By LARRY VAUGHT
It was really nice to see Kentucky recognize Bernadette Locke-Mattox at Sunday’s game.
She was head coach at Kentucky and had a 91-135 record in eight seasons that included a 20-win season in 1998-99 and the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in almost a decade She was the first African-American to coach Kentucky women’s basketball.
“I have so much respect for her, and I was just getting into college coaching when she was the head women’s coach here. We had a great time before the game. We were able to honor her with our team. Talk about what a trailblazer and impactful person she’s been in the game,” Mitchell said.
He’s right. She’s a native of Philadelphia, Tenn., and started her college basketball career at Roane State before transferring to Georgia and became the school’s first female athlete to earn All-American and Academic All-American honors.
However, what many remember her best for is becoming an assistant coach on Rick Pitino’s staff at Kentucky in 1990 — a story that I was the first to report because of Pitino.
The UK coach was speaking at an alumni club function in Danville when he took me to a back room because he had a “scoop” for me.
“Larry, I am going to hire a woman as an assistant coach,” Pitino said.
What? No way was I buying that and I told Pitino that.
“Larry, I am telling you. I am hiring Bernadette Locke, an All-American player at Georgia. Here’s her phone number. Call her. Nobody else has this story now so don’t waste time,” Pitino said.
That convinced me he was being serious. I called her later that night, she confirmed the story and I published the story the next day that she was going to be the first female assistant coach at a men’s Division I program.
She spent four years on his staff before becoming an assistant athletics director at UK for one year. The next season she was named the women’s head coach in another ground-breaking move by UK.
“She was a great player and then became a real significant figure in the game through coaching college on the men’s staff here at Kentucky, and then our head coach for a number of years, took us to the NCAA Tournament,” Mitchell said. “And then, she was a very successful professional coach.
“She is a woman of great accomplishments and I haven’t met many people as classy as her. I was really honored that she was here today, and it was a real treat to be able to spend some time with her.”
Classy is a very fair word to describe the former UK coach. I haven’t seen or talked to her in years but there’s nobody I admired more than her. The SEC Network had a special, “Coach Bernie,” as part of its “SEC Storied” series.