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UK basketball: Where are they now?
Rick Robey finds success in Ky. real estate

By Stephen Burnett
KyForward Correspondent


When you’re trying to get into the real-estate business in Kentucky, it doesn’t hurt to have been a player for both the University of Kentucky Wildcats and several NBA teams.


But as Louisville real-estate agent Rick Robey said, that isn’t the only reason he made the leap 20 years ago, to showing houses in Louisville instead of winning basketball games. When his pro career was over, thanks to several injuries, another public-focused field made sense, he said.


“I wanted to get into something that was people-oriented,” Robey said. “I’d had a restaurant in Lexington that failed. You know, every athlete thinks they need to own a restaurant.”


Either real estate or insurance may have worked. Robey chose real estate. Friends encouraged him to set up an office in Louisville, and he did so in 1992.


“Over the last … twelve years I’ve had the number one RE/MAX team in this part of the region,” he said. “I’m just a driven type person. I like to win. … And probably my playing days kind of instilled that in me.”


Basketball background


Though Robey was born in Florida, at first he had as much chance of becoming an established Florida native as a Kentucky native. His father worked for the U.S. government, meaning the Robeys frequently moved. From Florida they went to Kodiak, Alaska, then to New Orleans, La. There, Robey was transferred into private schools and began his sophomore year at Brother Martin High School. That was where he began playing basketball, a year later.


In 1974, the Crusaders won the state championship, and Robey was awarded Player of the Year.


Naturally, several colleges came calling, and Robey said he had narrowed his choices to the Notre Dame and UK. But UK’s senior leadership was better that year, and the Wildcats had already signed several recruits that Robey felt would be a good mix. He was eager to play more, and learn more, under Coach Joe B. Hall, he said.


“I was going to find out if I could play or not,” he said. “I could have probably stayed at LSU or gone into some other school, and been pretty much guaranteed to play as a freshman. But I just decided to go into a team that had a lot of tradition.”


That summer, Robey arrived at the Bluegrass Airport. There he saw a white house with a sign announcing, “Welcome to Wildcat Country.” Clearly he’d found a team with tradition, he said.


Under Hall, with the Wildcats’ notable recruits and senior players, Robey got to work.


“My freshman year, I was lucky enough to start with four seniors,” he said. The Wildcats went to San Diego and beat Syracuse in the NCAA semi-finals, and then lost to UCLA in the championship game.


In the summer of 1975, he got another learning experience: trying out for the Pan-American Games. Robey played for the American team, and first met many players whom he later played with in the NBA. All summer he trained with them, and that fall, they played in Mexico City.


“Then my sophomore year was the year I got a knee banged up.” Robey was only able to play during half that season.


In 1976, the Wildcats won the National Invitation Tournament; Robey was able to make an appearance at the final game, but unable to play. The following season, when he was a junior, the team went to the regional finals, but was beat by North Carolina.


“That was back in the day when they got to four-corner it,” he said. Using that strategy to wear out time, along with gaining free-throw points, the Tar Heels beat UK by single-digit points.


But it was Robey’s senior year, ending in 1978, that brought many of his favorite moments.


“One of my fond memories is always senior night,” he said. “We were on national TV against Nevada, Las Vegas, and all four seniors had great ballgames. It was just a heck of a way to go out,” especially against a great team, he said. That night, UK beat UNLV by 22 points.


Senior night was follow by the Wildcats run to the 1978 NCAA championship, where they beat Duke in the tournament’s final.


“It’s kind of like this [UK] team this year,” Robey said. “We were picked early as the number one team, and kind of had that pressure all year long. And good things happened to us.”


Along with Wildcat seniors Jack Givens and James Lee, Robey was drafted to the NBA after his graduation. In his junior year at UK, he’d had a chance to join the NBA draft early, but that would not have made sense — the income was not as high as it is today, he said.


“Our senior year, I guess we finally accomplished all of what we wanted to when we came there,” Robey said. “Things were pretty good for me.”


Robey was the third overall pick in the 1978 draft, and joined the Indiana Pacers. He stayed with that team for three and a half months, but after the Pacers played the Boston Celtics, the latter team’s leaders told him they would do all they could to trade for Robey. In January 1979, Robey was traded, in the same draft as Larry Byrd, whom the Celtics took a chance on signing before the next year’s draft. The Celtics were also able to give up Joe Barry Carol for Robert Parrish, which Robey said was the start of the greatest back line to play basketball.


For four and a half years, Robey played with the Celtics, then in 1983 was traded for Dennis Johnson to the Phoenix Suns. “That’s when I had all my really bad injuries,” he said, including to his heel and his hip. He had been with the Suns for three years.


“It was kind of the end,” Robey concluded. But, with all the awards he’d received and even an invitation to play basketball in the Olympics, it was all worth it, he said. “I’ve been lucky.”


Robey and Farrar


After his pro career ended, Robey married Bonnie, owner of a mortgage firm until 2006, and in 1989 they started their family, with the birth of their son, Sam.


In 1991, the Robeys moved to Louisville, and a year later Robey began his real-estate business. Now his partner is Mike Farrar, a UK graduate with 25 years’ real-estate experience. They have three other partners, including Greg Brohm, who is experienced not only in advertising but his own sports fields, including playing football for the University of Louisville.


Naturally, people frequently ask their real-estate agent about his sports experience, Robey said.


“Definitely the name recognition has helped,” he went on. But at first, the task was as tough for him as it was for anyone. People won’t give their biggest investment of a house to anyone, to sell, just because they like you or are fans of your basketball career or teams, Robey added.


“It took me a good two or three years to become a seasoned real estate agent. But once I developed that name, I was able to surround myself with some other really good people.


“It’s that competition, and you know, I’ve learned to get up every day when I was an athlete, and you get up early and go to work,” Robey said. “And I try to do the same thing when it comes to running my real-estate business, or now by launching Robey Medical.”


That company, which he started in 2010, manufactures medical supplies such as spine brace products. Dealerships will soon open in Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Ohio.


Meanwhile, Sam Robey also loves basketball and plays well. But Sam knew he didn’t have some abilities necessary for the game, Rick Robey said. Instead he began playing football. He played at Trinity High School in Louisville, helping to win three state championships, and becoming an all-state player for three years. Many universities came calling for Sam, also, and Sam similarly chose a school with a solid sports tradition — the University of Florida. Now Sam has played in a national championship game, a Sugar Bowl, Outback Bowl, and Gator Bowl.


“Definitely my high school coach, Andy Russo, developed in me the toughness of being a tough player,” Robey said. “Joe B. Hall, I think, definitely taught me to be dedicated. He was a very disciplined-type coach. There were a lot of rules, and a lot of regulations, and if you didn’t abide by them, you got punished. He instilled a lot of that into me, and just the work ethic.


“I’d love to keep my real-estate business going well, and I’d love to build this Robey Medical,” he said. Then, in five years, he might pull back on that work — to some extent. “I don’t know if I’ll ever retire,” Robey said. “I’d love to spend more time down in Florida, in the wintertime.”


Robey’s jersey, however, has been retired. It hangs in Rupp Arena, bearing his name, the years 1975 to 1978, and his number, 53.


Photo from Robey

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