By LARRY VAUGHT
Kenny Walker played on back-to-back state high school championship teams in Georgia but when it came time for college basketball, he opted to come to Kentucky to play for Joe Hall.
It worked out well as he earned All-American honors and became a NBA first-round draft pick. He finished his career as Kentucky’s second all-time leading scorer with 2,080 points and has the record for most made free throws in career with 550 and in a season with 218. He also player in a record 72 Southeastern Conference games and had 942 career rebounds, sixth most at UK and the most in the last 34 years.
But why did he pick UK? How did Hall convince him to leave Georgia to play in the Bluegrass?
“Leonard Hamilton (now the head coach at Florida State) was coach Hall’s No. 1 assistant and did all the recruiting,” Walker recalled. “He brought in a lot of big players but coach Hall was the closer.
“I remember he came to Roberta, population about 2,000 and two red lights. So when he came there the whole town was a buzz. Nobody with that big a name had ever been there.”
Walker was considering both Georgia and Auburn, which were obviously closer to home, and he wanted his parents to be able to see him play in college. Hall was ready to counter that worry.
“My parents said it was about a 6 1/2- or 7-hour drive to Kentucky and we would not be able to get up and see Kenny as much as if he stayed closer to home. This is before satellite TV and internet and all that stuff,” Walker said. “Coach Hall said, ‘We are Kentucky basketball. We play on national TV about seven or eight times a year. When you can’t make it to Lexington, you can just sit in your living room and watch Kenny play on TV.’
“That was pretty much about it. My whole hometown loved it. They are Georgia fans and wanted me to come to Georgia and hated it until I got to Kentucky and they saw how I performed. Now my hometown is all Kentucky basketball and Georgia football. We turned them around and that hasn’t changed.