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Billy Reed: NKY native Jeff Walz may be the best college basketball coach in the state

It would completely embarrass Jeff Walz if someone suggested he might be the best college basketball coach in Kentucky. But with apologies to him, that’s what I’m suggesting.

It’s not because he’s such a nice, friendly guy, attributes of which I was reminded again when we had lunch last week at Steve Higdon’s Kentucky Legends golf outing.

Modesty certainly becomes him, as it does anybody, but with Jeff it’s genuine. As the women’s coach at the University of Louisville, his demeanor has helped him recruit many outstanding players.

As I told Jeff over lunch, I go back a long way with his family. As a high school reporter in Lexington in the early 1960s, I watched his father, Roger Walz, lead Ft. Thomas Highlands to three consecutive state championships.

Billy Reed is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame and the Transylvania University Hall of Fame. He has been named Kentucky Sports Writer of the Year eight times and has won the Eclipse Award three times. Reed has written about a multitude of sports events for over four decades and is perhaps one of the most knowledgeable writers on the Kentucky Derby. His book “Last of a BReed” is available on Amazon.

A scrambler more than a classic dropback passer, Roger received more than his share of college scholarship offers. He finally decided to join Coach Charlie Bradshaw’s crusade at Kentucky.

Alas, he was in the same class as Rick Norton, who came from Flaget High in Louisville. Norton was a pocket passer with a strong arm, and Walz never could beat him for the quarterback’s job.

“He returned punts, too,” said Jeff. “Can you imagine a quarterback returning punts today?”

After graduating from UK, Roger returned to Highlands and produced one of the most successful athletic families in the state’s history.

The first to attract widespread attention was Jeff’s sister, Jaime, who was named Kentucky’s Miss Basketball in 1996, her senior year at Highlands.

Jeff, meanwhile, went to Northern Kentucky University and then to Western Kentucky for graduate work. While at Western, he found a mentor in Paul Sanderford, one of the best of the women’s coaches from that pioneering era.

It was there, as Sanderford’s graduate assistant, that he got to coach his sister Jaime.

Jeff Walz

After graduating from WKU, Jeff enjoyed much success as an assistant at WKU, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Maryland. The highlight of his five years at Maryland was winning the 2006 NCAA championship.

In 2007, U of L athletics director Tom Jurich, who always was on the lookout for fresh young coaching talent, hired him to be his women’s hoops coach.

In his second year, he guided the Cards to the NCAA title game, a feat he repeated in 2013. Heading into the coming season, his record at U of L was 386-107, a .783 winning percentage.

Most importantly, given the current behind-the-scenes problems at U of L in men’s basketball and football, Walz always has run a clean program that has remained untainted through the storms.

Now, like all college coaches, Walz must deal with the ugly new world of college sports, one in which coaches are allowed to buy players.

So far none of his players have sold their name, likeness, and image to the highest bidder, but two U of L female volleyball players already have signed with an agent.

Eventually every coach will have to decide whether he or she wants to stay in coaching. Walz hasn’t discussed it publicly, but if he decides to get out, he has the people skills to work in many different jobs.

I’m pretty much fed up with the other major programs in the state, but as long as Walz stays at U of L, he will provide a program that’s easy to rally around without any compunctions.

Best college coach in the state? You decide. But Jeff Walz is No.1 on my list. If he hasn’t received a lot of support from the people at Highlands, he should now.

I’m sure season tickets are available.

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