Mike Casey spends his days surrounded by championship rings--he just doesn't have one to call his own. The former Kentucky star is a salesman for the Balfour company, and for the past 15 years he has traveled around the Blue Grass State, selling championship rings and high school class rings. He even sold rings to the Wildcats to commemorate several SEC basketball titles as well as their national championships in 1996 and '98. That sounds as if it might be a bitter pill for Casey, given the disappointing end to his Kentucky career, but he only says, "I consider myself blessed to do it."
After leading Shelby County High to the 1966 state title, the 6'4" guard arrived in Lexington figuring to win at least one national championship ring before he left. In fact, before the 1969--70 season, he and fellow seniors Dan Issel and Mike Pratt were expected to help the Wildcats break UCLA's run of what was then three straight NCAA titles. As the rafters at the Bruins' Pauley Pavilion attest, that didn't happen. Worse, Casey, who averaged 19.1 points as a junior, missed the season because of an auto accident. He was exiting I-64 on the way to campus in July 1969 when a tire blew and he spun into a utility pole; he broke his left leg. (Kentucky won the SEC but lost in the 1970 regional finals of the NCAA tournament.)
Casey, a medical redshirt, returned to the Wildcats for the 1970-71 season and averaged 17.5 points for a team that repeated as SEC champ but lost again in the tournament, this time in the regional semifinals. He was drafted by the Kentucky Colonels of the ABA and the Cleveland Cavaliers of the NBA but failed to make the cut. He was also unsuccessful in his attempt to qualify for the 1972 U.S. Olympic team. Casey believes the broken leg cost him quickness.
His basketball career over, Casey, who majored in education, worked in nursing home administration for 11/2 years before moving into sales. First for a chemical company and now with Balfour, he's been on the road selling products for 29 years.
Casey, 56 and divorced, has a grown daughter, Laura, and lives in Shelbyville near the house in which he grew up. He doesn't have an NCAA championship ring to flash when he returns to Lexington, but soon he may be wearing one to commemorate that '66 high school title. "Some of the players from Shelby County are thinking about designing a ring," he says. "Back then [high schools] didn't do rings. But with basketball in Kentucky being the way it is, a championship like that is something to cherish." --Bill Syken