Kentucky shares more than just close proximity against tonight’s opposing team. Eastern Kentucky University, more of a friendly neighbor than foe, has connections rooted in Kentucky basketball that bond the two teams.
Head Coach Dan McHale has been working his way up the ladder since his days at Kentucky as a student manager (1997-2001). Working under the guidance of Bill Kightley and then-coach Tubby Smith, McHale was part of one national championship team, four NCAA Tournament teams and three Southeastern Conference championships. He began as EKU’s Head Coach in April 2015 and is currently 7-2 this season. The Colonels head into tonight’s match up against Kentucky, a team looking to bounce back after the road loss against UCLA.
Yesterday, McHale proved to be the classy Kentucky man Big Blue Nation raised him to be when he said, “I’m going to leave the first seat open for Mr. Keightley because if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
“I don’t think he’ll sit there – we all know he wouldn’t sit on the visitor’s bench at Rupp Arena – but I’m going to leave it open, hopefully he can give me some words of advice and make sure I’m doing okay. It’s a tribute to him.”
Assistant Coach Michael Bradley and McHale have more in common than just the simple Kentucky roots. Bradley played for Kentucky as a freshman and sophomore, seeing minutes in 32 games the ’97-’98 Championship season. This National Title was one that Bradley and McHale were able to experience together, which makes their coaching partnership at EKU a different kind of bond. Bradley was a Wildcat for two years before finishing his college career at Villanova and later going on to play five seasons in the NBA and two overseas.
Currently in his first year at EKU, Video Coordinator and Director of Player Personnel Terrence Commodore, was once involved in the behind the scenes work for the Wildcats as well. He served as the graduate program assistant for Kentucky between the years of 2007-2011. During his time he was able to be a part of an Elite Eight and Final Four appearances, while also assisting in the recruiting of fan-favorites John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins, Brandon Knight and Darius Miller.
He doesn’t have connection to the University of Kentucky per say, but Reece Gaines, now one of EKU’s assistant coaches, does have ties to our beloved state. A former Louisville Cardinal (it’s making me sick typing this), Gaines was one of 12 freshman to start his first game under Denny Crum. He later went on to finish his career at Louisville under Rick Pitino. And that is all there is to say about that.
Now that we’re all acquainted, let’s kick these Colonels back to Richmond.