1984 UK hoops squad was special according Walker

Published 2:42 pm Thursday, February 8, 2024

Kenny Walker enjoyed being with his former Kentucky teammates at the recent 1984 Final Four reunion because it was a happy occasion and the players received a rousing ovation from Rupp Arena fans.

Walker said, unfortunately, he had seen teammates after the passing of former teammates Bret Bearup, Ed Lavender, Cedric Jenkins, and Melvin Turpin, along with the passing of former coach Joe B. Hall.

“My father was a spiritual man and spoke at a lot of funerals. I remember as a kid I would look and see the flowers at funerals but my dad would always say he wished we would give flowers to people before they passed away,” said Walker, an All-American during his time at UK. “Too many times we give people flowers when they are dead and gone and can’t enjoy them.

“So this reunion meant a lot to me and the other guys. That’s why I always share the message about giving a man his flowers when he is alive and can enjoy them and UK did that for us.”

Kentucky’s 1983-84 team that reached the Final Four before losing to Georgetown was beloved by many UK fans.

“We had a lot of personalities. We had the Twin Towers with Sam (Bowie) and Melvin (Turpin). We had a frontline that could match up with any front line UK has ever had. We had eight or nine McDonald’s All-Americans on our team. We were loaded.

“But for Kentucky to bring a team back that did not win a championship lets us know that everyone did realize how special we were. Georgetown was one of the most painful losses I ever had. The only one worse was 1986 when we had beat LSU three times and then lost to them in the Elite Eight to go to the Final Four.

The ovation we received gave me goosebumps. The fans truly loved us all. We played tougher three or four years and fans got more invested in us. They watched freshmen grow to seniors. We didn’t give them a championship but we gave them a whole lot of memories. It’s still difficult for me to swallow that we did not win a championship. I have a lot of admiration for the fan following we had and you could never put a price tag on that.”

Bowie joked that the players off the 1984 Final Four team are so old that they can only “sit around and reminisce now” but like Walker said the reunion was special for everyone.

“Kentucky basketball is special and to acknowledge old men like us was very special,” Bowie said. “Our team was very special. I was the second pick in the draft and only averaged 10 points per game. I took the fourth most shots on the team. You didn’t have to put up 30 points to be noticed because our group had so much success.”

Like Walker, the 1984 Final Four loss when UK blew a 12-point lead by going 3-for-33 from the field in the second half still haunts Bowie.

“I always look at the 1984 team like we won. We all know we had the best team in the country that year,” Bowie said. “I always tell (Georgetown center) Patrick (Ewing) that he walked away

with my ring. One half did not go our way but if it had been a three-, five- or seven-game series we would have won. We just had a bad night.

“Kenny and Melvin were first team all-SEC. I was on the second team. Melvin was first team all-American, I was second. Dicky Beal was MVP in the (NCAA) region. We did not have any egos. I know I am biased but standing on that Rupp Arena court again made me realize just how loaded our 1984 team really was.”

Walker grew up in Georgia where football was the main sport and he didn’t truly understand how big basketball was in Kentucky until he arrived on the UK campus.

“Kids grow up in this state watching Kentucky basketball,” Walker said. “I am just glad I was one of the guys who got to inspire people in Kentucky and part of the tradition who helped make fans interested in what we do at UK. I hope today’s players appreciate all that support from fans.

“I know a small percentage of our fan base can be a little unrealistic but the Kentucky fan base is still the best in the nation and it is not close.”