PIKEVILLE - Words spoken from former University of Kentucky Wildcats carry much weight - not just in the Commonwealth but around the country. First-year East Kentucky Miners head coach Kevin Keathley has coached various college and professional basketball players. Keathley, set to lead the Miners into competition in their first season, has had the opportunity to mentor many Kentucky-born players, including a pair of former University of Kentucky Wildcats. When he was coaching in the ABA (American Basketball Association) and guiding the Kentucky Colonels, Keathley coached Anthony Epps and Antwain Barbour, two beloved former Kentucky Wildcats. Before he ever coached the Kentucky Colonels, Keathley had history with both players. In 2003, Keathley (coaching) and Epps (playing) teamed up to help lead the Louisville Eagles to a UPBL (United Pro Basketball League) championship.
Barbour (playing), before even suiting up for the University of Kentucky, crossed paths with Keathley (coaching) on the junior college level.
Each of the former UK standouts speak highly of the East Kentucky Miner head coach.
“I have played on the highest levels in the game of basketball, and yet, I still learned a great deal from playing for Coach Keathley,” Epps said in the Foreword to Hardwood Constitution - A Blueprint to Coaching Success, Keathley's book that was published in 2004.
Epps was voted one of the top 50 greatest players in UK history. Second all-time in assists for the Wildcats, Epps was an All-SEC (Southeastern Conference) performer. The Lebanon native was a member of the University of Kentucky's 1996 national championship unit.
“As a player, Anthony Epps was everything you want as a coach,” Keathley commented. “He was a warrior who gave everything he had for his team and coach. Epps was the most important part of our championship squad with the Louisville Eagles of the UPBL. He gave us unequaled leadership on and off of the floor. But more importantly with Anthony, I value our relationship off of the floor. He was and is a quality person.”
“Not only was he a coach, but he also became a friend,” Epps added. “He would talk to us on a professional level. He didn't consider himself bigger or better than us. We were on the same level in his eyes and that made the playing experience very easy for us.”
While playing for Keathley, Epps was a two-year starter.
Barbour, who came to UK after starring in the juco ranks at Wabash Valley College, holds Keathley in equally high regard.
“Coach K is intensified,” an energetic Barbour commented. “He's always ready to play. I've never seen him sit down.”
Like Epps, Barbour values Keathley's quality personal attributes in addition to his coaching traits.
“On a personal side, he's a great friend - off of the court as well as on the court,” Barbour, an Elizabethtown native, commented.
“Barbour has the one quality that every coach can hope for - he is one of the most loyal players I have ever coached,” said Keathley. “Coming out of Kentucky, Barbour had something to prove and I think he succeeded. He is as good a scorer as there is on the pro level. When Antwain gets going, he's very hard to contain on the offensive end.
“I think with both of these guys - Anthony Epps and Antwain Barbour - what you have is two players who played for the Mecca of College Basketball and learned how to conduct themselves both on and off of the court. I couldn't have been more grateful to have coached them.”
Keathley became acquainted with Louis Dampier, the ABA's all-time leader in scoring and assists during his stint with the Kentucky Colonels. At the time, Dampier was the team's Player Personnel Director. Dampier, one of the top players in pro basketball history, starred at the University of Kentucky as an All-American guard before putting together a storied professional career.
As the East Kentucky Miners prepare to begin play in the CBA (Continental Basketball Association), Keathley hasn't ruled out an affiliation with one or more former University of Kentucky Wildcats. Keathley, who is currently in the process of securing and finalizing times for tryout camp sessions, has vowed to sign the top players to be a part of the East Kentucky pro basketball team in its debut season. For more information on the East Kentucky Miners, contact Coach Kevin Keathley (phone: 606/454-4432; email: firstname.lastname@example.org).