Bill Keightley

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Bill Keightley
William Bond Keightley

(1926-12-17)December 17, 1926
DiedMarch 31, 2008(2008-03-31) (aged 81)
Other names"Mr. Wildcat"
OccupationEquipment manager for University of Kentucky men's basketball, 1972–2008

William (Bill) Bond Keightley (December 17, 1926 – March 31, 2008) was the equipment manager for the University of Kentucky men's basketball team, a position he held for 48 years.[1][permanent dead link] Known affectionately to most as "Mr. Wildcat," players referred to him as "Mr. Bill" or "Big Smooth."[1]

Early life and career[edit]

Keightley was an All-State center for now-defunct Kavanaugh High School in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.[1][2] He graduated in 1944.[3] He enlisted with the United States Marine Corps, and served in World War II.[4]

Keightley was working as a postal carrier in 1962 when fellow postal employee George Hukle asked him to become his assistant at his other job—equipment manager for the University of Kentucky basketball team.[4] Keightley accepted the position; ten years later, he succeeded Hukle as equipment manager.[3] He held the post during the tenures of coaches Adolph Rupp, Joe B. Hall, Eddie Sutton, Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith, and Billy Gillispie.

Honors and awards[edit]

A jersey honoring Keightley hangs in Rupp Arena
  • Keightley was on three NCAA Championship teams (1978, 1996, 1998) with the Wildcats. He wore one championship ring on each hand and kept the third ring in his pocket.
  • In 1997, the university retired a jersey in honor of Keightley. He and broadcaster Cawood Ledford are the only two people who did not play for or coach the Wildcats that have received such an honor.[1] For the 2009 season, the jersey was given the number #48 to reflect his 48 years of service (previously it simply read "UK" for the number)
  • In 2001, Keightley was featured on special edition bottles of Maker's Mark bourbon.[5]
  • In 2002, the university presented the first Bill Keightley Award. The award is given to "the individual who understands and exemplifies the pride, respect and the positive attributes associated with being a part of the Kentucky basketball program."[6]
  • In 2005, he was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the university's annual "Catspy" awards.[7]
  • On May 2, 2007, Keightley was inducted into the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame.[8]
  • On October 11, 2008 during Midnight Madness, Keightley was honored at the home bench of the Wildcats where his seat was. His daughter Karen and his fellow equipment manager assistants pulled off a piece of the basketball court as a memorial to remember him by. During that season, the "K" (in KENTUCKY) on the front of the player's jerseys was done in black as a tribute.
  • Several oral history interviews with Keightley were conducted by the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky Libraries between 2005 and 2007 and can be accessed online: William B. Keightley Oral History Project
  • In the 2013–14 season, Kentucky's men's basketball team scheduled a series of home games called the Keightley Classic in Keightley's honor.[9]


Keightley was married to Hazel (Robinson) Keightley. The couple had one daughter, Karen, who formerly worked at the university's veterinary science center, and is now employed with the athletic department. Keightley was an avid fan of the Cincinnati Reds.[4]


Keightley died on March 31, 2008 after suffering a fall from a bus on his way to the season opening Cincinnati Reds baseball game versus the Arizona Diamondbacks. The cause of death was internal bleeding caused by a previously undiagnosed tumor on his spine. His memorial service was attended by many prominent basketball coaches, including Billy Gillispie, Rick Pitino, Billy Donovan, Rick Stansbury, and John Pelphrey (also a former Kentucky player). Many other former Kentucky basketball players attended as well, including former Louisville Cardinal player Ellis Myles. The Wildcats did not hire a new equipment manager for the 2009 season and in fact left his chair on the bench empty for the season. As an additional tribute, the first "K" in "KENTUCKY" on the players jerseys for the 2009 season was black outlined.


  • "2001-02 Kentucky Wildcats" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-05-28. Retrieved 2008-02-08.
  • Crawford, Bryan (2007-04-06). "The time is right. The man is ready. Coach Keightley!". The Courier-Journal.
  • Crawford, Eric (2007-12-23). "'Mr. Bill' still well-equipped". The Enquirer. Retrieved 2008-02-08.
  • "Division of Athletic Training, Alumni News" (PDF). University of Kentucky. May 2005. Retrieved 2008-02-08.
  • Faris, Steve (2002-11-21). "How Dry Am I?". Ace Weekly. Retrieved 2008-02-08.
  • "Secretariat, Tim Couch & Kenny Walker To Kentucky Athletic HOF". Archived from the original on 2007-08-02. Retrieved 2008-02-08.
  • "Men's Basketball Equipment Manager Bill Keightley". Archived from the original on 2007-08-20. Retrieved 2008-02-08.
  • Story, Mark (2007-05-01). "Keightley has own fan base, deservedly". Lexington Herald-Leader.


  1. ^ a b c Crawford, "Mr. Bill"
  2. ^ Crawford, "The time is right"
  3. ^ a b Story, "Fan Club"
  4. ^ a b c Bio at
  5. ^ Faris, "How Dry Am I?"
  6. ^ 2001-02 Kentucky Wildcats
  7. ^ Division of Athletic Training, Alumni News
  8. ^
  9. ^ Tipton, Jerry (May 1, 2013). "Kentucky lays out strong, attractive non-conference schedule". Lexington Herald-Leader. Retrieved May 2, 2013.