The fan base presently is a characature of a three-legged stool. In the grand scheme of dichotomy, there are those like Lickert in the middle, those in strong support and those that are restive. There have been few years when the Big Blue-basketball Nation has gone from festive to restive. Lickert, whose UK basketball affiliation spans six decades, no doubt has an inward trepidation that UK basketball could be headed towards uncharted waters.
Lickert (Mister Basketball) played his high school basketball under Lexington Lafayette high school coaching icon Ralph Carlisle and won a State Championship in 1957 - went on to UK where he played under another icon Adolph Rupp from 1959 – ‘61. Billy Ray Lickert went on to be a Helms Foundation All-American, 2nd team AP/Coaches All-American and the 45th pick in the 1961 pro draft to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Lickert had some observations on the players of today as opposed to his day. "They are bigger, stronger, faster than they were fifty years ago," he said. "It's much more difficult to play on the half-court because of that. Everybody plays similar type defense, it's tough to score and you have to try to get the advantage today just like you always have where you can play 3-on-2 or 4-on-3 but it's hard to do because of the physical size and the ability of the players."
Some say a big difference is that the method of conditioning and the use of today's equipment has drastically change the player and if it were the same then that many of the yesteryear players could measure up to today's player. Lickert was asked if some of the players that played then could compete today? "Ah yeah, I think they could," he insisted. "Back in our day we lifted some leg-weights, we threw a medicine-ball and that was the extent of any weight training we did. I think the great players in our day, the Oscar Robertson's, the Jerry West's, and later the Dan Issel's, they could play with anybody.
"I would still put Oscar Robertson up against anybody. The other big thing is the number of games you played." Lickert said they now play AAU ball after high school ball, then after the season ended we went on and played baseball or something. He said they only had to win four NCAA tournament games to win it all and now they have to win six games. He said they just play so much more at a younger age. "That's good and in some ways I think it's bad but the overall development of a basketball player is good."
Lickert was asked if they had a player quit and come back more than once as we often see today. "Nobody would quit back then and be back. If you quit you were done." He said it's a little different but the Adolph Rupp's, the Bear Bryant's in football, the Vince Lombardi's in football, they all kind of had the same type of approach to the game. He said he was not so sure that works today. "It might, I don't know. I think you still have to command respect and discipline and team chemistry is just as big today as it was back then.
Lickert was asked about the state of the UK program today and the mystique the program has had down through the years? "I guess the last, what, five years, ten years, we're down. There's a lot of good teams and lot of good players today. There's a lot of parity, and it doesn't take that many good players to make a good team." Converse to what we are witnessing, the conventional wisdom of building UK basketball and returning back to regal status leaves the Big Blue Nation in a quandary. One of those legs to the stool is dangerously close to being sawed off.
Former Kentucky Standout Billy Ray Lickert
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