A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

UK basketball: Where are they now?
Jared Prickett passes sport to next generation

By Stephen Burnett
KYForward.com writer

 

In 1997, echoes still lingered in Kentucky from celebrations of the UK Wildcats winning the 1996 NCAA national basketball championship, as Jared Prickett left the team. Years later, he played for teams in Argentina — but was forced to leave by a bad national economy. Seven years later, he also escaped the U.S. real-estate field, just as it also was beginning to crumble.

 

Now, as owner of the Kentucky Basketball Academy in Lexington, Prickett believes he has found one of the best ways both to earn a stable living and to teach others the leadership and sports skills he spent decades learning himself.

 

In effect, Prickett has become a business owner and coach, all from a chance encounter in 2009 in which he passed by the building that now houses KBA on Ruccio Way behind Meijer and saw its for-sale sign.

 

“I make sure that everybody does their job, pretty much!” Prickett said of his role at KBA.

 

This weekend, that role will include supervising another middle-school state tournament. Last month, hundreds of sixth-grade players, along with parents and other fans, filled the KBA building for a two-day tournament. That tournament involved at least 70 teams. During that weekend, Prickett oversaw game record-keepers and referees, cafeteria sales, entry-takers and more.

 

KBA’s administration and finances can be overwhelming and remove some of the fun of the games, but the enjoyment of playing, and teaching others how to play, can’t be beat, he said.

 

“I don’t have to sit in a cubicle,” Prickett added. “My cubicle is sixty thousand square feet.”

 

Number 32

 

Prickett has enjoyed such wide workplaces since his first basketball games at Fairmont Senior High School in West Virginia. Several college sports programs came calling, and in 1991 he chose UK.

 

“I took a visit here, got to see the campus and everything that was involved with it, the basketball gym, the arena,” he said. “I went to a Midnight Madness basketball practice.” Those events, plus the love of fans and the statewide basketball tradition, drew him to Lexington.

 

Rick Pitino was coach when Prickett arrived in June 1992. From that season until 1997, Prickett played forward for the Cats — including a fifth year because after five games in the 1995-96 season Prickett redshirted. It was the lessons from that time that he recently emphasized.

 

“It was a great experience,” he recalled. “I’d have to say that I’ve probably learned more from Coach Pitino and [assistant coach] Billy Donovan, and [assistant coach] Herb Sendek, and Coach [Jim] O’Brian, and all those coaches — I probably learned as much from them as I did from anybody. … They’re just really good role models, as a whole.”

 

Globe-trotting player

 

When his UK tenure ended with the 1996-1997 season, Prickett signed a contract in June with the Atlanta Hawks. But that position lasted only through October — he was one of the last players to be cut from the team. From there, he played for the Idaho Stampede in Boise, Idaho, with the Continental Basketball Association. Only a couple of months later he played for a team based in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, but after that team lost in the playoffs he returned to the U.S.

 

For the next several years Prickett played outside the U.S., mostly south of the equator. In 1998, he began in Argentina, with a team called the Independiente, which met with more success.

 

“We weren’t supposed to be that good,” he said. “We ended up barely making the playoffs.” The Independiente lost in the league’s championship game. After a stint for a team in France, Prickett then returned to Argentina to join the Atenas. He led the team in rebounding, as he did during his entire Argentinian career.

 

Prickett had taken Spanish in high school, but he learned most of it again and more permanently by cultural absorption.

 

“First thing you learn how to do is order food,” he said. “The sooner you learn how to talk … to order something other than chicken, it works out good for you.”

 

Across South America, basketball is more popular than most Americans may assume, though with very different traditions surrounding the sport.

 

“They’re maybe a little more intense down there.” Prickett said, adding that yes, he does include central Kentucky on the less-intense side of the comparison. “They chant songs and sing songs and stuff of that nature down there.”

 

Courts in South America are similar to hockey rinks, to prevent audiences from storming the floor. But that doesn’t stop South American basketball fans from showing their reactions in other distinctly non-American ways.

 

Prickett remembers one game where fans threw chickens on the court.

 

“These chickens come flying out of the sky, and they’re dead, and they started hitting the court,” he said.

 

Prickett remained in Argentina until 2000, when the economic crisis hit. The country froze all its bank accounts, preventing him and any other account holder from withdrawing more than $250 every week. He and three other American players on his team at the time were hit hard, he said.

 

Prickett left Argentina. He returned to Europe, this time for a team in Avellino, Italy, where he played for about five months.

 

But in 2003, near the end of his two years playing in Gijon, Spain, his basketball career ended.

 

“I was playing defense, and somebody hit the back of my leg while my leg was planted,” Prickett said. Doctors could not replace his cartilage, meaning he could never make a full recovery. “After I found that out, I just went and came back here and decided to get into the real world.”

 

Playing at KBA

 

Prickett returned to Lexington.

 

“There was no backup plan,” he said. “I had to figure it out.”

 

One decision he soon settled upon was marrying his wife, Kati, in May of 2006. They now have two children, Ryder, 5, and Jagger, 2.

 

First he got into the mortgage business, though he didn’t enjoy it. Real estate was more to his liking.

 

“But it had a little bit of a crash here a few years ago,” Prickett said with a chuckle. Before the crash, he had been building and flipping houses and renting out ten other houses he owned. As that market’s foundations crumbled in 2008, he escaped just in time.

 

That left the former Wildcat with a young family and some savings, but also with career uncertainty.

 

“I wanted to do something that I really enjoyed,” he said.

 

Hoping again to be involved with a sports-related business, Prickett began thinking about opening a gym facility, combined with some other sports function. Summer 2009 was when he happened to drive past the KBA building and see that the business was for sale. He entered the offices, spoke to management there and eventually made a deal to purchase the place.

 

KBA’s building is 50,000 square feet, with five basketball courts inside. The courts host classes in basketball and volleyball, and near-constant games between visiting teams for men’s leagues, corporate teams and youth and children’s leagues. Students, ranging from first to eighth grades, can become members of the KBA’s Junior Wildcats Basketball Club and then participate in drafts for teams. Those chosen to play on teams then commit to 12 games and six practices. (More details are at www.PlayKBA.com.)

 

 

At present, about 400 youths are learning and playing in the KBA’s leagues, Prickett said.

 

“It provides a good place for kids to come and participate in sports — sports that are fair and sports that are fun, for kids to be part of a team,” he explained. “We don’t have the most talent in our [recreation] leagues, but … kids can come here, be part of a team and have fun with it.

 

“I teach some of the kids here and there,” he said, and added that Wednesday, Feb. 1 was the date of a scheduled Wee Ball tournament for preschoolers. Yes, it can be very difficult to teach them, Prickett said, but the results make it worth it. “The kids never touched the basketball, and the next thing you know, they’re in their eighth class, and they’re dribbling the basketball.

 

“Whenever you get to come in and help little kids, watch basketball, and live and breathe basketball and volleyball, it’s just a fun job to have,” Prickett said. “Most of the kids that I’ve taught here, they’ve not been superstars. But they learn how to shoot the right way, they learn how to get their body set the right way, they learn how to follow through, they just learn all the little things. They may never be superstars, but they’re becoming better players.”

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