One of the most influential men in college athletics for almost 50 years was Jim Host, founder of Host Communications in 1972 who bought the broadcast rights to Kentucky football and basketball games in 1974.

His sports marketing and management company helped change how colleges handled their media and marketing rights, one reason he is a member of 14 different business and sports Hall of Fames.

Host knew Mike Pratt, the former UK basketball All-American who passed away after a nearly four-year battle with cancer last week at the age of 73, from a business and personal level. He hired Pratt in 2001 to be the analyst on the UK Radio Network broadcasts – a job that was a labor of love for Pratt.

“He was a superior human being. On top of that he had intimate knowledge of the UK program and what it meant to him as a player, other players and Big Blue Nation,” Host said on the Leach Report with Tom Leach, Pratt’s play-by-play partner on the UK Radio Network.

“That’s why I felt for many years that the color analyst on the UK Network needed to be a UK player if possible. We accomplished that with Mike. I always enjoyed being around him.”

Host also had the unique perspective of knowing Pratt as a player when he was an All-American at Kentucky during his playing career from 1967-70 for coach Adolph Rupp. Pratt scored 1,359 points – 16.8 per game – grabbed 718 rebounds – 8.9 per game. He had 29 double-doubles in 81 career games as a 6-foot-4 forward playing with center Dan Issel, UK’s all-time leading scorer.

Kentucky went 71-12 in Pratt’s career, another reason he was inducted into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame in 2009.

“The guy was a heck of a player. He was a much greater player than has ever been illustrated in the record books primarily because Dan Issel was so dominant as a player,” Host said. “Mike was so highly thought of by everyone he played with and against.

“I don’t know a single person I have been involved with that was a better person than Mike Pratt.”

Considering the people Host has known and worked with, that’s high, high praise for Pratt. However, everyone who knew Pratt felt that way.

“Forget about the basketball, forget about the broadcasting, I think the legacy that Mike leaves is he was just a darn good guy,” Issel said the morning after Pratt’s death on the ESPN radio show in Louisville he hosted along with Pratt.

“He never met a stranger, he always had time for everybody, and I’m going to miss him dearly. I can take solace in the fact that I know where he is right now. My friend will never have to feel that excruciating pain again.”

Pratt never let anyone know the pain he was in and only missed two UK basketball broadcasts during his battle with cancer. He broadcast of 558 UK wins and saw UK win one national title and go to four Final Fours and nine Elite Eights.

“He was always prepared. He never complained. I truly had no idea just how much pain he was going through,” Leach said. “He liked people and was very approachable and a lot of people wanted to talk to him. He was also a go-to guy for the media because of the content he provided.

Leach worked with Pratt 20 years and they recently released a book, “Kentucky Basketball: Two decades behind the scenes.” It shares many of the stories the two have experienced and becomes even more of a treasure for Kentucky basketball fans now.

“It was actually his idea to do the book and I am so glad we got to share those stories,” Leach said. “It was not the ideal time for me to do it, but I was not going to let him down because he never let you down.”

Host understood how much average Kentucky basketball fans came to love Pratt even if they never had a chance to meet him. Host also said Pratt was a “sponge” when it came to soaking up information and broadcast suggestions.

“Nobody is ever going to fill his shoes. They are just going to try and fit in his shoes,” Host said.

Eric Lindsey was UK’s primary media contact for the men’s basketball program for eight years as director of athletic communications before leaving UK during the 2021-22 season. He also previously worked for coachcal.com, John Calipari’s website.

He called Pratt “one of the kindest humans to ever walk this planet” on Twitter and said his “defining legacy” would be how he treated people.

“We should all aspire to be more like Mike,” Lindsey said.

Somehow I think Pratt loves knowing that is the legacy he left for Kentucky fans or anyone who knew him.

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Illinois State transfer Antonio Reeves says he has been a Kentucky basketball fan his entire life and knows plenty about UK’s NCAA championships and former Cats playing in the NBA.

He came to Kentucky for one reason.

“Just wanted to first win a national championship,” he said. “Surround myself with really good players, and just grind every day in practice and make myself better.”

He admits he never imagined himself getting to play at Kentucky even after averaging 20 points per game last year when he shot nearly 40% from 3-point range.

“I want to thank God for that. He just laid things out in my life. It just came (through) the grace of God,” he said about his transfer to Kentucky.

Known for his shooting, Reeves also noted he thinks he can add value with his ball handling, defense and rebounding. He also thinks his athleticism might surprise some.

“Coach Cal knows I can shoot. He knows I can facilitate for the team and be a leader,” Reeves said. “People don’t really know I can jump. I definitely want to show that I have the ability to get up and dunk the ball.”

However, he knows providing outside shooting is what got him to Kentucky and what he will be counted on most to deliver.

“I’m very confident in my shot. I work on it all day, every day. I am not really pressured about it (making shots) because that was my role at the last school I came from – to make perimeter shots. I’m comfortable being in that situation.”

Apparently he’s made a positive early impression on teammates like point guard Sahvir Wheeler.

“He’s pretty goofy, kind of funny. He’s always a joy to be around for sure. On the court, he’s a really good player,” Wheeler said. “He can do everything on the offensive end.

“He’s really unselfish. He can shoot the ball. He makes plays for others (rather) than himself. He’s going to be a really really good addition for us.”

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Kentucky softball loses two of its top four hitters off last year’s team with the departure of Renee Abernathy and Lauren Johnson. However, coach Rachel Lawson is already counting on freshmen Taylor Ebbs and Meeko Harrison to help offset their loss.

Ebbs hit .298 and drove in 30 runs last season. She had 10 home runs and started 50 of Kentucky’s 56 games. Harrison hit .277 with three home runs and drove in 18 runs. She played in 40 games with 16 starts.

“Taylor has a tremendous upside,” Lawson said. “If you coach her, it makes your day because she has the best attitude. She walks into a room and the room lights up. She is just a great teammate and makes everybody better. She is country strong. The girl drives a forklift in the summer.

“Taylor is an outfielder. She was a center fielder when we recruited her. She just filled in at first base as a favor because we needed someone. Mallory Peyton was one of the best to ever wear the uniform and with her gone we just were not getting the production we needed there, so Taylor did her best for the team.”

Harrison also played some at first base and Lawson expects dramatic improvement.

“She has a lot of talent, but did not have that ‘wow’ factor coming in. She needed to work on her confidence and believing in herself,” the UK coach said. “She turned it around and we saw her get better and better every day.

“She now understands the value of being strong and plans to hit the weight room hard before next season. If she gets stronger, she can be one of the best left-handed hitters we have ever had.”

Johnson and Abernathy were both left-handed hitters.

“Meeko knows now why doing certain things will help her be better and she will be better next season,” Lawson said.

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Mark Crear is a two-time Olympic medalist in the 110-meter hurdles who worked as a clinician at the Maximum Velocity Track & Field Academy at Centre College for the first time, but it was not a hard sell to get him from Los Angeles to Danville this week.

“All you have to do is ask. That is how Olympians do it,” said Crear, who won a silver medal in 1996 and bronze medal in 2000. “We don’t have to be convinced. We want to help. No matter what event you were in or if you medaled or didn’t medal, we support each other.”

He’s very familiar with former University of Kentucky standout Sydney McLaughlin, who set a world record in the 400-meter hurdles at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 with her time of 51.46 seconds. She was the first woman to break 52 seconds in the 400 hurdles at the 2020 USA Olympic Trials. She was also on the winning 4x400 relay team at the Tokyo Olympics.

“Bless her heart, I like her and how she conducts herself on and off the track,” Crear said. “Being a man of faith, I like to think she represents her faith, her family and her sport well. That is a true champion right there. The running is phenomenal, but that is second to her character as a human being and that’s what I like best about her.”

McLaughlin, 22, has already competed in two Olympics. She recently got married and now Crear says people questioning what she has left to do could hinder her progress.

“You start saying can I do it again instead of enjoying the sport. Hopefully she will just go out here and do what she likes to do and then forget the time, the medals and just enjoy and improve,” Crear said. “She is already a world record holder, so there is not much more she can do. Just let her enjoy herself and enjoy watching her and then it will be a long career for her.”

•••

A rising sophomore to keep an eye on in Kentucky is Jasper Johnson of Woodford County, the son of Woodford coach Dennis Johnson – a former all-SEC defensive end at Kentucky.

He has a chance to be Woodford’s starting quarterback this season and also is a talented defensive back.

“He can throw the ball and do some other good things,” coach Johnson said.

But he is an even better basketball player. He averaged 13.8 points and 2.5 rebounds per game as a freshman when he shot 51% from the field and 45% (71 of 158) from 3-point range.

The left-handed shooter has the tools and skill set that have impressed national recruiting analysts in recent months. At the recent Crossroads Elite in Plainfield, Ind., he caught the eye of Eric Bossi, national basketball director for 247Sports.

“A thin guard from Kentucky, Johnson showed flashes of turning into a pretty high-level player long term. He can set himself up off the dribble, take and make deep jumpers and he’s sneaky explosive when getting to the rim,” Bossi wrote.

“His body is thin right now, but he’s got all kinds of length and surely some growing left to do. He’s already 6-foot-2 or so, but with a few more inches of height and added strength he could emerge as a player to reckon with in his class.”

Jasper’s Johnson’s father was a three-sport high school standout and his grandfather, Alvis Johnson, was a successful high school football and track coach. However, Dennis Johnson is not blind about what his son’s best sport/college option might be.

“If he grows two more inches, he might just stay with basketball because of what it takes now to be an elite prospect,” Dennis Johnson said. “Even my dad says that, so we will just see what happens.”

•••

Quote of the Week: “This is big time right here. Never have. This is the first time I’ve ever seen it,” new Kentucky basketball assistant coach K.T. Turner, on if he had ever seen an assistant coach have an introductory news conference with eight TV stations present like he had.

Quote of the Week 2: “I have been impressed with fans’ love of football here. I got here, got to see the fans and it was like, ‘Wow.’ My first exposure to SEC football was night games at Florida and LSU. This place is good and loud, and might even be louder with 20,000 less people. It is a great environment,” UK running backs coach John Settle, on the passion of Kentucky fans.

Quote of the Week 3: “Let me tell you what happens as you get older … losing gets harder, and there are certain losses that are way worse than others, but they’re all bad. Losing just is awful, and as you get older it’s worse,” John Calipari on why it is important to enjoy winning all you can.{&end}