Over the years, McDonald's and Parade Magazine have featured many high
school basketball superstars on its All-American teams.
And one of the super standouts was Derrick Hord from the famed high
school senior class of 1979.
You will recall the heralded 1979 class has perhaps the best collection
of roundball stars of all time. It had future NBA standouts like Ralph
Sampson, Sam Bowie, Dominique Wilkins, Isiah Thomas, to name several.
Kentucky, under the leadership of then-coach Joe B. Hall, snatched four
of the All-Americans from that class. It is arguably UK's best recruiting
coup ever and Hall came awfully close in signing another star, 7-4 Ralph
Sampson, who went to Virginia in a last-minute decision.
In addition to Hord, the Wildcats' recruiting class included prep stars
Sam Bowie, Dirk Minniefield and Charles Hurt.
A big-time recruit who played at Tennessee High School in Bristol,
Tenn., Hord definitely remembers the recruiting battles among the big-name
schools and that was before the days of ESPN cable TV network, the Internet,
radio call-in shows and message boards.
Hord, who has a pleasant personality, recently joked that not having
ESPN (which launched in the fall of 1979) or the Internet back then has made
him feel kind of old when thinking about his younger days.
Hord, who picked UK over his second-choice North Carolina, got to meet
famous people in the coaching fraternity, including Dean Smith, Digger
Phelps, Roy Williams and Don DeVoe.
"The entire experience was a rush that I can't put into words‹pure
excitement, pure adrenaline, truly an exceptional time," said Hord, who was
a class president five of his last six years in junior and senior high
school. "I certainly felt extremely honored to be considered by all of the
great programs. (Before the Internet age), I suppose the gravity of the
coaches' visits really weren't felt at the time. Don't get me wrong, it was
still a very big deal.
"I remember one big game in particular and several of the top coaches
were in attendance. Our athletic director set up a section for them sitting
on the playing floor in plain view of the entire audience. It was pretty
Saying no to Dean Smith‹who later became the men's college basketball
winningest coach with 879 victories before retiring in 1997 (Bobby Knight
later took the honors as the winningest coach in 2007)‹was difficult for
"I called Dean Smith the night before I made the announcement to go to
UK," he said. "(It was) one of the hardest things I've ever done. Unlike
many around here (in Kentucky), I have a lot of respect for that program.
They recruited with the same amount of professionalism, respect and
preparation as UK. Maybe not to the degree of coach Ham (UK assistant
Leonard Hamilton) though."
Before coming to Lexington, his hometown university‹Tennessee‹was a
possibility for Hord during the early recruiting days.
"The news was not well received in upper east Tennessee after I decided
to attend UK," said Hord, who currently works at Lexington's Central Baptist
Hospital as physician recruiter. "It was a difficult decision and the worst
part yet, we never beat UT in Knoxville during the four years I played at
According to Hord, a large portion of his high school classmates
attended UT. "To have so many friends attend school there (at Tennessee),
and proximity of school to home and more factors all made for strong
consideration," explained Hord, who eventually was advised not to attend
Tennessee for several reasons.
"UT did recruit me to some degree, often through surrogates, with the
occasional invitation to a football or basketball game which I certainly
enjoyed," added Hord. "I never took an official visit to UT, and it was
purely out of courtesy that I took an unofficial visit. Coach DeVoe did
recruit me and I believe he understood that by the early part of my junior
year UT was not really under consideration.
"The decision process had many factors, of course. I believe I would
have thoroughly enjoyed UT both academically and socially. The combination
of factors for not going included style of play, fan support, comfort with
players and staff, and an overall gut feeling. And my gut kept telling me
that it was just not a good match at that time. Jimmy Braddock, the
All-American point guard from Chattanooga (Baylor School) and a good friend
at the time, and I visited both UT and UNC (University of North Carolina)
together. We came away with the same feeling after our visit to UT. He ended
up at UNC by the way."
Not surprisingly, UK's rabid fan support played a significant role in
Hord's decision to attend Kentucky.
"I remember a close friend listening to a UK ball game in his backyard
in Bristol on a transistor radio because the reception was better on that
little hand-held (radio) than in his home for whatever reason. That image,
that effort of support really impressed me," Hord said of his introduction
to UK basketball. "That same individual took me to a UK-Notre Dame game in
1977. This was one of those terrible winters, and the forecast
was for lots of snow. I was a huge Notre Dame fan at that time; you might
even say they were my top choice. It didn't matter to my friend; he promised
I would witness something I had never experienced before, saying Œit would
be good and that he would get us back in time for school the next day safe
"Freedom Hall and the atmosphere of that game are still fresh in my
mind. The fans were awesome! It really snowed after the ballgame and our
5.5-hour drive became 10 hours. I believe I made it home for the afternoon
classes the next day. Witnessing that kind of support really helped win me
over. There were numerous other instances with fans that have stuck in my
mind, and always positively so. I can only say that about one other school
that was under my consideration at that time.
"Back then, I don't recall ever hearing fans boo their own team at
Kentucky, something that has certainly changed and is very disappointing to
see and hear, not only as a former player but also as a fan. If I were a
recruit today, that would certainly have an influence on my decision, no
During the heated recruiting process, UK assistants certainly made
lasting impressions on Hord.
"Many coaches stand out during my recruitment experience for one reason
or another," he said. "I don't recall ever having any negative experiences
with any school, but two coaches stand out to me above all those who
recruited me‹Dickie Parsons and Leonard Hamilton. They were as different as
day and night but made a lasting impression. They did their homework and
were extremely professional.
"Back then there was a limited amount of contact a recruiting coach
could have with a prospect such as myself. Some schools bent, some broke,
and some never tried to honor the rules. UK always followed the rules, and I
always knew when UK came to see me play. Coach Parsons would wait, sometimes
till long after the game was over, after the shower and you're leaving the
gym, or getting in your car, or entering the restaurant with your friends,
he would make sure I saw him, then wave, just like that. There was no
contact and no speaking, but you understood effort was taken to make sure I
saw him there.
"Coach Hamilton is equally as efficient but totally different. He knew
where I went to church, where I took my girlfriend, where I got my hair cut,
kind of scary but neat at the same time. I might not know he was there for a
day or two, but then one of my neighbors, or barber, or the bag boy at the
grocery would tell me Coach Ham was by to visit and be sure to tell you he
thought you had a nice game the other night. I think he could have worked
for the CIA."
At Kentucky, Hord had a good career, earning first-team All-SEC honors
as a Wildcat junior in 1982 while averaging 16.3 points. The 6-6 forward
finished his collegiate tenure with a four-year average of 9.8 points with
numerous 20-point plus games.
But some folks have argued that Hord could have done better at UK and he
"(It's) definitely not what I had planned and did not accomplish what I
set to," said the Tennessee native who graduated with a degree in
telecommunications/journalism. "After playing with my back to the basket my
entire career going to two-guard my sophomore year didn't help my production
offensively or defensively. That move was more of an adjustment than
anticipated, but one does what one is asked to do."
An NBA third-round draft pick in 1983 before playing one year of pro
basketball in Japan, Hord still stays in touch with his college coach.
"He (Joe B. Hall) really helped me during my bid for (Kentucky) State
Senate (in 2002), pounded a lot of pavement with me," said Hord. "I have
been on his and Coach Crum's radio show a few times, too."
Hord, by the way, is not the only family member who has strong ties with
UK. His wife, Lisa, works at the university where she is an assistant vice
president. They also have one child, Kaitlyn.
Even though he has been away from home for 30 years, Bristol remains
close to Hord's heart. The former Cat says he still has several relatives in
the Bristol area, but "I don't visit as I would like to."
Jamie H. Vaught, whose syndicated sports column currently appears in
Kentucky newspapers, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is
currently a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College
in Middlesboro and can be reached by e-mail at CatsUpClose2008@yahoo.com.
Over the years, McDonald's and Parade Magazine have featured many high
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