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When the game was on the line, there was little doubt that Mike Casey would come through.
He was never the fastest. Never the one that jumped the highest. And at 6-foot-4, Casey had good size for a guard, but he was far from the biggest on the basketball court.
It was just that when things mattered the most, country boy Mike Casey was at his best. It is the trait made him one of the most beloved players ever to suit up in Kentucky.
When Casey died last April, the outpouring of grief and support from across the state was profound.
While it was a stellar career at the University of Kentucky that thrust Casey into national prominence – he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated for the college basketball preview in 1968 – Casey became a household name across the Commonwealth during his career at Shelby County High School, where he led the Rockets to a state championship and was named Mr. Basketball.
Now, a group headed by Shelbyville businessman Gary Walls is spearheading a drive to have the court at Shelby County High named in Casey's honor. Because of Casey's statewide popularity, Walls has been taking the cause beyond his county line.
“We know that Mike led Shelby County to a state championship in 1966,” Walls said last week. “We know he went to UK and was an All-SEC player and one of the Top 10 scorers in history when he graduated.”
And Wildcat fans like to believe that it was a broken leg Casey suffered in a car accident in the summer of 1969 that kept the Wildcats and Coach Adolph Rupp from winning another national title the following winter.
While Casey came back after sitting out a year, even earning All-SEC honors, he was not the same. “Coach Joe B. Hall (who was an assistant coach at UK at the time) said Mike fought and rehabilitated and represented the Commonwealth of Kentucky in a 'very commendable fashion,'” Walls said.
Casey's popularity continued throughout his life due to his work as a representative for Balfour Company, which makes class rings.
In a 2004 interview with The Anderson News, Casey marveled that people still remembered more than 30 years after his playing career was over. “I have people talk about it all the time,” Casey said. “It is good to be remembered.”
Walls has taken his cause to the Internet, where he has set up a Facebook page, “Honor Mike Casey at Shelby County High School.” Among the supporters are several statewide media members, including Tom Leach, voice of the Wildcats, several well-known writers, and Lexington radio personality Dick Gabriel, who recently had Walls as a guest on his show to promote the cause. Over 1,400 people have joined the group.
Walls says the effort is not limited to Shelby County. “The county school board will have to approve the proposal but there is strength in numbers. Mike touched people across the Commonwealth.”
Walls urges Facebook users to join his group no matter where they are. Those who do not use the social networking site, but would like to tell how Casey touched them can write Walls at P.O. Box 577, Shelbyville, Ky. 40066. “I will make sure the letters get to the right people. There is strength in numbers.”
Walls says the effort is not just about a country boy that could shoot a jump shot, but that “Mike was a witness to students and to educators. It is because of what he also accomplished off the court and the example he set.”
E-mail John Herndon at firstname.lastname@example.org.