Dwane Casey and Joe B Hall
Where I come from

Dwane Casey

August 25, 2017

Even if you've never before stepped foot in Lexington, Kentucky, the second you enter Rafferty's Restaurant and Bar, you feel at home. With televisions lining the walls playing every sports channel imaginable, comfortable booths tucked between brick pillars, and a mix of clientele ranging from toddlers in high chairs to senior citizens, it's impossible not to relax as you sit down to order a meal. From the menu, packed with beloved favourites as well as traditional pub fare, to the waitstaff who make you feel as though you've been a regular for years, Rafferty's welcomes you in.

On a Friday afternoon in August, the staff at Rafferty's pulled together tables in the main dining area to accommodate some of their favourite Kentucky Wildcats from days gone by. The man of honour, and the reason for this reunion lunch, was Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. In his blue-and-white striped button down, seated at a table filled with his former coach, former teammates and friends, Casey looked entirely at home.

To get a feel for the love the Rafferty's staff has for their Wildcats, one needs to look no further than the list of former players posted on the wall so younger workers know when a legend walks through the door. As Casey's table drew the attention of fellow patrons enjoying their meals, the manager looked on from a side table, summing up the situation in front of him: "They're family to us. These guys could be buying $100 steaks, but they choose to come here and we appreciate it."

12:45 pm The Weekend Reunion Rafferty's Restaurant
Joe B Hall and Dwane Casey
Enter Coach JOE B. HALL

Joining Casey for lunch was his beloved coach Joe B. Hall, the man who recruited him to Kentucky in 1975. Now 88 years old, Hall still showed up to lunch dressed as if he was ready to own the sideline. Dressed in khaki dress pants, a blue-and-white checked button-down shirt and a navy sports coat with gold buttons, he delighted in sharing memories from the 1978 NCAA Championship winning team.

Casey smiled through every story that was shared by Hall and his former teammates, providing additional details when necessary as they reminisced over his time at UK while also catching him up on current events. Jack "Goose" Givens, a 6-foot-5 forward who will forever be part of Kentucky basketball lore thanks to a 41-point championship game performance against Duke in '78, passed his phone over to Casey to show him a photo of his children, now grown up. Casey blinked in surprise, recalling when they were born, trying to reconcile those memories with the photo staring back at him.

Seated across the table was Kyle Macy, the former teammate Casey endearingly referred to as "the brains" of the group. Macy spent seven seasons in the NBA as a player and currently serves as an assistant coach at nearby Transylvania University.

Oscar Combs and Dwane Casey
Enter Former Beat Writer OSCAR COMBS

Beside Casey was former Wildcats beat writer Oscar Combs. Combs began covering the Wildcats in the 1965-66 season, appearing on pre-game radio shows until a season ago. He still discusses the team regularly with the 38,000 fans who follow him on Twitter. Now in his 70s, Combs has been dealing with a sore back that threatened to keep him from attending the festivities at the university, but was itching to meet up with Casey. With one pair of glasses tucked into his UK polo shirt and another sitting on his bridge of his nose, it was easy to imagine the inquisitive Combs tracking down stories while earning the respect of his subjects so many years earlier.

Combs woke up on Saturday morning to a text from Casey inviting him to lunch and he was thrilled. Give Combs an opportunity to speak about Casey and he will fill up the page with memories of one of his all-time favourite Wildcats players.

Fred Cowan Joe B Hall and Dwane Casey
Enter friend and teammate Fred Cowan

Rounding out the group was the man who drove over to Rafferty's with Casey, former high school and UK teammate Fred Cowan. Two years younger than Casey, Cowan towers over him at 6-foot-8. Dressed in blue jeans and a Royal blue polo, he is quiet, but attentive, observing the scene around him. He's wearing a black baseball hat and has a pair of glasses casually tucked into his polo. For much of Casey's trip to Lexington, Cowan was by his side.

When Casey has the opportunity to speak about his relationship with Cowan, and explain that the two have known each other longer than everything else, he wears one of his largest smiles of the weekend as he explains that the two attended the same high school before Cowan followed him to UK. Casey's pride and comfort, both in Cowan's friendship and his very presence, is easy to see.

Joe B Hall and Dwane Casey

The conversation flowed. Topics ranged from Hall benching the Kentucky starters in the NCAA tournament to Casey sharing memories of his beloved coach Mototaka Kohama in Japan jumping into the ocean before realizing he couldn't swim, to more current topics, like players in this year's NBA draft class. The chatter stopped only for a moment, when a woman politely interrupted the table to speak with Hall and ask for a photo.

Though Raptors fans are used to seeing Casey stalk the sidelines, challenging non-calls and encouraging more defence from his players, a much more relaxed Casey was present at Rafferty's.

When the game clock isn't ticking Toronto's head coach has a witty sense of humour and never-ending catalog of sayings to liven up any story.

Seated at Rafferty's among friends who have known him much longer than the public has, that sense of humour was on display, as was the type of laughter that only happens among company this familiar.

Dwane Casey signing a ball for a fan

For the duration of Casey's visit, there was never a shortage of people wanting to share a moment with him. Entering Rafferty's, the manager gave words of endearment from the store's owner who couldn't be present to greet him.

Exiting Rafferty's meant finding diehard, lifelong Kentucky fans, decked out in UK gear, politely waiting to ask for photos and basketballs to be signed. Everywhere, Casey obliged, as appreciative of the people still valuing his efforts in a Kentucky uniform as those seeking his signature.

Casey was invited back to his alma mater for Coach Cal's Charity Weekend, hosted by current Kentucky coach John Calipari, to coach in an alumni game featuring Kentucky greats of the past as well as current NBA players, including Karl-Anthony Towns, DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo and Eric Bledsoe. The game was the premiere event of the weekend and Calipari announced the festivities had raised over $1 million for charity.

a map of earth
  • 1978
  • 1989
  • 1994
  • 2005
  • 2008
  • 2011
Year of 1978 Kentucky

The trip marked a rare opportunity for Casey to reflect on his coaching career. In his senior year at Kentucky, serving as captain and backup point guard, Casey helped lead the Wildcats to a national championship over Duke in 1978.

Year of 1989 Japan

Following his playing career, Casey stayed in Kentucky for another nine years, splitting his time as assistant coach at UK and Western Kentucky before heading to Japan in 1989. He would spend five years overseas coaching in the Japanese Basketball League while also linking up with the national team alongside longtime friend Mototaka Kohama before returning to the United States and an opportunity with the NBA.

Year of 1994 Seattle

Though Cowan was selected by the Houston Rockets in the sixth round of the NBA Draft in 1981, he followed Casey to Japan. While Cowan played a decade overseas, Casey worked the sideline, honing his craft until the Seattle Supersonics came calling in 1994. He spent the better part of 10 years as assistant coach in Seattle helping lead the team to four division titles.

Year of 2005 Minnesota

Bouncing from the Supersonics to the Minnesota Timberwolves was Casey's next move after being given the head coaching duties replacing Kevin McHale on the sidelines.

Year of 2008 Dallas

Following his time in Minnesota, Casey moved over to the Dallas Mavericks in 2008. Alongside head coach Rick Carlisle, Casey helped lead Dallas to their first NBA championship in 2011.

Year of 2011 Toronto

Casey assumed head coaching duties once again when the Raptors came calling ahead of the 2011/2012 season. Six years later, Casey remains at the helm in Toronto and currently serves as the winningest coach in franchise history. He has had plenty of stops along the way, none as foundational in his approach as a head coach at his time in Kentucky.

Dwane Casey speaking into an NBA microphone

While the on-court education of learning from Hall helped shape how Casey operates day-today, his duty as a team leader also helped prepare him for his future in the NBA. Tasked with addressing the media nearly daily in his role as head coach of the Raptors, Casey credits his time serving as team captain during his senior year with helping him to learn to be a public speaker.

He says Hall gave him some of the best advice of his career when he told him to never turn down a speaking engagement. Whether it was speaking with alumni, or to fellow students, Casey took the words to heart.

Now, 40 years later, they've helped him earn not only a reputation as one of the best coaches in the NBA to deal with, but also the Professional Basketball Writers Association's Rudy Tomjanovich Award in 2016. The award is presented to an NBA coach who best demonstrates co-operation with the media and fans with excellence on court.

3:00 pm The Drive In The Car

After lunch, as Casey drove back toward the UK campus with Cowan in the passenger seat, he commented that being at the table with everyone made memories from 40 years ago feel like it was yesterday. Less than a month before Casey's seventh season as head coach of the Toronto Raptors was scheduled to get underway, Casey took stock of the buildings where he studied in the late 1970s.

brick houses
The drive was a scenic one, a sunny weekend, void of the humidity that blankets Toronto in the summertime, as Casey drove through swaths of traffic that signalled the return of students and the start of a new school year.

With Cowan beside him, the duo took in the sights of the campus, so different than the one they'd known when they were student-athletes. The changes weren't limited to the campus as Casey pointed out a popular game-day restaurant that had been turned into a nightclub adorned with a new name, Rumba Caliente, complete with karaoke signs in the windows.

Dwane Casey as a Player for Kentucky Dwane Casey as a Player for Kentucky
Where It All Started Rupp Arena

Casey has played and coached at arenas all over, but Rupp Arena will always be a special place for him. Walking through the arena for the charity game he was tabbed to coach still gave him goosebumps.

"We actually opened Rupp Arena," Casey said. "I'll never forget my first time at Rupp, looking up at the stands thinking there's no way they'll fill those seats."

A recent release announcing that the Wildcats led the NCAA in home attendance for the 2016-17 season. They have been either first or second in average attendance every year since that first night where Casey stood on the hardwood gazing up at all of the seats in 1976.

exterior of memorial coliseum

Prior to Rupp Arena, there was the Memorial Coliseum. The Coliseum was home to the Wildcats for the first year of Casey's playing career in Kentucky. It has now become somewhat of a shrine for UK basketball, but the court Casey and Cowan played on remains downstairs, below the offices for the women's and men's basketball programs.

an illustration of a car pulling into a parking spot

After arriving at the old Coliseum, in true Casey fashion, the search for a proper parking space began. Despite being invited back as a celebrated guest, Casey still wanted to play by the same rules as everyone else. Cowan laughed as Casey began circling through the parking lot until he could find a parking meter, not wanting to get hit with a ticket.

"Still the same Dwane," he said.

After finally finding an appropriate parking spot, Casey accidentally put money in the wrong meter, paying not only for his car, but the one beside him as well. When the two women in the car noticed who had just paid for their parking, they began cheering for Casey's current team.

"Go Raptors" chants serenaded Casey and Cowan as they walked across the parking lot and into the gym where they'd first became collegiate athletes.
4:45 pm The Charity Game Rupp Arena
Dwane Casey pointing at the 1978 championship banner



The duo marvelled at all that had changed since their tenure at Kentucky. On one wall leading up to the practice court there was a plaque adorned with a Theodore Roosevelt quote.

Downstairs, the same scene played out again and again. As players and staff walked in and out of the gym, Phoenix's Tyler Ulis, Canadian-born Denver Nugget Jamal Murray, among others, each stopped to greet Casey, showing respect for the senior team captain who earned one of the school's eight NCAA championships. Casey encouraged each player, as well as the assistants who helped facilitate the walkthrough, to come to Toronto soon and enjoy the city, to "make yourself at home."

A photographer had Casey pose on the centre court logo while pointing toward the 1978 banner hanging along the wall. Cowan, dressed casually in jeans and a navy blue polo shirt, wore an amused expression as he leaned back on a bench, watching his friend pose. On the same court as nearly four decades ago, it was easy to imagine the duo joking around at the end of a practice session.

Everything is blue.

Women are in blue jeans and blue dresses. Men are in blue polos, t-shirts and jerseys. The carpet of the VIP area is blue. Even the solo cups are blue. To see how serious basketball is in Lexington, one only has to scan the arena, lower level packed with fans for a back-to-back slate of charity games in August.

A crowd of fans dressed all in blue

As Casey walked into the gym, one of his greatest skills was on display. When he talks with someone, he speaks with them and only them, giving that person his undivided attention for the duration of their exchange.

"There's nobody like Dwane Casey," Combs said, his face lighting up at the opportunity to describe his friend. "With Dwane you're always going to get two things. You're going to get 100 percent every day. You're going to get a person that's going to be honest with you.

If he says he's going to do something, he'll do it. There's nothing better in life than that."
An illustration of a bus driving away An illustration of a basketball going through a basketball hoop
An illustration of a basketball going through a basketball hoop

Standing on the floor of Rupp, Casey smiled at the stairs leading up to the top of the arena, recalling how Coach Hall would make the players run them if they were late. Back at the Raptors' BioSteel practice facility in Toronto, this kind of punishment takes place in the form of suicide drills. Casey takes pride in being punctual. This doesn't mean that he hasn't ever slipped-up, though.

On a UK road trip road trip, Casey was late to the team bus. Despite his hand reaching for the bus door as the bus was pulling away, Hall had the driver keep the door shut and drive off to teach a lesson about responsibility. Rather than succumb to panic, Casey caught a ride with the team's beat writers, making sure he arrived at the arena before the team bus.

In the end, he was the first player on the court, getting shots up as the rest of the team entered the gym. Figuring out a solution, no matter the situation, remains as a staple in Casey's coaching playbook.

Raptors assistant and fellow Kentucky alum Jamaal Magloire provides a unique perspective. He was also in Lexington for the weekend, suiting up for Casey's team in the alumni game.

"I think he's responsible for [my coaching career]," Magloire said. "I put that in the humblest way. Coach Casey has been in this business a very long time and he's met a lot of people along the way and he could have picked anybody to work for him and he chose me. I never take that for granted."

"His mind is sharp. He never misses anything. The way he prepares for practice is the same way he prepares for a game. As a basketball player I never understood what went into it and now that I see it from the other angle I see how important that is and how much he's impacted my life."

The actual game, the main event of Calipari's weekend, played out like a typical All-Star game. Little defence, lots of offence, plenty of dunks to get the crowd "oohing" and "ahhing." After the final buzzer — where Casey's Team White collected a 115-109 victory — Casey joked that he didn't even know the final score.

Despite the long day, Casey again gave his thanks to the fans wanting time with him, whether it was an autograph, a photograph, or a quick exchange.

"I think this passion that we have at Kentucky is the same thing we have in Toronto," Casey said. "I'm so proud because everybody that came up to me tonight is talking about the passion our crowd has, the passion the fans of the Raptors have built for basketball and that makes you feel proud. It's something I hope people don't take for granted because this is real basketball passion. It started a long time ago and people equating us with this is a compliment."

The long-earned and celebrated basketball history of the Wildcats reflects the history Casey is building in Toronto. Casey's journey has taken from from Kentucky to Japan, back to the United States, and on to an opportunity that saw him once again leave the country to continue growing the game he loves. Toronto has become one home for Casey just as Kentucky proved it will also always be another.

Raptors Game in Toronto
12:45 pm The Long-standing Legacy Rafferty's Restaurant
Dwane Casey coaching the Toronto Raptors

Before the rest of Casey's weekend unfolded, the conversation shifted to his NBA career. Despite Casey rarely being the star of the stories that were shared that afternoon, it is his career that had everyone at the table reflecting on all that he has accomplished since his time at UK.

Near the end of the lunch, before everyone went their separate ways, Kevin Grevey made his way over to Casey to speak with him privately. Grevey, now a college scout with the Los Angeles Lakers, couldn't help but seek out Casey solo to express his happiness for his fellow UK alums success.

"I'm so happy for you, man," Grevey said. "It's unbelievable, your career. It says a lot about you, but you didn't need that to know you're a wonderful guy."

Though one might say his college playing career was modest in comparison to the levels of success he has since reached — among those accomplishments: leading the Raptors franchise to new heights — his work ethic, dedication, and leadership foretold their possibility.

When Cowan says with certainty that his childhood friend is still the same Dwane, it is because of this. These traits are the reason Hall encouraged Casey to get into coaching. They are why Combs calls him one of his all-time favourite Wildcats, and they're what made everyone eager to clear their schedules on a Friday afternoon to give back to the teammate and friend who gave so much of himself when he was suiting up in that Wildcats uniform.

- Holly MacKenzie, raptors.com

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