Keightley known for contributions beyond his courtside seat

No one knew Bill Keightley better than Chad Sanders.

Keightley and Sanders, like they used to do for hours on hours, were talking. The subject was Sanders’ future.

Sanders was on schedule to graduate on time this year. Actually, he was ahead of schedule. He was on pace to leave UK in May with a finance and management degree.

Sanders was preparing to go. He had filled out his senior checklist and everything.

But Keightley didn’t want him to leave. Keightley understood how hard Sanders worked to get a double major in four years. He wanted Sanders to come back and enjoy a fifth year.

Push some classes back and spend one more year as a UK basketball manager, Keightley told Sanders. He’d earned it.

Sanders ran it by his parents. They were fine with it. He was going to do it.

“Now it’s definitely a different scenario,” Sanders said.

Sanders worked hard to put himself in a position to get two majors in four years. It’s going to be even harder for him to get through that fifth year without the guy who convinced him to come back and enjoy it.

No one knew Bill Keightley better than Dustin Marr.

Marr grew up like many on this campus — as a diehard UK fan. But the Tennessee native couldn’t go to UK out of high school because his family couldn’t afford the out-of-state tuition. So he enrolled at a local community college and was an assistant basketball coach at a high school.

But Marr didn’t fit in as a high school coach. The head coach told him he was too passionate to be coaching in high school.

So he tried to find a way on the UK basketball team. He wrote letters to Keightley and to the entire basketball staff.

Keightley wrote him back, the way he did to just about everyone else that tried to contact him, and invited him to campus. Keightley didn’t write him back to offer him a position on the spot, but because he felt it necessary to answer a UK fan’s request.

Marr and his dad made the trip from their home in Macon County, Tenn. He got the tour and the thrill all UK fans get when they see Memorial Coliseum for the first time. But what he didn’t get was an offer to be a manager.

Keightley didn’t have an opening for him. But Marr didn’t give up.

Every week during his freshman year at UK, Marr went down to Keightley’s office to talk to him. He wanted to show Keightley that he was interested and that he wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“I would just come in and say, ‘Hey Mr. Keightley, how you doing? I thought I’d swing by. Just checking in with you and seeing if anything opened up,’ ” Marr said. “You got the vibe that nothing was going to open up at the time.

“But I kept coming back.”

Marr just finished his third season as a manager on the UK basketball staff under Keightley, and he will graduate in May with a degree in communications. Keightley gave him a chance following the summer of his freshman year.

No one knew Bill Keightley better than Zach Murphy. Well, except for maybe his father.

Michael Murphy was a manager at UK from 1976–1980. Zach Murphy has been a manager at UK since 2003.

That’s two generations of Murphys that have worked as basketball managers under Keightley in the last 32 years.

Michael might tell you he had a better time as a manager at UK because he was on the 1978 national championship team. But Zach will tell you he had a better time at UK because he had one more year with Keightley than his dad did.

“My dad always told me to take advantage of all the time I had with him because he had so much knowledge and wisdom about life,” Zach said. “I learned so much about the way Mr. Keightley treats people. About how to act. I had an experience through my five years here that many people won’t have.”

That’s what Keightley’s entire life was about — the special relationships he formed and the positive impacts he made with his managers in his 48 years on the job.

He did that by listening. By showing an indefatigable work ethic even into his 80s. By always having a smile on his face.

And, of course, with his stories.

Like the one about the time when Rick Pitino yelled ‘A few choice words at him that weren’t very kind’ when Keightley tried to pull Pitino back to the bench during Keightley’s first game in his trademark first seat.

Or the one about UK’s younger managers offering to push the laundry cart for the 81-year-old Keightley, just to have him turn them away.

Or the one about Keightley always taking all of the managers to a Cincinnati Reds game at the end of the basketball season. That trip was always around the NFL Draft, which means it probably would have been about three Saturdays from now.

Or the one about Wildcat super-fan Bobby Wiggins’ weekly Wednesday drop-in to see Mr. Wildcat.

Or the one about…

They could go on forever.

And that’s how long his legacy should last.

All three UK basketball managers said his seat on the bench should never be occupied again.

One mentioned they should rename Memorial Coliseum after him.

Another said UK should keep his office, with all of his pictures and championship memorabilia, untouched.

Or, instead of writing 1962–2008 on his retired jersey at Rupp Arena, leave it as 1962–.

“Because his passion and his servitude is not going to stop in 2008,” Sanders said.

No one knew that better than his fellow managers.

Jonathan Smith is a journalism senior. E-mail [email protected]