It’s blue blood national image aside, the bricks and mortar that has underpinned the University of Kentucky’s basketball success story for more than half century has been a rich mix of blue collar grit, tenacity, pride, stamina and courage.
A warrior class.
Jodie Meeks is one, and Patrick Patterson qualifies. Jeff Sheppard was, and Tayshaun Prince. Names fans today find familiar. In fact, they are the latest in a long line of warriors.
Consider by decade — 1950s, Frank Ramsey; 1970s Jimmy Dan Connor; 1980s, Winston Bennett; 1990s Deron Feldhaus and John Pelphrey, this decade: Patrick Sparks.
Home boys all, at heart who loved the game, and equally important, understood what it means in Kentucky.
An argument can be made, the best candidate among them for honorary team captain would be a man from the Commonwealth’s jugular, Mike Casey, son of a sheriff named Dutch, and Mr. Basketball 1966. He led the Shelbyville Rockets to 33-1 and a state title. Blue collar Casey headed to Lexington where he led the Wildcats in scoring his first year, 20.1, with Dan Issel at 16.4 and Mike Pratt at 14.1.
Casey was a natural warrior. Strong, proud, relentless, determined to win every possession. Scored 1,535 points in three seasons, averaged 18.7 points and helped UK win 67 games. Strong, healthy, promising with a touch of celebrity.
Next came career, family, good times and tough ones too. This is America.
Then real life, as it inevitably does, struck a cruel blow. One that reminds us even warriors stout of body and spirit, are vulnerable. Casey was struck by an infection that affected his heart.
Last week Casey was back in hospital. Needs a new heart. Medications fighting the infection to make him strong enough to be a transplant candidate, were not working as well as doctors hoped.
Forty years have gone since Casey was a household name in Kentucky, but fans don’t forget warriors. Casey hasn’t been forgotten either. Intercessory prayers have been going up for months on Casey’s behalf. From homes across Kentucky to prayer groups in south Georgia to west Tennessee to central Missouri, people of faith petition for his recovery.
Mike Casey needs a new heart.
Mike Pratt, now an analyst for UK Basketball Radio Network, has remained close during Casey’s trying time and reminds you …
“Mike’s one tough cookie (who) has fought a real battle over the last two years,” Pratt said via email last week. “But (he) needs to catch a break with all of this. As special a player as (Mike) was, he has been even a better friend.”
And, former teammate Art Laib, like Pratt and Casey, works in Louisville. “A great teammate, a great person, and someone we all respected on and off the court.”
Laib has kept in contact with Casey’s daughter Laura. You can too: firstname.lastname@example.org
The calendar has turned to what must be Mike Casey’s favorite time of the year, March Madness.
Two weeks ago Casey wrote a letter to you.
“I want to sincerely thank you for your kind words. More importantly, I thank you for the many prayers. Bob, I can certainly tell you God is faithful to answer the prayers of His people. You have no idea how many prayers throughout Kentucky are being offered on my behalf.
“I am continuing to get stronger and the infection is under control with progress each day. When the infection is totally healed, I will be placed in the heart transplant unit to wait for my new heart.
Bob, please pass along my gratitude and deep appreciation for all the cards, letters and emails which I have received. My friends, family and the many True Blue Kentucky fans have continued to be loyal even in my time of adversity. This has truly been a blessing to me. May God bless each and every one.
— Sincerely, Mike Casey”
With Mike Casey, and anyone with heart problems in mind, these excerpts from a TIME Magazine
cover story February 23, How
Faith Can Heal.
Writer Jeffrey Kluger noted: “… … our brains and bodies contain an awful lot of spiritual wiring.”
“Very serious theologians believe in the power of so-called intercessory prayer to heal the sick, and some very serious scientists have looked at it too, with more than 6,000 published studies on the topic since 2000.”
“An oft-discussed 1988 study by cardiologist Randolph Byrd of San Francisco General Hospital found that heart patients who were prayed for fared better than those who where not.”
An Adolph Rupp-Mike Casey anecdote from Van Florence.
When Casey was a player he would slip out of the locker room on game night, to a Memorial Coliseum backdoor and, while Mike Pratt stood guard, let friends in who had no tickets. One night Adolph Rupp suddenly came around the corner and wanted to know what was going on.
“Casey’s sick and he’s throwing up,” Pratt told Rupp.
Casey scored 25 points that night after which Rupp told listeners to his postgame radio show, “Casey was sick as a dog before the game. I told him I really needed him and he responded.”
Point of Information
Mike Casey will be inducted into the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame in April.
Warrior class. Captain of the team.
And so it goes.
E-mail Bob Watkins at