Reggie Warford remembered as ‘a proud man,’ ‘true friend and brother’

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Reggie Warford, who played a significant role in the integration of the Kentucky basketball program in the 1970s, died on Thursday at age 67. Here is a collection of memories from interviews with Warford and some UK teammates:

Warford grew up in Drakesboro, Ky., as the son of a Pentecostal preacher. Rev. Roland H. Warford.

Recalling then-UK head coach Joe B. Hall’s approach in recruiting, Warford said, “Knowing that my father was a preacher, he was very apt to mention that he was a regular churchgoer, which he was. …

“Coach Hall was really nice. He said he tried to encourage the boys, and did not use (pause to suppress a giggle) profanity (laughs).

“So my mother was sold. She said he was a nice, God-fearing man.”

Then Warford recalled his first practice as a freshman. The veteran players sat quietly awaiting a pre-practice meeting while the freshmen were “milling around, talking and laughing and excited,” he said.

When Hall arrived, he smacked his hand against a metal locker to get the freshmen’s attention. “And yelled, ‘Horse (manure)! Get your butts in these seats.’”

Warford recalled another freshman, David Miller, saying Hall had told him he didn’t cuss.

“I said, ‘Me, too,’” Warford said. “That was my introduction to Coach Hall the recruiter and Coach Hall the coach.”

As of Friday afternoon, more than 1,700 men’s college basketball players had entered the NCAA’s transfer portal this year. Warford’s Kentucky career was in stark contrast to the current here-today-gone-tomorrow model.

In his first three UK seasons, Warford averaged 2.0, 2.0 and 3.6 minutes. Then as the team’s lone senior, he averaged 22.0 minutes.

Two former teammates attributed Warford’s patience to the importance he placed on setting a good example in the effort to integrate the program.

“Reggie was a proud man, and it was important to him to be the first Black to play basketball for four years and graduate from the University of Kentucky,” Jerry Hale wrote in a text message. “His decision aided Merion Haskins, Larry Johnson, James Lee, Jack Givens and others to feel comfortable attending the university.”

Dwane Casey, who came to UK three years after Warford, saluted the example set.

“He meant so much to all of us,” Casey wrote in a text message. “His strength and wisdom led us through the integration of the Kentucky program. He helped me through the ups and downs of being a college freshman. He is and will always be a true friend and brother!

“May he Rest in Peace.”

Former Herald-Leader colleague Mike Fields wrote a story in 2019 previewing Warford’s induction into the KHSAA Hall of Fame. Warford recalled how integrating a college program was an adjustment for everyone, including the pioneering Black player.

Adolph Rupp sent Donald “Quack” Butler, a UK recruiter from Owensboro, to assess Warford.

“After the game, Quack’s question to me was, ‘Could you play with 15 white boys?’” Warford remembered. “I said, ‘Well, can they play with me?’”

Casey remembered Warford setting a good example. “I thought he handled being the only Black player after Tom Payne,” Casey texted. “Classy and smart! Hard worker! And he was a shoulder to lean on when things were tough. He never complained or lost his confidence. Very confident player.”

It took time for Warford to understand the impact he could have on Kentucky basketball.

“I knew it was a good thing I was there,” he said. “But I didn’t always appreciate the weight of that change.”

This hit home in his junior season.

“I remember the first time there were five Black players on the court for Kentucky,” he told Fields. “It was my junior year. Jack (Givens), James (Lee), Merion (Haskins) and Larry Johnson were already out there. I was the last one to get in the game. I remember standing there at the scorer’s table, realizing it was a big deal, a milestone.”

A visitation will be held for family and friends on Thursday at the South Hills Bible Chapel (300 Gallery Drive) in McMurray, Pa. The visitation will be from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m.

A celebration of Warford’s life will be held on Friday beginning at 10 a.m. Friday in the same location. His brother, the Rev. Dr. Ronald D. Warford, will officiate.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that donations be made to the American Heart Association at www.heart.org.

Kentucky’s Reggie Warford went up for a shot against Mississippi State on March 8, 1976, in Memorial Coliseum. It was Warford’s Senior Day game and the last regular-season game in Memorial for the Wildcats before they moved into Rupp Arena.
Kentucky’s Reggie Warford went up for a shot against Mississippi State on March 8, 1976, in Memorial Coliseum. It was Warford’s Senior Day game and the last regular-season game in Memorial for the Wildcats before they moved into Rupp Arena.

‘So much improvement’

Shaedon Sharpe joined the UK team in January. Thus, being months behind in learning plays and acclimating himself to college basketball Kentucky-style was cited as a reason he did not play.

“Late in the season I definitely feel like he could have helped a little bit,” TyTy Washington said at the NBA Combine earlier this month.

When asked how much progress Sharpe made from January to March, Washington said, “you could see so much improvement from him, seeing how he adjusted in a small time. I feel he could have helped us.

“At the end of the day, it’s still basketball. If you’re a good basketball player, you’ll do fine.”

Looking ahead I

During the (relatively) recent celebration of the Central Bank Center transformation, Gov. Andy Beshear spoke confidently of Kentucky following the disappointing fadeaway that marked the end of this past season with a successful 2022-23 season.

“We know UK will be back with a vengeance next year,” he told the audience before correcting himself. “Actually, later this year. We won’t have to wait that long.”

Looking ahead II

Faithful readers might recall how UK fan Tony Thomas playfully put together a non-conference home schedule for 2022-23. He suggested his schedule would be more pleasing to season-ticket holders.

This prompted a question for Thomas: With Oscar Tshiebwe and Sahvir Wheeler returning to play next season, plus the annual addition of hyped-up recruits and/or transfers, what do you think of the idea that the expectation of a big season in 2022-23 will translate into fans (including you?) continuing to buy tickets?

“Oscar certainly has star power appeal,” Thomas wrote in reply. “But if he is competing against subpar competition, then what’s the point? …

“As for recruits and transfers, we have had a lot of promising freshmen and new transfers each year. But until you get to know them or see if they are as good as advertised, it is rare to have the new players generate preseason excitement. That is unless you schedule the team to play at Rupp against marquee opponents. That’s when things get interesting for the season ticket-holder!”

Mock drafts

Various mock drafts do not project Keion Brooks nor Kellan Grady nor Davion Mintz being picked. Neither was included on a list of the top 123 draft prospects compiled by NBAdraftroom.com.

When asked if this made him second-guess his decision to enter this year’s NBA Draft, Brooks said, “no hesitation at all. I’m confident (and) secure in who I am as a player.”

Brooks, who reportedly has decided to withdraw from the draft and play another college season, said he did not look at the various mock drafts.

“I don’t let people talk to me about it,” he said from the NBA G League Elite Camp. “I know what I can do and I know I can have some value to an organization. So, I don’t read too much into that.”

TyTy Washington echoed that sentiment even though he’s projected as a lottery pick in several mock drafts.

“I don’t look at none of that,” he said at the NBA Combine. “It’s just a number next to my name.”

Happy birthday

To former UK director of athletics Larry Ivy. He turned 79 on Thursday. … To Adam Delph. He turned 32 on Saturday. … To former Mississippi State coach Ben Howland. He turned 65 on Saturday. … To Hall of Famer Jerry West. He turned 84 on Saturday. … To former UK president David Roselle. He turns 83 on Monday. … To former Florida coach Billy Donovan. He turns 57 on Monday.

Reggie Warford, ‘patriarch’ of integration for Kentucky basketball, dies at 67

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