of 1954-56 are astronomical. He had more than 4,300 career points, 185 points in four state tourney games, 75 points and 41 rebounds against Maytown. All which led to him being called the King, a name which took him decades to become comfortable with accepting.
“You call somebody a king and you think of what a king is, you know? I thought it might add more pressure than I already had so I did not like it. I didn't like it up until the last few years to be honest with you. It doesn't bother me now but even up until my adulthood I never liked the name. I didn't like it at all."
In fact, Coleman had so much acclaim, Adolph Rupp called him the greatest high school basketball player he had ever seen. That may have rubbed some people the wrong way.
"You know I kind of blamed a lot of the booing on the old ex-Kentucky players, said Coleman. “I blamed a lot of that on them and I never would've went down there (University of Kentucky) under no circumstance."
Many of the derogatory comments and the jeers he heard as a high school player (at the 1956 state tournament) turned into cheers later in life and it seemed to ease some of the scars of his teenage years.
"You know to me basketball was a game and I played it. I'm glad they feel that way about me but if they didn't I'd still be where I am right now and it wouldn't matter."