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Remembering Mike Casey, “best money player” Adolph Rupp ever coached

Mike Casey, left, was in the same recruiting class as Dan Issel and Mike Pratt for coach Adolph Rupp. (UK Athletics Photo)

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.

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  1. Good article Larry. I got to know Mike when he was with Balfour. I did all his printing for him. He used to come to my office, and we would talk basketball. I loved listening to his stories about UK. Sometimes, I would go down to his office. He was just down the street in East Louisville. I really miss him. One of the funny stories I heard from a ex UK manager during that time ( I think his name is Granville) whom I met at a luncheon where Mike Pratt was speaking. When Mike broke his leg, Granville drove Rupp to Waddy Ky. When they arrived, they had put Mike in a Hearse to take him to a Hospital. It was the only vehicle they had that he would fit in laying down. Rupp hollered OMG he is dead!! I really miss Mike. R.I.P.

  2. GeneT I am the UK Manager you met The story about Casey taken to the hospital in a hearse is
    True.I visited my teammate Casey yesterday in Bagdad Cemetery in Shelby County.
    Taken too soon at age 61 Rest In Peace Mike
    Grover Sales UK Basketball 1969-1972

    1. Thanks Grover, I really enjoyed meeting you, and all the stories you had of the good ole days. I thought you might see my post. Good to hear from you. I just couldn’t remember your name at the time I posted.

  3. Mike died April 9, 2009 in Nashville not 1988. Better player than Issel when they played together. I will never forget Cawood’s call (many times):
    “Casey has gone to war, he has taken over!” My all time favorite player.

  4. What a terrific story, and the comments are outstanding.

    I was a student when Casey played at UK. I can still see in my mind’s eye the trajectory of his shot from the wing. Low arc, clearing the front of the rim, and dipping into the hoop. I don’t recall another player at UK with a similar shot to Casey’s.

    A few years after finishing school, I ran into Casey in Jacksonvillle, Florida. He played on a fast pitch softball team in a national tournament that was played in Jacksonville. I don’t recall any of the details of that tournament or Casey’s team.

    1. He was something special Professor

  5. Mike Casey was the DeWayne Wade of his time.

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