The late Mike Silliman is still remembered as one of the finest basketball players Louisville and the state has ever produced even after becoming Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball 53 years ago and even after his death of a heart attack on June 16, 2000.
Silliman, who became an All-American player under coach Bobby Knight at Army and captain of the United States’ gold-medal-winning team in the 1968 Olympics, was in a class of 16 inducted into the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday night at the State Theatre in Elizabethtown.
At 6-foot-6, and weighing 225 pounds, the left-handed Silliman started four years at St. X, capping his career there by starring in a 62-58 victory over Ashland Blazer in the title game in Freedom Hall.
“He was a powerful guy,” said Joe Reibel, Silliman’s coach his senior year at St. X. “He took so many shots inside people thought he couldn’t shoot from outside, but he became a good shooter in college. He was an exceptional player.”
He was so good Knight once called Silliman “the best player I’ve ever coached in college.”
Silliman scored a game-high 23 points when St. X. dethroned Ashland as state champion.
“After that game, Larry Conley (Asland’s star) came to our house and tried to get Mike to go to UK with him, but Mike went to Army” Silliman’s brother, Dan, said.
Silliman had perhaps the largest cheering section of any of the inductees. Besides Dan, Silliman’s son, Scott, was there to accept his father’s award. So were Mike’s sisters, Janet and Susan, “along with a bunch of nieces and nephews,” Dan said.
Fairdale’s Jermaine Brown, who led the Bulldogs to state Sweet 16 titles in 1990 and ’91, and was Mr. Basketball in ’91 was among those inducted. His inclusion created the first father-son duo in the Hall of Fame, as his dad, Darrell Griffith of Male High, was in the first class in 2012.
“That’s an honor,” Brown said. “Both of us truly loved basketball, and this is great for our family.”
Winston Bennett, Mr. Basketball out of Male in 1983, was inducted.
“This is not a dream,” Bennett said. “This is a blessing, a culmination of a lot of people’s work, those who taught me and those who I played with.”
Among four coaches honored was Jock Sutherland, who took three different schools — Gallatin County (1959), Harrison County (three times) and Lafayette (1979) — to the Sweet 16, winning his only championship in his final game as a coach in ’79.
“This is one of the most fulfilled nights of my life,” said Sutherland, 87. “I told my mother when I was 14 I wanted to be a basketball coach and that I would win the state tournament someday. After our win in ’79, I went to her house, and she was crying.”
Sutherland was inducted into the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame several years ago.
“That was a big one, but I got in there because of radio (he was analyst on U of L’s radio network for 20 years.” he said. “This is one is mine.”
Another coach honored was North Hardin’s Ron Bevars, who in 38 years as the Trojans’ head coach (he was an assistant there four years prior to that) compiled an 805-348 record, including a state runner-up finish in 1982.
“This (induction) is good for the game of basketball,” said Bevars, one of the co-founders of the HOF. “It should have been started a long time ago.”
Two women players were inducted: Ukari Figgs of Scott County and Lillie Mason of Olmstead. A point guard, Figgs led Scott County to a state crown in 1995, Purdue to an NCAA title (1999) and the Los Angeles Sparks to a WNBA crown (2001).
The 6-2 Mason, Miss Basketball in 1981, became the highest career scorer in Western Kentucky University’s history with 2.262 points.
The late Jack Upchurch, a star player for Wayne County and Eastern Kentucky University, and a long-time coach, was honored with an Award of Merit for his work with the Hall of Fame and the Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches. His star player, Jimmy Dan Conner of Anderson County’s state runner-up team of 1971l, was an inductee. was an inductee.
Other inductees were these Mr. Basketballs — Jeff Mullins, Lafayette (1960); Jerry Thruston, Owensboro (1972); John Pelphrey, Paintsville (1987).
Other players and the year they graduated: Bobby Rascoe, Daviess County (1958); Travis Ford, Madisonville (1989); Dickie Prater, Pikeville (1950).
Other coaches: John Bill Trivette, Pikeville (1943-60, now deceased); Earle Jones, Maysville (1931-55).
Ford, now head coach at Oklahoma State, skipped a key period in recruiting to attend the affair.