Former UK basketball star guards Ron Mercer and Wayne Turner were inducted into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame this past week in commemoration of their successful careers. Both now Hall of Famers went onto Cameron Mills Radio to reflect on their time at Kentucky.
Coming out of high school, both saw Kentucky as the prestigious basketball school it was and is. For Turner, UK came in late to the recruiting process, but his cousin’s love for the team and his visit to campus in Lexington drew him in.
“I watched Kentucky a lot because he (Turner’s cousin) loved Jamal Mashburn,” Turner said. “I took the visit and that was pretty much a done deal.”
Ron Mercer was choosing between playing for Tennessee or Kentucky. He knew he wanted to start, but he also knew Rodrick Rhodes who was at his same position would probably start over him. Once Rhodes transferred after the 1995 season, Mercer saw an open opportunity.
“Kentucky has always been one of my favorite schools,” Mercer said. “I found out he (Rodrick Rhodes) was going to transfer, and I thought ‘You know what? I’m going there (UK).’”
As players from the Rick Pitino Era in the 1990’s, although they loved him, they also found out first hand how difficult playing under him was. Wayne Turner found out as soon as the recruiting visit in Lexington.
“I was warned,” Turner said. “He told me he was gonna be hard on me.”
Ron Mercer talked about how his voice could be heard through about anything, and he can still hear Pitino yelling at him today.
“I can still hear his voice on the other end (of the court), no matter if the crowd is screaming or not,” Mercer said laughingly. “You can’t get it out of your head.”
Both players were part of a UK team that would go on to win the National Championship. Mercer played two seasons at Kentucky (1995-96 and 1996-97), and was the leading scorer in the ‘96 title game (20 points) in which UK came out victorious.
“That ‘96 team was a special team,” Mercer said. “It was loaded with talent.”
Mercer had not scored much throughout the 1996 NCAA Tournament, but was ready when his time came to shine in the title game.
“I told Tony (Antoine Walker) before the game ‘I feel good,’” Mercer said. “I just finally caught fire.”
In 1997, UK finished in second place in the NCAA Tournament, losing to Arizona in OT in the title game. Mercer described how it was just an unfortunate mix of logistical errors that gave the Cats trouble in the game.
“A lot of guys were tired, a lot of guys were hurt,” Mercer said. “We got beat by three or four teams (that season) with quick guards, and Arizona definitely had that. It was just a bad matchup.”
Wayne Turner was a two-time NCAA Champion, playing from the 1995-96 season to the 1998-99 season. His most famous game came against Duke in the 1998 Elite Eight battle against the Blue Devils in which he manhandled the National Defensive Player of the Year Steve Wojciechowski.
“He wasn’t pressuring me,” Turner said. “(I thought) He’s not applying pressure, so I need to apply the pressure on him.”
That team was known for getting down double-digits then finding ways to come back and win, earning them the nickname “Comeback Cats” and also a spot in the National Championship game against Utah.
Once again, the Cats fell down early, but came back and ended up victorious, earning the school’s seventh NCAA title in its history. Turner knew he would have to lead the team in order to come out victorious in that game.
“I was thinking I need to run the team,” Turner said. “That was the main mentality. I knew we were the better defensive team and we hit the big shots we needed to.”
Turner at first at UK was playing behind former UK guard and NCAA Champion Anthony Epps, who he learned a lot from and helped build his winning mentality.
“Anthony (Epps) taught me how to be smart and how to be a competitor,” Turner said. “I don’t think I knew how to be a competitor until I faced Anthony Epps.”
When the two found out they were going to be inducted into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame this year, both sprouted with joy. Mercer knew he couldn’t have had such a successful career without the help of his teammates.
“I wouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame without those guys,” Mercer said.
Turner knew he wanted to be in the UK Hall of Fame when he watched former UK guard Kyle Macy have his jersey retired in the rafters.
“I thought it was the most amazing thing I had ever saw,” Turner said. “I thought ‘I wanna be that guy.’”
Turner indeed became one of those guys for his exceptional career, as well as Ron Mercer. The two now sit among the most prestigious players from arguably the most prestigious basketball school.