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Keith Taylor: UK’s Memorial Coliseum will finally get a much-needed facelift, keeping piece of past intact

Memorial Coliseum is about to get a major upgrade and the University of Kentucky athletic officials should be applauded for settling on a renovation project instead of tearing down the historic facility and replacing it with a modern structure.

The facility was in dire need of major upgrades to meet the demands of today’s student-athletes. The overhaul will provide an added boost to the women’s basketball and volleyball programs when it comes to recruiting. Added features such as air conditioning also will be improve a coliseum that was built in honor of World War II veterans and other men and women of war conflicts who lost their lives while in battle overseas.

Keith Taylor

The building and its facade have stood the test of time and has been a central structure along the Avenue of Champions for more than seven decades. Late Kentucky men’s basketball coach Adolph Rupp won a majority of his games in the facility and coached his last collegiate game there. Late coach Joe B. Hall began his head coaching career at Memorial Coliseum and coached the very first game played at Rupp Arena.

Other Kentucky coaches who followed Rupp and Hall – Eddie Sutton and Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith – had practice sessions at Memorial Coliseum, while the women’s basketball team has played nearly all of their home games in the venue for more than four decades. The location also gives Memorial Coliseum the feel of an on-campus arena.

Kentucky played a NIT game in Memorial Coliseum in 2009 and defeated UNLV in what turned out to be Billy Gillispie’s final home win as coach of the Wildcats. For someone who had written about preseason scrimmages and never covered an official men’s basketball game at Memorial Coliseum, I remembered the atmosphere was electric and the coliseum was filled. I remember that game well, despite crashing my vehicle in a collision with another car on Kentucky Avenue hours prior to tipoff.

I also remember covering Big Blue Madness when Midnight Madness ushered in the college basketball season at midnight prior to Oct. 15. My favorite memory was of the late equipment manager Bill Keightley being carried onto the court in a cardboard birthday cake to mark a personal birthday milestone. I have covered numerous other sporting events in the venue. The men’s basketball media day events were typically held in the facility and lunch was provided in the lobby, most notably prior to the pandemic.

When the upgraded version of Memorial Coliseum opens prior to the 2024 season, it would be neat if the men’s basketball team could schedule at least one regular-season game a year in the historic venue to give non-season ticket holders an opportunity to attend a men’s basketball game. My hope is the stars of former players in the hallway that are anchored on the walls will find a place in the updated facility.

It’s good to see the university keeping a piece of the past intact while looking ahead to the future. It’s the best of both worlds.

Keith Taylor is the sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com and via Twitter at keithtaylor21.

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