Inaugural Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame Class As Iconic As It Gets
By Mark Story — Lexington Herald-Leader Sports Columnist
ELIZABETHTOWN — Wah Wah and King Kelly. Hagan and Haskins. Unseld and McDaniels. At exactly 6:37 p.m. Saturday evening, the door of a chartered bus opened outside a renovated movie theater. What walked out was a Dream Team of Kentucky basketball royalty. Dr. Dunkenstein and King Rex. Geri Grigsby and Clemette Haskins. Bobby Keith and Richie Farmer. The new Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame inducted its inaugural class Saturday night in the State Theater in downtown Elizabethtown. Of the 16 Kentucky high school basketball figures recognized, every living member of the class showed up. What resulted may have been the greatest collection of Kentucky-produced hoops icons ever in one place.
If, like me, you grew up loving the legends and the lore of basketball in Kentucky, this was about as good as it will ever get. Ever wonder how "King Kelly" Coleman, the mid-1950s shooting star at Wayland High School in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, got his nickname? On Saturday night, you could ask him."One of the sportswriters wrote that coal was no longer king in the mountains; Kelly Coleman is," Coleman remembered. "After that, everyone called me 'King Kelly.'"You probably have to have grown up attending Kentucky high school basketball state tournament games to understand why you would even ask Cliff Hagan — a man who played on a high school state champion at Owensboro, an NCAA champ at Kentucky, and an NBA champion with the St. Louis Hawks — which title was the biggest thrill?"I've always said winning the state title at Owensboro was my biggest thrill in basketball," Hagan said. "And I would include (going into) the Naismith Hall of Fame in that. (A high school state title) is something you do for your community, something you do when you are young, a success that sort of confirms your talents, that your hard work pays off. That gives you confidence." Pause. "The fact that I scored 41 points in the championship game made it pretty good, too," Hagan said, his eyes twinkling.
The Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame came to be after Ron Bevars, the veteran North Hardin boys' basketball coach, took the idea to Ken Trivette, the Executive Director of the Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches. Trivette said the concept was partially born from frustration that so many notable hoops figures in our state had yet to be honored by the KHSAA Hall of Fame. "They are doing every sport and that involves a lot of people, so you understand," Trivette said. "But we wanted something to focus on basketball." In 2009, the KABC helped create the new High School Basketball Hall of Fame as an autonomous organization. Then Hall then went looking for a home."We had seven, eight communities contact us and three or four were serious," Trivette says. "But E'town was the most interested. It was almost like they were wooing us. And that's really what we were looking for." The plan for the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame is to reach 100 inductees by 2018, the 100-year anniversary of the first boys' high school state tournament in the commonwealth.
To use a basketball term, the first induction ceremony was a slam dunk. On Saturday night, you could overhear Clem Haskins and Rex Chapman comparing notes on old NBA injuries. You could ask Richie Farmer what was more unforgettable, that gut-wrenching loss to Christian Laettner and Duke in 1992 when he was at Kentucky or the three state championship games he played in at Clay County?" To play in five state tournaments, to get to play in three state championship games and win one, it meant everything," Farmer said. I couldn't help but wonder why our state no longer consistently produces talent like a Wes Unseld, a Darrell Griffith or a Rex Chapman? Bobby Keith, the iconic ex-Clay County coach and an inductee, said "boys just don't work as hard at basketball anymore. They've got cars and computers and lots of things that distract them. When I was young, we just played basketball."
On a night when there was a Kentucky high school basketball legend everywhere you looked, I couldn't get the lyrics from an old George Jones country song out of my head.
Lord, I wonder, who's gonna fill their shoes?