Kentucky is featured in the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated, marking the 41st of 50 state-specific sections to be published in the magazine as part of SI's 50th anniversary celebration.
Most of the responses were not that surprising. Eighty-seven percent of Kentuckians picked UK vs U of L as the state's biggest rivalry and 63 percent chose Kentucky as their favorite college.
Kentucky's love for basketball was clearly evident in the choice of Issel over two of the greatest sports icons in our nation's history. Issel received 14 percent of the vote from 402 Kentuckians polled while Ali garnered 13 percent and Unitas 12 percent.
Issel was a great player for the Wildcats and went on to a memorable professional career, starring with the Kentucky Colonels in the ABA and the Denver Nuggets. Even though his 27,482 total points at one time placed him fifth on the all-time combined ABA/NBA scoring list, behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving and Moses Malone, Issel should have finished no higher than third among Kentucky's best.
Ali, a Louisville native, is considered one of the greatest fighters of all time, winning the Olympic gold medal in 1960 and the heavyweight title on three different occasions.
He was stripped of his title in 1967 after refusing induction into the Army but regained it seven years later with an upset of George Foreman that cemented his position as one of boxing's all-time greats.
Unitas, who played college football at the University of Louisville, helped bring the NFL into national prominence when he led the Baltimore Colts to an overtime victory over the New York Giants in the 1958 championship game, perhaps the greatest football game ever played.
During a 18-year career, the two-time MVP recipient played in 10 Pro Bowls, captured three championships for the Colts and became the first quarterback to throw for 40,000 yards. In all, Unitas left with 22 NFL records, including most yards gained passing (40,239), most completed passes (2,830) and most touchdown passes (290).
Two Harlan County natives were listed among Kentucky's 50 top homegrown talents by Sports Illustrated.
Wallace "Wah Wah" Jones, who led Harlan to the state title in 1944, was ranked 15th. Jones went on to star at UK where he was a four-time All-SEC selection in basketball, including national championship teams in 1948 and 1949. Jones was also an all-league selection in football.
Cawood Ledford, the "Voice of the Wildcats" for 39 years, was ranked 50th. Ledford, who began his radio career at WHLN in Harlan, was named the state's sportscaster of the year 22 times.
At least two 13th Region basketball teams will be led by new coaches when the 2004-05 season opens.
Larry Allen Gritton resigned recently after five seasons at Oneida Baptist Institute to accept a coaching job at Southwest Christian Academy in Fort Myers, Fla.
Gritton was a standout point guard for the Mountaineers in the early 1990s under his father, Larry, and led OBI to its first and only All "A" Classic 13th Region crown in 1993.
"I've enjoyed it," said Gritton of his years at OBI. "Oneida is home to me, but I felt it was time to move on. This job is a good opportunity for my family and me, but I'll miss it here, and I'll miss mountain basketball."
Brian Evans resigned last week after three years as the head coach at Whitley County to accept a job as an assistant at Cumberland College.
Evans came to Whitley after leaving a job as head coach at Union College.
"I just miss the college players and the college game," Evans told the Corbin Times-Tribune. "That's what I've done for quite a while. I'm real excited about getting to be a part of the program at Cumberland. We competed with those guys for years (at Union), and I always respected the way they did things I think I'll learn a lot and contribute and hopefully win a championship. I'm just thrilled to get this opportunity."
Evans posted a 36-44 mark in three years with the Colonels, including a disappointing 13-13 record this year after Whitley was picked as the preseason favorite in the 50th District.
Darrell Guffey, an assistant at Whitley, was quickly tabbed as Evans' replacement with the Colonels.
Cawood all-state guard Blake Hubbs has had a busy spring as a member of the Nike Hoop Stars Senior Elite Red team, which is comprised of nine of the state's top seniors for 2005 and one player from Tennessee.
The squad is one of several put together each year by Eddie Ford, who directs the Kentucky Hoops Fest in Louisville.
The Senior Elite Red team played in a tournament last week in Houston, and Hubbs was the leading scorer in a couple of the games. The squad will participate in the Kentucky Hoop Stars Classic in Louisville May 21-23 and the Nike Memorial Day Classic in New Orleans May 28-31. The Kentucky Hoops Festival will be held July 10-13 in Louisville, and the Nike Peach Jam is set for July 15-18 in Augusta, Ga. The squad will play in either Los Vegas or Orlando to close out the summer.
Hubbs and his Cawood teammates will also do some traveling next season as one of the 13th Region favorites. The Trojans will participate in the prestigious Fifth-Third Classic in December in Lexington and have also reportedly been selected for the WYMT Mountain Classic in January.
The Kentucky All-Star football squad that will take on Tennessee in June in Knoxville will be led by Rockcastle County's Tom Larkey, a former Cawood assistant who has turned the Rockets into a state power.
Larkey's coaching staff will include Mike Campbell of Whitley County, Mike Holcomb of Breathitt County, Chris McNamee of Pikeville, David Mitchell and Larry Parker of Lynn Camp, and Tony Saylor and Chris Larkey of Rockcastle.