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Remembering Mr. Basketball: Terry Davis

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By Todd Martin

When the banners are unveiled and the applause dies down, Terry Davis will again be remembered as Kentucky’s 1968 Mr. Basketball.

“It’s nice to be remembered 41 years later,” he said. “Mr. Basketball gives you an identifying mark in this state. I don’t know how many times since then that I’ve been introduced as 1968’s Mr. Basketball.”

As a freshman, Davis was on the bench in 1965 and again as a sophomore in 1966 when Shelby County’s other Mr. Basketball, Mike Casey, led the Rockets to a state title.

“In my eyes, Mike Casey was the founding father of sports in Shelby County,” Davis said. “He came along when they [the schools] first consolidated, and a lot of people don’t remember, but he was a great baseball player, too. They lost in the baseball state championship. He was the one that brought it all together at Shelby County.”

But Davis’ time to lead would come.

“We had some very good teams those years,” he said. “But when Mike and those guys left in 1966, my teams basically started in 1967 and 1968.”

In 1967 Shelbyville upset the Rockets in the region semifinals, but 1968 might have been one of the school’s best teams.

With Coach Herky Rupp, son of legendary University of Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp, at the helm and Davis leading a deep and talented squad, the Rockets returned to the Sweet 16.

“We were a very talented team,” Davis said. “At least five, and maybe seven if you count underclassmen, went on to play Division I basketball. We won the Ashland Invitational, beating Covington Catholic in the final.”

That ‘68 season still holds true in Davis memory. Along with being named Mr. Basketball, he also led the state in scoring with an average of 35.4 points per game.

That scoring mark, Davis said, was a main focus during the year.

“Leading the state in scoring was a lot of pressure in itself,” he said. “When you’re carrying a burden like that, people want to see it. We never played in a gym that wasn’t packed.

“Sometimes we even had a police escort onto and off the court. People wanted to beat us. Carrying that much pressure, sometimes the game goes beyond fun.”

The Rockets were a focal point for the state, widely regarded as one of the top programs.

“The Courier-Journal was at every one of our games, and we played all over,” he said. “We always went to the mountain schools to play, and all those people had was WHAS [radio] and the Courier. They treated us like gods. They wanted to stop and talk. With all the publicity we got, they thought we were basketball in Kentucky.”

Davis said Shelby County, Covington Catholic and Glasgow were the top teams in the state that season, but both the Rockets and CovCath were upset at state. Glasgow went on to top Seneca in the championship.”

After Caneyville knocked the Rockets from the state tournament, Davis shocked a lot of people by signing with Western Kentucky University, instead of UK.

“Adolph Rupp would travel with us to some games, and I was Kentucky’s No. 1 recruit that year,” he said. “I got to meet the whole Rupp family, and that was a real treat for me. They were the nicest people.

But the reason I went to Western was Ed Diddle. He had retired from coaching, but he still did some recruiting for them. I had a close relationship with him until the day he died (in 1970).”

Davis is now a retired farmer, but he still keeps up with the Rockets and Lady Rockets. His daughter Dee Dee Davis starts for the girls’ squad.

He also has a grandson on the West Middle team, and he travels around to see other teams play. However, he notes that the game is much different now.

“I don’t know where we lost it, but with college sports so available and ESPN, there’s not nearly as many people at the games anymore,” he said. “And it’s frustrating for me to watch games now.

"The officials allow a lot more contact, and the coaching is different. When we played, we identified the good shooters, and those guys took the shots. Now, everybody shoots, and there are a lot of people missing shots because they’re not really shooters. The game is just a lot different now.”

One thing that won’t change, however, is that recognition across the commonwealth.

“There’s a lot of kids with dreams of doing a lot of different things,” he said. “But if you live in this state and have the chance to play basketball, take it. It doesn’t matter how successful you are in other sports, if you play basketball, that’s what people will remember.

"And if you play it really well, in this state people will never forget.”

That’s why he’s still introduced as 1968’s Mr. Basketball.