In April 23 IssueBy Derek AaronNews-Register Editor
Former University of Kentucky Wildcat basketball standout Kenny "Sky" Walker made rounds throughout Russell County earlier this week as he went to various businesses hoping to secure donations for a literacy program he's been involved with for more than 13 years.
"My company, Kentucky Sports History, we document the accomplishments of the basketball team on an annual basis and we have a program that we do with all the high school and middle school libraries where we put these books in the fall of every year," Walker said during one of his many stops in the county, this time at Bennett's Carpets in Russell Springs. "We encourage students in all the schools to go check out and read about the history and tradition of our program. It is a nice and creative way to get kids to read, especially boys in middle school and high school."
He said he was getting reacquainted with the Lake Cumberland area during his trip, saying he had not been to Russell County much since his Barnstorming Tour following his senior season in 1986.
"After being here only a few hours I can tell that people are really into it," Walker, who previously worked summers in the western portion of the state, said. "I was over at McDonald's, who is a sponsor, for a couple hours and every stop people are genuinely excited to see me. They are happy to see former UK people in their community."
He visits doctors, lawyers, supermarkets, car dealerships and various other businesses in hopes of securing enough donations to keep the Wildcat history book on school library shelves year in and year out.
After he opens "new doors," that allows him to become even further involved by doing speaking engagements, basketball camps and the like for folks who may be interested.
The 6-8 Walker played for the Wildcats from 1983-86 and helped lead UK to the Final Four in 1984 as a sophomore. He was named to the All-SEC team four times and the All-American team twice and was also twice named the SEC Player of the Year. Following his UK career he was drafted 5th overall in the 1986 NBA Draft and went on to play nine seasons of professional basketball, from 1986-91 with the Knicks and from 1993-95 with the Washington Bullets, both in the NBA. The rest of his years were spent overseas. He retired from basketball in 1998 and now makes Lexington his home. He is currently a host for 590 AM WVLK where he hosts postgame and pregame shows during basketball season.
During the offseason, he and several fellow former Wildcats travel the state in hopes of securing funds for the updating of the UK history book.
"Kids are the future," he said. "Even though it has been 25 years since I graduated from UK I still really enjoy being a role model that not only kids, but adults, look up to."
While attaining funding for the book in the south central part of the state, Walker takes time out of his many visits to talk basketball, just as he did at Bennett's on Monday. His jersey does hang from the Rupp Arena rafters after he scored 2,080 points in his Wildcat career, the second most all-time behind Dan Issel.
"We're excited about the future and the direction of the program," Walker said. "As a former player you always want to be a part of the program and stay involved with it."
He said the past two seasons under Coach John Calipari, where the Wildcats reached the Elite Eight and the Final Four respectively, have been exciting for all former players, especially those living in Lexington.
"I go to all of the home games and a lot of the road games so to see them do well is a great thing to witness," he said. "Last year was expected but this year was a pleasant surprise, I am very happy for them."
He said his most memorable moments as a Wildcat were going to the 1984 Final Four and his 1986 Senior Night.
"Being out there on the court with your family and playing 'My Old Kentucky Home' knowing that it is your last time out on the floor at Rupp Arena is a pretty emotional moment," he said.
He then noted his most memorable professional moment was winning the 1989 NBA slam dunk competition while a member of the Knicks as well as 1986 draft night when he was taken 5th overall by the team.
Near the end of his visit, Walker said he believes many players return to Lexington to make a home following their playing days as a testament to the program and the state.
"I think we all realize, even before we come to Kentucky, that it is a special place," he said. "While you're here the people have so much admiration and love for you and when you leave and come back that admiration and love is still there whether it is 15, 20 or 25 years down the line."
He said the fact that he was a former Wildcat helped him "get in the door" to land sponsorships for the literacy program and that was one of the benefits of remaining associated with the university.
"Our fans are second to none," he said. "You can take the fan bases of Duke, North Carolina, Indiana, Kansas and UCLA but our fans are just a little crazier."