Share this:

Former UK basketball player Bret Bearup dies at age 56

Bret Bearup


He was such a highly touted recruit when he came to Kentucky from New York to play for coach Joe Hall. He was a Parade All-American as well as a McDonald’s All-American.

Partially because he was at UK at the same time a lot of great players were (Sam Bowie, Melvin Turpin) there from 1980-85, he never got to play as much as he wanted or others expected. He did play in 114 games but had just 410 points and 308 rebounds, not nearly the numbers he expected to produce.

Off the court, he was an all-star. He was a media favorite — and that never changed when he worked in various basketball positions, including the NBA, after leaving UK.

Just say I was stunned to learn the new tonight that Bearup, someone I still occasionally chatted with, had passed away at age 56. His younger brother, Todd, who also played at UK, found his body Thursday in Denver.

He leaves behind three children, and his daughter McKenzie turns 25 Friday.

Former UK player Walter McCarty, now the head coach at Evansville, posted this on Twitter tonight: “So sad to hear the news of the passing of a good friend, father and former wildcat Brett Bearup. Rest in heaven Big B. Love you brother!!!!”

Here’s what Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy posted about Bearup on Twitter:“Don’t know many who enjoyed life as much as Bret Bearup. Loved his children, loved his work, loved to learn. RIP, Bear. You will be missed.”

Bearup was a bit different when it came to his sense of humor. Here’s the last tweet he posted on Twitter a few days ago: “How many battleships did France have at the onset of WW2?”

Here’s another one: “If you don’t read books, you can say almost anything with confidence.”

Bearup never forgot his UK roots, and not just because he became a NBA front office executive at one time. He followed all UK sports.

“I love, love, love what you’re doing with the football program, Freddie. Great stuff,” Bearup tweeted to former UK quarterback Freddie Maggard, UK’s new director of player development, just five days ago.

I still remember a Music City Bowl game in Nashville years ago when Bearup came to town. Myself, Kentucky Today sportswriter Keith Taylor and others ran into him in a local establishment the night before the game. He treated us all to a great evening of stories and more. He loved laughing at his own stories — and sharing a lot of war stories about himself and former UK teammates.

It had been a little over a year since I had seen Bearup. I have no idea what happened but I pray for his family and loved ones.

He was a special guy and I always admire that he never considered leaving UK because he didn’t get to play as much as expected. He had patience few players today have and once the blue got in his blood, it stayed there until the end.

Rest in peace, Bret Bearup.


  1. Very shocking and stunning to hear of his passing in last few minutes. Enjoyed following him during those great years and obviously he touched a lot of people during his “all too short” life. I feel so bad for his family and loved ones.

  2. A good UK player. He died way to young. He will be remembered. Prayers for his family.

Leave a Reply