Editor’s note: University of Kentucky basketball freshman Reed Sheppard had one of his best games as a Wildcat against the University of Miami on Tuesday night. Years before, Herald-Leader columnist Mark Story wrote about how his parents, former UK basketball legends Jeff Sheppard and Stacey Reed, met. From the Herald-Leader archives, here is the story he told on Jan. 27, 2008, when Reed was 3 years old.
Ex-Cats Reed, Sheppard Enjoy Fulfilling Life Together
LONDON — Some say marriage is like being part of a team. In this case, it’s more like being part of a real good backcourt.
Ten years ago, Jeff Sheppard led Kentucky to one of its most unexpected NCAA championships.
Close the eyes, and you will still see Sheppard curling off picks to get open at the top of the key then draining cold-blooded three-pointers in UK’s tense overtime victory over Stanford in the 1998 Final Four.
A little research will remind you that it was the 6-foot-4 Sheppard who hit a baseline jumper with 4:54 left in the national championship game that put the Comeback Cats up for good (65-64) on Utah in what became NCAA title number seven.
“It has gone by fast,” Sheppard said Thursday. “People still talk about the tournament and the games during the tournament, especially the last few games where we made the comebacks. It’s still real fresh in a lot of fans’ minds. I guess because it was the last championship.”
There likely aren’t a lot of guys with Final Four Most Outstanding Player awards whose wives have as impressive basketball pedigrees as do they.
In her day, Stacey Reed started on not one, but two Kentucky state championship teams for the old Laurel County High School. As an eighth-grader, she brought the ball up the floor for Coach Roy Bowling’s 1987 state champs.
As a senior in 1991, Reed was the individual star of the state tournament. In four games, she scored 93 points and carried the Lady Cardinals to yet another state title.
Picking UK over the then-more-established women’s basketball program at Western Kentucky, Reed became one of the best point guards — and best players — in school history. She is still the seventh all-time leading scorer in Kentucky women’s history.
Today, you might think this real-life case of love and basketball would have hoops as a backdrop to their marriage.
“We never play,” Stacey said, “at least I don’t. Who has time?”
Said Jeff: “I don’t play much, other than doing my (summer) camps. I’ve got a lot going on.”
When your family has two kids, two careers, a business launched, and a charitable foundation trying to see that school children from difficult backgrounds get enough to eat, playing basketball fades into the background.
Stacey was going into her junior year at Kentucky when Jeff moved north from Georgia to join Rick Pitino’s Wildcats.
The first time she saw him, legend has it that Stacey told some of her UK women’s basketball teammates that someday she would marry that boy.
“I did say that,” she said last week with a shrug. “I don’t know if I believed it, I said it.”
A visitor to Laurel County on a frigid Thursday asked how Jeff came to notice and then meet Stacey.
“How’d we meet, Stace?” Jeff said.
Looking at her husband, Stacey replied, “You answer that question. Let’s see if you get it right.”
And you thought there was pressure in that ‘98 Duke game.
“Wellllll, we met at UK through study hall and in the training room and through pickup ball games,” Sheppard said. “Because we were both so studious, we spent a lot of time in study hall. Stacey was just a real good friend, wanted to be there for me as a friend. She asked me if I ever needed anything, we could go fishing together or hang out together. But I wouldn’t have anything to do with her.”
Said Stacey: “He blew me off.”
So, Jeff, what made that change?
Said Stacey: “I’d sort of like to know that myself.”
Said Jeff: “Well, I don’t know. She’s always been real blatantly honest with me. Not that that was the only thing I was attracted to, but she’s always treated me different than anybody else that I’ve met in Kentucky. She had been through the popularity of being a basketball legend locally and at the University of Kentucky, so the hoopla of me being a basketball player at Kentucky didn’t mean as much.”
Said Stacey: “I wasn’t real impressed with all that.”
Said Jeff: “It didn’t matter to her, there was more there than the hoopla. And that meant a lot to me. When you are playing basketball at Kentucky, a lot of people say things that it’s hard to tell if they are just saying things because of the uniform you wear or if they are really concerned about you as a person. There was no doubt in my mind that Stacey was always truly concerned about me as a person.”
Not long after Sheppard and the Comeback Cats cut down the nets in San Antonio, he and Stacey walked down the aisle. Jeff spent a year with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks. He then played professionally three years in Italy.
He was in Rome working out before a practice when his American teammates rushed in with major news from home. The date was Sept. 11, 2001.
Sheppard spent the better part of that evening trying to get a cell phone call through to Stacey, who was home in the states. “I don’t know how to explain it, but that kind of ended basketball for us,” Sheppard said. “I had some other opportunities to go back and play, but I just kind of thought that (retiring from basketball) was the decision to be made.”
He and Stacey decided to settle in her native Laurel County.
Today, they have a daughter, Madison, who is 7, and a little boy, Reed, who is 3.
When she was little herself, Stacey loved the outdoors. “I grew up on a farm. I was the middle of three girls, and I became my dad’s tomboy,” she said.
Just recently, Stacey said she took her first deer as a hunter, dropping a doe with a Remington 30-ought-six.
So it was a tad surprising to hear that Stacey Reed’s little girl seems inclined toward cheerleading. “We want our kids to do what they love,” Stacey said. “If Madison wants to cheer, we’ll support her.”
Given the gene pool, you’d think the college coaches are already staking out 3-year-old Reed. “It’s a little soon to tell, but I do think he’s going to be athletic,” Jeff said.
Jeff, 33, has started his own apparel company, 15 inc. (named for his UK jersey number). It specializes in its own brand of golf shirts (as well as T-shirts, caps and other items) and sells them for corporate outings, golf tournaments, etc.
His company recently opened its own building in a London industrial park. “This was a big step for us,” Sheppard said.
Being a former Kentucky Wildcats basketball hero does open doors in business, Sheppard said. “But once you get in, you still have to make the sale yourself,” he said.
As the most visible player on Kentucky’s most recent NCAA champion, Jeff said he frequently gets asked one question: Which coach deserves more credit for the 1998 title, Rick Pitino who recruited the roster (other than Saul Smith) that won or Tubby Smith, who coached the team through three close victories over Duke, Stanford and Utah?
“I get that all the time,” Sheppard said. “Obviously, Coach Pitino deserved a ton of credit for recruiting the players who could win a national title. But to use that not to give credit to Coach Smith is totally unfair, I think. He did a great job coaching us in that tournament.”
Stacey, 34, works for a health-care company, but is also heavily involved in a non-profit group known as The Backpack Club. That organization raises money to provide children from poor backgrounds with food to eat on weekends when school lunch programs are not available.
She says the group provides food for some 1,500 children in Laurel County.
The household that contains two basketball stars still runs on competitive drive.
“It’s just now we’re putting our drive into our family, our business, our careers, our community, our church,” Jeff Sheppard said. “We want to win, meaning succeed and be good people, in all those things.”
Remember what they say about the best backcourts: They see the floor.