New arena gaining supporters: Former Cats great Walker supports new home for basketball

The emergence of the University of Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center has left not only UK fans thinking about a new basketball arena, but President Lee Todd and Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart, too, as mentioned in a Feb. 20 Kernel article.

At his contract extension announcement, Barnhart joked with the media that a new basketball arena would be next on his agenda.

But Todd and Barnhart aren’t the only people with connections to the UK basketball program searching for a proposal for a new arena. Two-time All-American Kenny “Sky” Walker and CatsPause founder Oscar Combs are among those who are also in favor of a new facility.

Walker said it was something the Lexington community and UK needed.

“There certainly would be nothing wrong with remodeling,” Walker said. “,,,Part of the thing that impresses recruits and energizes the fan base is having something you’re proud of.”

Along with other unknowns surrounding a new basketball arena, one decision to be made is where to build; on or off UK’s campus.

“I actually would love to see an on-campus facility and get more of the students involved,” Walker said. “It would create a great atmosphere. But with that being said, I really do think (the city) should probably keep it downtown. Kentucky’s always had a great relationship with downtown Lexington.”

Walker credited Rupp Arena with aiding hotels and restaurants located in downtown Lexington. He also praised the leader of the UK basketball team, head coach John Calipari.

“I just hope that we can get it done,” Walker said. “I know there are a lot of ideas being kicked around, but I think you have the perfect coach in John Calipari that can get out in front of this thing and really do a lot in terms of promoting and selling whatever he’s got to do to get a new facility.”

In October, Calipari first fielded a question about the possibility of a new arena.

“I think they will do a new arena,” he said. “I think within the next four to five years that will be reality mainly because of the pride and it is needed. You are talking 30-some years for Rupp.”

Combs has been close to the situation since talks began in the fall. He said in order for a renovation to work it would require “at least 70 or more” corporate suites and the replacement of the bleachers in the upper level with chair-back seats, as is present in the lower arena.

Some Cats fans believe Louisville’s acquisition has helped UK pressure city officials to move forward with their plans.

“No question that the KFC (Yum! Center) has given Cal an edge in getting people more involved in demanding it,” Combs said.

He said following UK’s 1996 National Championship former head coach Rick Pitino made it his prerogative to travel statewide and attempt to obtain necessary funds to get a new basketball arena, but the powers at be during that time believed it would hamper academic funding.

Combs said the decision and details of a new arena will need to be worked out as soon as possible.

“A decision on what they’re going to have to do one way or another is going to have to be made in the next 12 months, whether they are going to renovate Rupp, build on campus, or build one across from Rupp.”