Before Mallory Simpson cut the ribbon for her new salon on South Main Street last week, her famous father stood quietly in the back of the room with his wife, Tina.
University of Kentucky fans who saw him lead the Wildcats to a national championship, be named All-American, All-SEC, become an all-time UK great, then play seven seasons in the NBA would say, “That’s just Kyle.”
Kyle Macy, 61, is still the same unassuming fellow who led the Cats on the hardwood and the state in which boys wanted to play like him and girls who wanted to, well, be with him. He’s still a slim 6’3” and may still be the best free-throw shooter in the state, though these days he plays more tennis than hoops. (Macy was a star tennis player at Peru High School in Indiana, where his father coached him in basketball.)
“I’ll shoot around. I do some individual lessons, but as far as 5 on 5, no – I’m too old and it hurts too much the next morning if I do that,” Macy said, laughing.
Macy said while today’s players are bigger, stronger and faster, there’s less team play these days. He also agreed with the theory that because referees rarely blow the whistle when players “carry” or “palm” the ball, there’s more one-on-one play and less passing and movement away from the ball.
“That’s a big advantage – when you can carry it like that. Especially in the pros. They do it, like, on every dribble. And college is getting almost to that point. It is what it is. You make adjustments. But it’s a definite advantage for the offensive player,” Macy said.
A moment later, I began to ask him about his enduring fame:
“So it’s been 38 years …”
“Thanks for reminding me,” he said, laughing.
I pointed out that I wasn’t too far behind, then reiterated that fans of various vintages still approach him and say, as I did, “You’re my favorite UK player.”
He said thanks, then shared the credit.
“I think it just speaks to the loyalty and support of Kentucky basketball fans, and it’s amazing to me, when I’m out and someone will walk up and say, ‘Hey!’ or they’ll recall a specific game, a specific play maybe in that game. … And I’m not the only one, you know. I mean, whether you were a starter at Kentucky or even a guy that came in off the bench or maybe didn’t even play,” he said. “I’m sure Chris Gettelfinger (a popular UK walk-on) still gets recognized a lot when he’s around here or even down in Knoxville, where he lives. It just speaks to the Kentucky fans, I think.”
“Well, thanks. You know, I tried to just do the best I could. I knew I wasn’t the tallest and strongest and fastest, but I felt like I could compete and I was a student of the game, and I think, maybe because of that, because I wasn’t all those things, people could relate to me. …” Macy said.
He seemed more comfortable talking about Mallory, of whom he and Tina are very proud.
“She’s been doing hair for quite a while now and she’s finally made the decision that it was time to go out on her own instead of working for someone else, to open her own salon, so we’re really happy for her, and it’s great here in downtown Versailles. It’s such a nice downtown area. So we’re really excited about it,” Macy said.
He laughed when I asked if it was true that his grandchildren (Mallory has a 21-month-old son, Jackson, and is expecting) are instructed to call him “Coach” rather than something that might make him feel as if he left college 38 years ago.
“I didn’t come up with that. She did. That’s okay – I’m kind of used to that after I coached at Morehead for nine years. Yeah, he’s a great little kid,” Macy said.
Jackson’s “Coach” keeps busy. In addition to his duties as tennis coach for Lexington Christian Academy (and playing a few tournaments in the summer), he calls basketball games for ESPN networks and SEC tournament games on the radio. He also hosts a television series during hoops season called “From the Rafters of Rupp,” in which he interviews former players who, like him, have their jersey hanging above UK’s home court.
His interviews of other players are part of the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, including one in which All-American Kevin Grevey explains why he was breaking curfew the night Coach Joe B. Hall fell asleep on his bed.
Last Thursday, Macy posed for pictures and shared in the laughter when he had trouble, as many Chamber ribbon-cutters do, with the small scissors. But perhaps the best clue to his character came before they stepped outside, when he made sure that people who approached him also met his daughter.
In basketball, that’s called an assist or, as his fans would say, that’s just Kyle.