Remembering Mike Pratt, Kentucky star turned radio broadcaster

Earlier than they starred collectively on three SEC championship groups at Kentuckyearlier than they teamed as much as steal Adolph Rupp’s beer and conceal it in a bathroom, lengthy earlier than they reunited 15 months in the past to co-host a day by day radio present, Dan Issel and Mike Pratt didn’t significantly like one another. After they have been assigned to be roommates as freshmen in 1966, that preliminary pairing lasted solely a few month. “We actually didn’t get alongside, so we obtained totally different roommates,” Issel says now, laughing on the absurdity. “I’d’ve been the one individual on earth who could not get together with Mike Pratt, however even I got here round. Fortunately, clearly, our relationship improved. He was an amazing, nice good friend – to everybody. ”

For all he achieved in basketball, this can be Pratt’s legacy. And what an attractive one. When phrase got here Friday morning that the 73-year-old former UK star and longtime radio analyst had died in a single day after a protracted battle with most cancers, the sheer quantity of on-line outpouring alone made fairly a press release about his life. However the frequent theme in so a lot of these social media messages revealed an much more highly effective epitaph. Teammates, colleagues and full strangers who’d solely met Pratt in passing all shared the same sentiment: He made me really feel like a good friend.

“There was no ego with Mike,” Issel says. “He was a good friend to everyone, stranger to none, and he had no less than 10 minutes to speak whether or not you have been his greatest good friend or he’d by no means seen you earlier than in his life. That is a particular high quality to have, and he had it in abundance. For my part, he’s far and away one of the best participant who ever wore a UK jersey that is not within the rafters at Rupp Area – and hopefully the powers that be will rectify that – however he by no means thought he was a giant deal. If you happen to talked to Mike, you’d by no means know he was an amazing participant or went to a Last 4 as an assistant coach at Charlotte or grew to become the youngest head coach in Division I there. If you met Mike, all you knew he was identical to you. ”

Then-assistant Joe B. Corridor signed Pratt out of Dayton, Ohio, with Rupp by no means even seeing the undersized 6-foot-4 ahead play. Corridor clearly knew what he was doing, as a result of in three seasons for Kentucky, Pratt averaged 16.8 factors and eight.9 rebounds, reached two Elite Eights, was a two-time All-SEC choice and earned second-team All-America honors in 1970, when the Wildcats completed the common season ranked No. 1. Pratt dropped 42 factors on Notre Dame in Freedom Corridor his senior yr.

“To be achieved but approachable just isn’t a simple goal to hit,” says play-by-play announcer Tom Leach, who has been paired with Pratt on radio broadcasts of UK video games since 2001. They just lately wrote a ebook about their 20 years behind the scenes collectively. “Mike was simply so approachable that folks felt snug coming as much as him, and he liked to work together with the followers. He had a simple approach about him that caught with individuals. It doesn’t matter what you have achieved, if the first legacy that everybody retains coming again to is what a superb man you have been, that is in all probability one thing we must always all aspire to. ”

Mike Pratt with longtime radio accomplice Tom Leach.

The spotlight of their radio profession collectively was calling the 2012 nationwide championship, Leach says, however the evening Jodie Meeks scored a school-record 54 factors at Tennessee was fairly particular too. Pratt was uniquely certified to interview Meeks on air after that recreation, having been on the ground when Issel set the earlier file with 53 factors at Ole Miss.

“He was an amazing conduit from the previous to the current in that function,” Leach says. “He was simply so good at his job, and at all times so ready. In these previous couple of months, he was actually hurting, however I do not suppose anyone ever picked up on that whereas we have been on the air. He by no means talked in regards to the most cancers or the toll his remedy was taking, so I do not suppose any of us absolutely appreciated how a lot ache he was in all probability in. ”

“If there’s any comfort,” Issel provides, “it is that he will not really feel ache anymore.”

After Pratt was identified with colon most cancers in January of 2019, he missed two video games for his preliminary remedy, however by no means once more, even on his worst days. Even when the most cancers unfold and the outlook grew more and more grim. He known as each Kentucky recreation, house and away, alongside Leach. He continued internet hosting the present with Issel, in-studio, till a few month in the past. Pratt had pitched the concept for a present to Issel final February over lunch and now all that point collectively seems like a treasured reward.

“It was the most effective tasks I’ve ever been concerned with,” Issel says. “We did not solicit calls or textual content messages. We simply loved one another and laughed and instructed tales and had a good time. It was terrific to be with Mike day by day like that. When his most cancers popped up once more and he began taking chemo after which developed neuropathy, which is a nerve difficulty and the ache could be simply excruciating, I would inform Mike, ‘Keep house, it is OK.’ His response was at all times, ‘I am not going to offer in to this,’ and he confirmed up day by day, even when he felt completely terrible. He by no means complained, at all times had a optimistic angle, and he thought he was going to beat it till the top. ”

Even when he lastly stepped away from work, he stored combating. Pals, followers and coach John Calipari raised tens of 1000’s of {dollars} to fund an experimental remedy that was scheduled to begin on the day he died. Leach visited Pratt two weeks earlier and his good friend appeared drained however hopeful.

“I stated,‘ You bought two months to get wholesome, as a result of we’ve obtained to be within the Bahamas in August, ’” Leach says. “He laughed and stated, ‘I do not suppose I am gonna make that one,’ however I do suppose he actually believed he was going to be again for the beginning of the season in November.”

Kentucky basketball meant the whole lot to Pratt and the best way he wore that love of this system on his sleeve was a part of the enchantment to so many. He was on the search committee when the Wildcats employed Calipari in 2009 and was answerable for passing phrase between the 2 sides that each have been severely . He traveled with the UK’s president and athletic director to interview Calipari.

“He was a giant advocate for Cal, noticed him as a super match for this job,” Leach says, “The individuals making that call actually trusted Mike, and that was clever, as a result of if he instructed you one thing, you might take it to the financial institution. ”

Calipari, who had provided to match donations for Pratt’s remedy as much as $ 50,000, wrote in a press release Friday: “We misplaced a member of the family, part of the Kentucky household, and a good friend. Mike was a pricey good friend to me and was an integral half in serving to me develop into head coach right here. Ellen and I’ll eternally be grateful to him for his assist and kindness. We must always all be grateful he was in our lives. ”

(Left to proper) Mike Casey, Dan Issel, Adolph Rupp and Mike Pratt.

As most did, Leach “clicked immediately” with Pratt when their partnership started 20 years in the past. Pratt rapidly grew to become like a giant brother. They at all times sat in the identical place on group flights – Leach on the window, Pratt on the aisle of a shared row – and chatted in regards to the issues Pratt liked outdoors of UK basketball: the Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Reds, horse racing and his 10 grandchildren .

“You simply liked to hang around with him on a golf course or a sports activities bar,” Leach says. “We had a variety of enjoyable doing the video games, a variety of memorable moments on the broadcasts, however I believe extra in regards to the moments like once we’d go discover a place to observe video games collectively through the NCAA Event and simply share a superb time . He knew everyone in basketball, so on the highway, it might be breakfast with Eddie Fogler, lunch with a man he performed towards at LSU, dinner with a former teammate down at Arkansas. He was at all times operating into an NBA scout or one other radio man performed with or performed towards or knew someway. And one of the best half for me was tagging alongside like a bit of brother and simply listening to all the good tales they instructed. ”

Issel has a kind of tales. It was Feb. 6, 1970, and Kentucky was in Oxford, Mississippi, to play the Rebels the subsequent day. Since many SEC cities have been “dry” again then, group coach Claude Vaughan’s duties included packing suitcases stuffed with booze for Rupp to entertain UK’s touring social gathering of boosters and dignitaries on the lodge. Issel and Pratt have been each married by their senior yr and had lengthy since squashed no matter friction that they had as freshmen, so that they have been road-trip roommates. Wandering the halls earlier than curfew, they observed that Vaughan’s door was ajar however he wasn’t inside. The alcohol was, so that they snagged a six-pack of beer and bolted again to their room.

“I don’t know the place Mike got here up with this concept, however he took the highest off the bathroom tank and put the six-pack down within the water and put the lid again on,” Issel says, virtually howling. “5 minutes later, Claude Vaughan is pounding on the door. ‘The place is it? I do know you guys took it! The place did you conceal it? ‘ He got here in and scoured the room, appeared within the bathtub and beneath the mattress and within the drawers, searched our closet. We stated, ‘We don’t know what you are speaking about.’ He was so mad, however he could not discover that beer. When he left, Mike grabbed it out of the bathroom, we popped a can and had a giant snort. We stated, ‘Adolph Rupp simply purchased us a beer.’ ”

That beer powered Issel to his school-record 53 factors and 19 rebounds the subsequent day at Ole Miss. He did not even point out that in telling the story.

“My greatest reminiscences aren’t even basketball,” Issel says. “I simply miss my good friend.”

(Photographs: Courtesy of Kentucky Athletics)


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