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Ex-UK hoops player is fighting for his life

Vaught’s Views

Kentucky coach John Calipari laughs as he shakes hands with Reggie Warford as former Wildcat Larry Stamper looks on. Former UK players donated $4,000 to buy a new wheelchair for Warford, who will be featured in a Christmas documentary on WKYT-TV. (Jeff Houchin Photo)

Kentucky coach John Calipari laughs as he shakes hands with Reggie Warford as former Wildcat Larry Stamper looks on. Former UK players donated $4,000 to buy a new wheelchair for Warford, who will be featured in a Christmas documentary on WKYT-TV. (Jeff Houchin Photo)

Former Kentucky basketball player Cameron Mills says that a lot of UK basketball fans don’t know the story of Reggie Warford — something he hopes will change Christmas Day when his company’s newest documentary, “Reggie Warford: Fight of His Life,” airs on WKYT-TV at 4 p.m.

Mills’s production company has done documentaries on UK’s 1996 and 1998 national championship basketball teams (Mills was on both teams).

This documentary is a whole new approach about Warford, who came from Drakesboro High School in Muhlenberg County to UK in 1972 and became the first African-American player to graduate from UK.

“There are some great history stories about Reggie, and that’s a big part of the documentary,” Mills said. “Bob Guyette was intentionally picked to be Reggie’s roommate at UK by (assistant coach) Joe Hall. Bob was a Rhodes Scholar candidate and coach Hall figured he could handle rooming with a black player. He took Reggie under his wing. He took him back home to Illinois for two weeks and Bob’s family made Reggie feel like part of their family.

 

“One of the most powerful forums to erase racism is sports. Reggie helped Kentucky win the NIT (in 1976) and that was a big deal then. The sad part of this story is what has gone on since then because Reggie has had serious health issues.”

Warford suffered heart failure and had two heart transplant procedures because the first time the donor heart failed before it was implanted. The second heart transplant worked but later Warford’s kidneys failed. Another organ transplant was needed and worked.

“At one point Reggie was just ready to give up and die but his wife (Marisa) talked him out of it,” Mills said.

However, he developed sarcopenia, a neuromuscular disease that destroys muscle mass and strength. No cure is available for sarcopenia.

“He knows this will eventually take his life,” Mills said. “A lot of us have worried that we don’t know when his life will end and we wanted to make sure he got to see this documentary that Dick Gabriel did almost all the work on. The coolest part, though, is Reggie wants the current Wildcats and UK fans to know his story and how important his degree was to him.

“He was fun to work with. His attitude facing death has been phenomenal. He has a smile on his face. He openly talks about his fear of death. It’s a very honest, very realistic story and he looks back on his life also with a lot of fondness as he should.”

Mills says this is “Dick Gabriel’s documentary” because the WKYT/UK Radio Network personality did the majority of the work, including what Mills calls a “fantastic” interview with former UK All-American Jack Givens.

“I don’t think you can watch this and not get chilled or teary eyed,” Mills said. “I remember talking to Dick when we started on this and I was worried that is has such a sad ending where our first two ended with celebrations (for winning a national title).

“Dick reminded me it was not a sad ending yet and even then we can still look back and see what Reggie did with his life and it’s pretty easy to understand the impact of this story. He could have left UK but he went out and started recruiting other black teammates to come to Kentucky. There’s just not many guys like Reggie Warford and this documentary will show that and more.”

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Mercer County coach David Buchanan faced Kentucky commit John Young twice this season and came away impressed with the Louisville Christian Academy offensive lineman.

“He is a big tall athlete that can move. He plays hard,” Buchanan said. “He’s so consistent.

“He is always solid on both sides of the ball. After playing them, our kids spoke highly of John … both as a player and a person.”

Buchanan’s youngest son, Trosper, was the team’s extra point snapper and was on the field at times when Young was in the defensive line.

“Trosper said John Young was cool and how he handled things well on the field,” Buchanan said. “He’s just a high character kid that you would want on your team. You can’t be a champion on the field if you are not a champion off the field. I am glad he will be representing our university and our state and I think he’s going to be a really good player for Kentucky.”

Young is one of the players UK expected to sign this week in what could be a top 20 recruiting class, the best ever at Kentucky.

Another signee will be Lexington Catholic quarterback Beau Allen, this year’s Paul Hornung Award winner. He likely will be rooming with Young at UK.

“When we were in the recruiting process and before we were committed to Kentucky, we talked about our interest in Kentucky and we are both pretty nearby, we started hanging out if I went to Louisville or if he came down to Lexington,” Allen said. “We just built a bond.

“We both figured out early we were going to Kentucky and we just kept building our relationship since then. So that’s why we will probably be rooming together. It’s always great to have a bond with your offensive linemen and have them as your closest friends because they take care of you on the field.”

Young said there was extra motivation for spending time at Allen’s house.

“Beau’s mom has great food,” Young laughed and said. “So that was definitely the place to hang out and he is so close to the stadium, too. They are such a great family and so welcoming to all the commits. It really helped us all bond more I think.”

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Kentucky senior defensive tackle Calvin Taylor will be going to his fourth straight bowl game when the Wildcats head to Charlotte for a matchup with Virginia Tech in the Dec. 31 Belk Bowl.

Kentucky lost the Taxslayer Bowl his freshman year and Music City Bowl as a sophomore before UK did beat Penn State in the Citrus Bowl to end last season.

“It’s always good to end on a victory if that’s your last time playing. It’s always good to go out on a high note with a victory,” Taylor said. “Just to be able to thank our fans for traveling, just everybody that supported us, just cap off a season with a nice eight-win season is always good.”

He says four straight bowl games for his recruiting class is a “culmination” of players sticking together and believing in coach Mark Stoops. He still remembers the “why not Kentucky” recruiting slogan Stoops and recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow used to convince players they could help change the UK program.

“I think that really shows that we’re not a program that’s just satisfied with going to a bowl. We’ve turned ourselves into a program that’s respected across the country,” Taylor said. “We kind of know about Virginia Tech. I had some family members that went to school there, so they have a very storied program. It’s definitely a notable program so just getting on the national stage and being able to show how we fare against other teams like that is always important.”

Taylor, lightly recruited out of high school, is second in the Southeastern Conference with 7.5 quarterback sacks this season. His play was a big reason UK’s defense turned out to be much better than most anticipated this season.

“I’m just a team guy. I always pride myself on being selfless and doing whatever comes with the team, so if it falls within the scheme, then so be it,” Taylor said of the sacks.

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He once was on John Calipari’s coaching staff at Memphis and was coming with him to Kentucky before he got the job as Calipari’s successor at Memphis. However, current Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner knows Calipari well and suggested again after UK’s 67-53 win over Tech Saturday that he thought Calipari was destined for a political career.

Pastner even suggested Calipari could run for president and if not that then governor or senator.

“He’s going to come up here and deny it, but mark my words …,” Pastner said in his post-game press conference.

Pastner was right. Calipari denied his interest in politics and joked about different reasons he could not run for president, including his dual Italian citizenship. However, Pastner said he was a genius marketer and coach who could turn a “slice-by-slice pizza place down the street” into a multi-million dollar company.”

Calipari may say he has no interest in politics but he certainly was engaged with the United Nations security council members that were at Rupp Arena as the guests of U.S. ambassador Kelly Craft of Kentucky. Craft’s husband, Joe, donated money for both the UK basketball and football train- ing facilities.

Craft had the security council in Kentucky for the weekend and made sure the ambassadors from various countries were all decked out in UK gear.They all came to Calipari’s post-game press conference where he made a plea with the English ambassador to let him meet the Queen of England when UK plays Michigan in London in December of 2020. The group then went to center court to get a photo with Calipari where he talked and joked with several ambassadors before finally joining Tom Leach for his post-game radio show.

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Once the SEC Media Days ended Kentucky coach Mark Stoops made it clear he was not happy with the lack of respect he felt his program was receiving because running back Benny Allen and linebacker Josh Allen were gone to the NFL along with several other players off 2018’s 10-3 team.

“Mark was upset about the lack of respect he felt like our team was getting and that we didn’t have anything left to build a program with. And that wasn’t the case. He didn’t believe that and no one in that locker room believed it,” UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart said.

But with UK 2-3 and its top three quarterbacks injured, Kentucky looked in danger of not making a bowl game like many national media members had projected before the season started.

“You got to sort of reframe who you are. I thought it was a remarkable effort on both fronts, coaches and our young people, what they did, to completely reframe how they think. You talk about sacrificial, a lot of people gave up what they do for the good of the team to go be better,” Barnhart said. “And we hear that talked about an awful lot but very seldom do you see it played out in real time like our team did.

“Folks gave up positions, folks gave up reps, folks gave up opportunities that may have been best for them to collectively get to a better spot and go be something really valuable as a team. And then go through some tough, a couple tough losses. Ones that you sort of wish you had. And you still find your way to 7-5 and get to a bowl game I think speaks volumes about senior leadership.

“It speaks volumes about the coaches and their leadership, but more importantly it speaks volumes about a group of guys in the locker room just saying, ‘Hey, you know what, we’re not done and we’re going to get back to a bowl game and we’re going to experience this thing together and keep building the foundation of what we’re trying to do.’”

Then Barnhart added words that Kentucky football fans almost never hear and understand anyone not wearing blue will never believe.

“I truly believe this is a program that can get to Atlanta for the (SEC) championship game. I believe that,” Barnhart said. “But it can’t happen unless you have that kind of leadership from a group of guys that continue to just to continue to build a base for you to climb from.”

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Quote of the Week: “I think for us it’s just important to win the last game. I think no matter who you’re playing, whether it’s a league game or any opponent, winning the bowl game is important. It’s important to your fan base that travels down to the game,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops on importance of winning Belk Bowl.

Quote of the Week 2: “The Hokies are favored, but it’s a tough spot after losing a rivalry game to Virginia. The Wildcats are 9-3 against the spread this season and closed with a convincing victory against Louisville. Any excuse to watch Lynn Bowden, right? Kentucky wins 28-24 in an UPSET,” Sporting News prediction on Belk Bowl between UK and Virginia Tech.

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