During his Kentucky basketball career, Tony Delk scored 1,890 points, had 470 rebounds, gave out 210 assists and had 201 steals. He was a three-time all-Southeastern Conference selection and was named the most outstanding player in the 1996 NCAA tournament, when UK won the national championship.
He was the 16th overall pick by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1996 NBA draft and played in the league until 2006, averaging 9.1 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. He had a career-high 53 points against Sacramento in 2001 while playing for the Phoenix Suns.
He returned to Kentucky to work on the Wildcats’ coaching staff after coach John Calipari took over two years ago.
Delk started the Taylor Delk Sickle Cell Foundation in 2003 when he was playing with the Atlanta Hawks in honor of his daughter, who has sickle cell disease. The foundation is dedicated to improving the quality of life for children and families affected by sickle cell disease. Delk’s daughter was diagnosed at birth with sickle cell disease.
Delk shares his insights on his job, his career, his foundation and his aspirations during this five-part series:
Question: How much are you enjoying just being back at Kentucky and being part of the Kentucky basketball program?
Delk: “It has been a great experience to learn as much as I can about the collegiate game from coach Calipari. This has always been home for me since I left in 1996. I have always had friends here, business ties. For me, it is like being home.”
Question: Is it as much fun at UK now as it was 15 years ago?
Delk: “I think it is fun when you see the improvement of the players. They get here in the summer time and improve until the season ends. It was exciting just to see those guys last year get drafted. Those guys came in as young men and improved their game and got a chance to live out their dream and that’s great to see.”
Question: Did last year’s team that went 35-3, reached the Elite Eight and had five first-round draft picks bring back memories for you of your championship team?
Delk: “It was so long ago that you forget things like that. But it was exciting. You come to college and don’t know what to expect. You have to worry about your academics. It teaches you to grow up, and you have to be responsible. That is what we try to teach our young men is that they are responsible and that basketball will end one day.”
Question: But as great as those players were last year, they don’t have a NCAA championship like you do. What does that championship mean to you?
Delk: “It’s still a great feeling. It’s funny going back to when I was young and thinking about the sacrifices you have to make, but the ultimate goal was to win a championship. I think coach Pitino said it best when he said we could be part of history and that was something that could never be taken away.”
Question: Will not winning the title always haunt John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton?
Delk: “That was a special team. If any UK team could have done it that I have seen in the last 10 or 15 years, that was the team. It was disappointing to see them not fulfill their destiny of getting to the Final Four and possibly winning the championship because they had all the pieces in place.”
Question: As great as your 1996 championship team was, could last year’s team have matched up well talent-wise?
Delk: “I think so. From all the way down to nine or 10 deep, they had really good players. That’s why five went in the first round of the draft.”
Part II: Delk talks about his job, his credibility with players and his relationship with UK’s assistant coaches: