Rick RobeyBasketball Player
Brother Martin H.S./Kentucky/NBA
This story originally appeared on SportsNola.com on May 25, 2009. Reprinted by permission.
De La Salle had Jordy Hultberg, Pierre Gaudin and Joe Comeaux. St. Aug was led by Thaddeus Foucher. Rummel had Michael Pittman and Rusty Jones.
While Robey played at Brother Martin, their nemesis was Holy Cross featuring 6-11 center Felton Young (father of current NBA player Thaddeus Young), Haywood Hewitt, Carlos Zuniga and Nat Kiefer. The competition was fierce, and you had to be at your best every game.
The Crusaders were a local prep power. “We had Donald Newman, Jimmy McCulla and Tommy Cronin at the guards,” Robey recalled. “Joel Hron (6′ 8”) was my backup and LeRoy Oliver, Reggie Hadley and Rodney Montgomery were the forwards.”
Andy Russo served as head coach until Robey’s senior season when Tom Kolb would take over the reigns. Four members of that team would later play in college.
During Ricks junior season, the Crusaders made it to the state title game, beating a fine Captain Shreve team led by super athlete Carlos Pennywell in the state semifinals. Pennywell would later star in football at Grambling before playing in the NFL.
In the finals that season, Brother Martin lost by one point to an outstanding Bastrop team led by Calvin Natt.
The team built on that experience in 1973 and made the following season something special. “We lost two games that season, losing to De La Salle and Holy Cross my senior year,” Rick said.
The Crusaders would advance to the state championship title game once again, led by the 6-11 state MVP Robey. They would split in their meetings with Holy Cross during the ‘74 campaign, but the 3rd time would be the charm.
“We beat Holy Cross in the state finals (67-56). I had 26 points and 14 rebounds.” said Robey. His team also beat Capt Shreve in the semifinals.
Robey ended up as Mr. Basketball in the State of Louisiana for 1974.
Deciding which college to attend was a challenging decision. “I spent a lot of time at Tulane (Charlie Moir was the Green Wave head coach) and LSU recruited me heavily (Dale Brown). But it came down to Notre Dame and Kentucky, said Robey.
“Notre Dame had Adrian Dantley. Kentucky had a great nucleus coming back. I felt like if I went to Kentucky, tradition was great and the fan support was outstanding. They had all of those national title banners.”
The Wildcats brought in an outstanding group with Robey including center Mike Phillips, forwards James Lee and Jack Givens. But there was a quartet of seniors already in place – Kevin Grevey, Jimmy Dan Connor, Mike Flynn and Bob Guyette. Robey would become the 5th starter as a true freshman on a team that would make a run during March Madness.
Becoming acclimated to college basketball was made easy for Robey due to his support and preparation. “As a freshman at Kentucky, I was ready. Brother Martin had prepared me.
Once I got into the flow of things, I was fine. (Senior) Bob Guyette did a good job of getting me through. (Head coach) Joe B. Hall didn’t put pressure on us. (Fellow freshman) Mike Phillips and I stayed close. We had to go to early morning practice. He and I became like brothers.”
Joe B. Hall had taken over for the Baron, Adolph Rupp in 1972. “Coach Hall was a real disciplinarian and a no-nonsense gut. It taught me everyday to go to work and work hard, good things will happen. Joe B. Hall was old school. He had rules and regulations. When you look back, he didn’t get the recognition that he deserves. He was a great coach.”
Coach Bobby Knight woke up the talented Wildcats. The Indiana Hoosiers featured Kent Benson, Scott May, Quinn Buckner and Bobby Wilkerson. “They beat us by 25 points during the season,” Robey said. “We beat them in the Mideast Regional, 92-90. That sent us to the Final Four. We beat Syracuse (95-79) in the semis.”
The powerful UCLA Bruins were next up against Kentucky in the National Championship game. Played on March 3, 1975 was in San Diego, California, it would be a tough battle for the Wildcats.
The Bruins led 43-40 at halftime. “It was Coach John Wooden’s last game that he would coach at UCLA. We felt like everyone was against us, the fans, the referees,” Rick chuckled.
UCLA’s All American David Meyers had 24 points while Marques Johnson added 6. Andre McCarter and Pete Trgovich were the Bruin guards. Sophomore center Richard Washington did the most damage in the title game with 28 points. Grevey had game honors with 34 points. Bob Guyette chipped in with 16. The Bruins prevailed 92-85, giving Coach Wooden his 10th and final National Championship.
Robey’s sophomore season at Kentucky was cut short by injuries. “I got hurt 12 games into the season and didn’t play anymore.” Kentucky would go on to win the NIT that year.
The next season, the Cats would make it to the Eastern Regional but fall to a talented North Carolina Tar Heel squad . “They had Mitch Kupchak, Phil Ford and Mike O’Koren,” Robey recalled. “They hit 35 out of 36 free throws and put it in their 4 corner stall.”
The road for the 1977-78 season was made easier for Robey and his teammates for the lessons that they learned as freshmen in 1975. “The experience was easy our senior season,” he said. “We were now more focused to work and win.”
The Wildcats ranked #1 throughout most of the ‘77-‘78 season, going 32-2. One of those 2 losses stood out in Rick’s memory. “We traveled down to Baton Rouge. LSU had Dwayne Scales, Rudy Macklin, Kenny Higgs, Jordy Hultberg, Ethan Martin and Willie Sims. They beat us 95-94 in triple overtime.”
The Alabama Crimson Tide represented the other loss that year. “(Alabama) blew us out.”
The season finale in Rupp Arena was an emotional game.
“The whole year (National Championship 1978) was just a great experience,” Rick said. “The last night in Rupp Arena was really special. All 4 seniors had a great night (Robey had 26 points and 15 rebounds) against UNLV in our final home game. That gave us momentum (Wildcats won 95-65) leading into the NCAA Tournament. Playing in front of the home crowd was emotional for us.”
Kentucky had a solid group of starters and strong bench. Robey, Mike Phillips, Jack “Goose” Givens, Kyle Macy and Truman Claytor represented the starting 5. James Lee was the 6th man, and SG Jay Shidler came off the bench.
The path for the Wildcats to the Final Four in 1978 was tough. “We opened up against Florida State with a win. We beat Michigan State, with Greg Kelser and Magic Johnson in the Mideast Regional. (The Spartans would win the National title the following season against Larry Bird and Indiana State in 1979).”
“We went to the Final Four against Arkansas. The Razorbacks were led by the “Triplets” (Sidney Moncrief, Marvin Delph and Ron Brewer). They were the toughest battle in the Final Four because of the quickness of the 3 guards. It caused us problems.” But Kentucky would win 64-59.
The final step was the Duke Blue Devils in the 1978 final. Mike Gminski, Jim Spanarkel and Gene Banks were the leaders for Duke. Bill Foster was the head coach.
“The starters came out for a curtain call with 3 minutes left,” Rick said. “But we had to go back in. We won by 6 (94-88). There was no 3 point shot.” Goose Givens had 41 points and was game MVP. Robey and Givens were selected to the All-Tournament team.
Robey finished his days in Kentucky Blue in style, as a 3-time All-SEC performer. But it was the camaraderie that meant the most to the 6-11-245 pound strongman. “The neatest part was the 4 seniors being so close since we were freshmen. We got what we came for. It was a great group of guys. We’re still friends.”
The NBA was next up for the two time college All-American. Mychal Thompson (U. of Minnesota) was the 1st pick by the Portland Trailbalzers in the ‘78 NBA draft. Phil Ford (North Carolina) went next to the Kansas City Kings. The Indiana Pacers took Robey with the 3rd overall pick. The Boston Celtics picked Larry Bird with the 6th selection as a future pick, hoping to sign him prior to the 1979 draft.
Rick’s stay in Indiana was short-lived. “I spent 3 months with the Pacers,” he said. “We played the Celtics in one game. Player/coach Dave Cowens told me that they were trying to trade for me.” Cowens had been Rick’s idol growing up. The trade went down, and Robey joined Cowens in Beantown.
He would spend the next 4½ seasons with the Boston Celtics. The first year was not a championship season, but you could see where things were headed. “It was great. We had Bob McAdoo, Curtis Rowe and Jo Jo White. We only won 32 games, but I could see the major changes that they were making.”
Rick averaged 12.4 points and 7.2 rebounds a game throughout the 1978-79 campaign, playing in 36 contests for Celtic coaches Tom Sanders and Dave Cowens. Bill Fitch took over the reigns as head coach the following season when Larry Bird was a rookie, and both Kevin McHale and Robert Parish came over from Golden State in trades.
“Larry Bird pushed people,” Robey said. “He taught Parish how to run the floor. He figured out that if he (Parish) ran, he’d get the ball from Larry.”
Rick contributed 9 points and 4.8 rebounds in all 82 games that season as Parish’s backup. He was the first big man off the bench. Bird led the team with 21.2 points per outing.
Boston faced the Houston Rockets for the 1981 title. Calvin Murphy, Rudy Tomjanovich, Mike Dunleavy and Moses Malone were the Rocket stalwarts. The Celtics won the World Championship series in 6 games.
Needless-to-say, Rick felt that he was in a comfortable spot. “Playing in Boston was just like playing for Kentucky, lots of fan support. 1981 was Bird’s 1st NBA championship. Larry got the monkey off his back. Magic had already won a title.”
Robey was dealt to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for guard Dennis Johnson for the 1982-83 season. Then injuries began to take their toll on Robey. “I spent 3 years with the Suns. It was a great city, but I had major knee surgery, hip surgery and Achilles surgery. Injuries took a lot out of me.”
After 8 seasons in the NBA, his body told him that it was time to hang up the sneakers. Robey had the honor of sharing the court with 3 legendary players, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. “They were the greatest players that I had the pleasure to be around” Rick said.
Rick scored 3,723 points throughout his NBA career and had his jersey retired (#53) by Kentucky.
Robey currently resides in Louisville, Kentucky with his wife of 21 years, Bonnie. They have one son, Sam, a redshirt freshman center at Florida. “He has a great shot at starting,” said the proud papa. “He’s 6′-4” and 300 pounds and was a 3 time All State tackle in high school. He’s real quick and smart.”
Rick travels down to the Crescent City every 18 months for a Brother Martin reunion. He runs a Remax real estate business that has attained national goals as a 100% club, platinum club, Hall of Fame and the #1 real estate team in Kentucky and Tennessee, along with the Chairman’s Circle.
Robey’s work ethic and resulting success in basketball appears to have carried over to his business ventures.