Redshirt season allowed Jeff Sheppard to experience two legendary NCAA runs

Published 4:00 pm Wednesday, May 3, 2023

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Jeff Sheppard averaged 5.5 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game on Kentucky’s 1996 national championship team. He probably thought he would play an even more prominent role on the 1996-97 team, but Coach Rick Pitino wanted him to redshirt so he would be back for the 1997-98 season.

“Coach Pitino thought it would be in the best interest of me and the program to do that,” Sheppard said. “I don’t remember even thinking very hard through the decision process.

“If coach thought it was a good idea, he was the leader of the program and that is what we are doing to do. I don’t know that there was even a decision process to it. He just said that’s what we were going to do.”

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Sheppard’s son, Reed, has signed with Kentucky and will play for coach John Calipari next season.

The elder Sheppard averaged a team-high 13.7 points per game during the 1997-98 season playing for Coach Tubby Smith after Pitino left following the national runner-up 1996-97 season. Sheppard also added 4.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game in the 1997-98 season when UK did win another national title.

“Back then if the coach told you to dribble with your left hand, you did it. There was not all this analysis or bringing in consultants, handlers and parents to make a decision,” Sheppard said. “He was the coach and what he said was the end of the story.

“Today is a little different and there’s nothing wrong with that. It was a great decision for me personally (to redshirt). It worked out wonderfully. I got to spend another year on the UK campus and enjoy being a college student.

“I got to be a part of one of the more special runs in Kentucky history in 1998. I am thankful that coach had idea (for me to redshirt) and it worked out the way it did.”