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Author Topic: Story: The enduring gift that C.M. Newton left The Unforgettables  (Read 124 times)

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Connection to the former Razorback coach John Pelphrey:

As a rule, when university officials act out of emotion in renaming buildings or retiring jerseys, it is a mistake.

On April 7, 1992, only 10 days after Duke's Christian Laettner had ended the college basketball careers of the Kentucky senior class known as The Unforgettables with his 1992 NCAA Tournament buzzer-beater, then-University of Kentucky Athletics Director C.M. Newton acted from emotion.

At the end of a postseason awards ceremony in Rupp Arena, Newton shocked Richie Farmer, Deron Feldhaus, John Pelphrey and Sean Woods by asking them to turn around and look to the rafters where their retired jerseys were being unveiled.

"I remember standing on the floor that night listening to Coach Newton and I thought he was going to bring Coach (Rick) Pitino back up to the (microphone)," Pelphrey recalled Wednesday. "But then, he started using the words they used when they retired jerseys. I remember telling Deron, 'Turn around, I think they are about to retire our jerseys.' We were stunned."

Since news broke Monday that Newton, 88, had died from natural causes, I've thought about the meaning of the gesture that the ex-Transylvania, Alabama and Vanderbilt hoops coach made for The Unforgettables the four seniors who stuck with UK basketball through a debilitating scandal and a crippling NCAA probation and launched a return to glory.

Newton's recognition of The Unforgettables carried an extra poignancy because three of the four had turned down his recruiting pitch when he was the hoops head man at Vandy.

Pelphrey, Kentucky's 1987 Mr. Basketball, recalled that Newton was scheduled to speak at that year's Paintsville basketball banquet. When UK made a late entry into Pelphrey's recruitment, Vanderbilt's chance to sign the lifelong Wildcats' fan evaporated and Newton canceled his appearance at the Tigers banquet.

"But the way it turned out," Pelphrey said, "he joined us at Kentucky."

By stabilizing UK basketball in a time of program peril, the class of Pelphrey (1,257 UK points), Feldhaus (1,232), Farmer (898) and Woods (794, 482 assists) earned a place in the lore of Kentucky basketball that is greater than their individual statistical profiles.

When Newton decided that No. 32 (Farmer), No. 12 (Feldhaus), No. 34 (Pelphrey) and No. 11 (Woods) would go into the Rupp rafters, he recognized that.

He also gave the quartet the happy ending that Laettner and Duke's 104-103 overtime victory in the East Region finals had denied them.

It is a gift that endures.

Nolan Richardson's Razorbacks whipped the '92 Kentucky team in Rupp Arena 105-88. It was the only home SEC loss for the SEC Tournament champs.
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