By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky basketball fans should be happy that Tony Russell is in the process of writing a Kentucky basketball book.
That’s a fair question. He was a basketball manager on UK’s 1996 national championship team and 1997 team that lost to Arizona in the 1997 title game.
“I’d say I’m about halfway done with the book project at this point,” said Russell recently. “One of your writings that I am really glad I found via Kentucky Digital Library Archives is an article you wrote on Bill Keightley titled ‘Keightley Is More Than a Manager’ from March 2, 1985. At that point in time, I was a little kid playing basketball on the driveways of Lexington dreaming of one-day becoming a Wildcat myself.
” I actually crossed paths with Bill Keightley in his role as a local mailman around Lexington, but wasn’t aware of his role as Mr. Wildcat with the basketball team. At that point, I didn’t even know what a college basketball student manager even was, but I did always notice all the ‘assistant coaches’ on the Kentucky bench when I would see games on television. I thought all the guys in suits were coaches of some sort.”
Russell moved away from Lexington in 1985 but got his chance to spend four years as a student manager at Kentucky under Keightley. That included a chance to play on barnstorming tours in both 1996 and 1997.
“The barnstorming stories are some of the best stories and memories that I have, so yes, that is included in the narrative of my book,” Russell said. “Van Florence actually ran those tours for us, and he was sort of a general manager and coach. He and some of his 101 Club guys came along with us and they took care of everything for us so that all we had to do was focus on playing basketball for the fans, putting on a show, and having fun.
“Those were good times and definitely some great stories in there. Van Florence and his 101 Club guys were the best! I was very saddened to hear that he passed away recently. He and I shared a lot of great times together.”
Those are the kind of stories that will make Russell’s book different from other UK basketball books because he’s going to provide a whole new perspective.