Gillispie, players reflect on Bill Keightley
By Jerry Tipton
Being new to the scene, first-year Kentucky Coach Billy Gillispie wondered why Lexington banker Luther Deaton spent time with equipment manager Bill Keightley.
“There was a big age difference,” Gillispie said on Tuesday. “I was wondering why they were together so much.”
It didn’t take long for Gillispie to solve the mystery. Keightley was a fun, uplifting person to be around.
“I wanted to spend all my time around Mr. Keightley,” Gillispie said. “He’s gone. But his spirit is going to live forever.”
Keightley died on Monday while making his annual trip to Cincinnati to watch the Reds play their opening game of the baseball season.
He fell, which required a trip to the University of Cincinnati hospital. Internal bleeding resulting from a previously undiagnosed tumor caused his death.
Gillispie recalled Keightley at a hastily called news conference Tuesday morning. More than 30 UK Athletic Association personnel, including seven players and several managers, came to hear Gillispie speak.
“Many others are more deserving to have the honor of speaking of Bill Keightley because of longevity of so many great times they spent with him,” said Gillispie, who called his association with Keightley “one of the most joyous times of my life.”
Gillispie recalled Keightley’s reaction after Kentucky’s gallant attempt to win at Tennessee without freshman star Patrick Patterson. The Wildcats came up three points short.
“He was crying like a baby because he was so proud of his Wildcats,” Gillispie said.
Gillispie described Keightley as a one-man injection of enthusiasm and a wise counselor.
Of the latter, Gillispie said that Keightley advised him to attend this year’s Sweet 16 State high school basketball tournament.
UK was not sure how to honor Keightley next season. Black patch on the uniform? Seat kept empty on the bench?
The school has retired a jersey in his honor, making Keightley one of only two non-players or non-coaches to be so recognized (the late radio play-by-play man Cawood Ledford is the other).
“But that’s not nearly enough,” Gillispie said. “The right people will recover their emotions and make great decisions.”
UK player Ramel Bradley noted how he had to share his nickname “Smooth” with Keightley.
The man known as “Mr. Wildcat” was also known as “Big Smooth” to Bradley’s “Little Smooth.”
In speaking of their relationship, Bradley said, “He made me feel I was his favorite. The thing about it is he made everybody feel that way.”
Fellow senior Joe Crawford said that Keightley did not act his age.
“You wouldn’t think younger players would want to be around him,” Crawford said, “but we wanted to be around him.”
Zach Murphy, a senior manager from Peoria, Ill., sniffled back tears through much of the 20-minute news conference.
He said that Keightley taught the managers, or “his boys,” as he called them, lessons about work ethic, respect for others and the proper way to act.
Another manager, Dustin Marr, said that Keightley gave him advice on his love life. When learning that the manager was dating another UKAA staffer, Keightley said “I needed to go ahead and make sure that sticks,” Marr said.
Marr, a native of Macon County, Tenn., said he plans to follow that advice once he finishes school.