By LARRY VAUGHT
Former Kentucky basketball player Cameron Mills admits that a lot of UK basketball fans don’t know the story of Reggie Warford — something he hopes will change Christmas Day when his company’s newest documentary, “Reggie Warford: Fight of His Life,” airs on WKYT-TV at 4 p.m.
Mills’ production company has done documentaries on UK’s 1996 and 1998 national championship basketball teams (Mills was on both teams).
This documentary is a whole new approach about Warford, who came from Drakesboro High School in Muhlenberg County to UK in 1972 and became the first African-American player to graduate from UK.
“There are some great history stories about Reggie, and that’s a big part of the documentary,” Mills said. “Bob Guyette was intentionally picked to be Reggie’s roommate at UK by (assistant coach) Joe Hall. Bob was a Rhodes Scholar candidate and coach Hall figured he could handle rooming with a black player. He took Reggie under his wing. He took him back home to Illinois for two weeks and Bob’s family made Reggie feel like part of their family.
“One of the most powerful forums to erase racism is sports. Reggie helped Kentucky win the NIT (in 1976) and that was a big deal then. The sad part of this story is what has gone on since then because Reggie has had serious health issues.”
Warford suffered heart failure and had two heart transplant procedures because the first time the donor heart failed before it was implanted. The second heart transplant worked but later Warford’s kidneys failed. Another organ transplant was needed and worked.
“At one point Reggie was just ready to give up and die but his wife (Marisa) talked him out of it,” Mills said.
However, he developed sarcopenia, a neuromuscular disease that destroys muscle mass and strength. No cure is available for sarcopenia.
“He knows this will eventually take his life,” Mills said. “A lot of us have worried that we don’t know when his life will end and we wanted to make sure he got to see this documentary that Dick Gabriel did almost all the work on. The coolest part, though, is Reggie wants the current Wildcats and UK fans to know his story and how important his degree was to him.
“He was fun to work with. His attitude facing death has been phenomenal. He has a smile on his face. He openly talks about his fear of death. It’s a very honest, very realistic story and he looks back on his life also with a lot of fondness as he should.”
Mills says this is “Dick Gabriel’s documentary” because the WKYT/UK Radio Network personality did the majority of the work, including what Mills calls a “fantastic” interview with former UK All-American Jack Givens.
“I don’t think you can watch this and not get chilled or teary eyed,” Mills said. “I remember talking to Dick when we started on this and I was worried that is has such a sad ending where our first two ended with celebrations (for winning a national title).
“Dick reminded me it was not a sad ending yet and even then we can still look back and see what Reggie did with his life and it’s pretty easy to understand the impact of this story. He could have left UK but he went out and started recruiting other black teammates to come to Kentucky. There’s just not many guys like Reggie Warford and this documentary will show that and more.”