By LARRY VAUGHT
Today would have been Mike Casey’s 72nd birthday if he had not passed from heart failure in 1988 at age 61.
Many younger Kentucky basketball fans probably know little about Casey. But just know that legendary UK coach Adolph Rupp once said Casey was the “best money player” he ever coached and he coached some terrific players.
“When there was money on the table, you wanted Mike Casey to have the ball in his hands,” Rupp said if my memory serves me correctly when he was talking about just how clutch Casey was.
He was Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball in 1966 after leading Shelby County to the state championship and played at UK from 1967-71. Two of his teammates were Dan Issel, UK’s all-time leading scorer, and Mike Pratt.
Casey broke his leg between his junior and senior seasons and had to redshirt. Long-time UK fans still believe that cost UK a national title in 1970 and so Rupp believed that, too.
Freshmen were not eligible to play then but Casey averaged 20.1 points per game as a sophomore while Issel averaged “only” 16.4. Their junior seasons Casey averaged 19.1 points per game but Issel outscored. After sitting out a year, Casey averaged dropped to 17 points per game and he was not nearly the same player even though he still managed to shoot 50.4 percent from the field.
Casey averaged 18.7 points per game in 82 games, still ninth best in UK history and second-best to four-year guards behind only Hall of Famer Louie Dampier.
My buddy, Terry Hall, played with Casey at Shelby County but knew him even before that.
“First memory I have of Mike was when as a seventh grader. Our Cropper Junior High team went to Simpsonville to play his team. They were playing a 2-3 zone with Mike one of the two out on top,” Hall said. “I could shoot, if nothing else, but his arms were so long that I had a very difficult time getting the shot off.”
“Second memory is the next summer in1963. Mike’s Simpsonville Pony League baseball team came to Cropper to play baseball. It was then we had our first conversation as I warmed up pitching under an old maple tree beside the field.
“Many don’t know that he was an excellent baseball shortstop. Reminded me of the 19050’s and 1960’s Yankee shortstop, Tony Kubek. Sure handed on defense, both 6-4, and both left handed line drive hitters.”
Hall played both basketball and baseball from 1964-66 at Shelby County with Casey and notes that Shelby not only won the 1966 basketball state titles but lost in the title game in baseball.