“Where are they now” is a periodical series that will take a look back at the careers of former Kentucky basketball stars and/or John Calipari-coached players and find out what they’re doing post-college. Today we catch up with Walter McCarty, a member of the 1996 national championship squad at Kentucky.
The 2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats achieved exactly what was expected of them: greatness.
After crushing seemingly every opponent in their path, the Wildcats dunked, shot and blocked their way to an unprecedented 38-2 record en route to the school’s eighth national title. With the success, comparisons between them and another dominant Kentucky team have arisen.
The 1995-96 Kentucky team has been dubbed by many fans and experts as not only the greatest team to don the blue and white, but the best college basketball team of all time. Known as the “Untouchables,” the ’96 Cats had stars across their roster. One of the standouts on that team that included Ron Mercer, Tony Delk and Antoine Walker was Walter McCarty.
McCarty, who played three years (1994-96) for the Wildcats, certainly saw similar high-flying similarities between this year’s team and his during his playing days at Rupp Arena. But one of the main comparisons he draws between this past year’s team and his was just how joyful they were playing the game.
“Those guys had fun,” McCarty said. “They smiled a lot on the court. You could tell they were having fun, and that’s what really reminded me of our team. We just cared about playing for each other.”
Along with playing for each other, McCarty admitted this year’s national champions rivaled his team’s ability in terms of talent. But he wasn’t willing to forfeit his team’s well-known distinction as the greatest Kentucky squad ever.
“They were a close-knit team,” McCarty said. “They bought into Cal’s system. But I don’t think they were as deep as us. We were able to play so many different ways and styles to put teams away. I just think we really wore teams down.”
One of the main reasons that ’96 team was so deep and versatile was players like McCarty. Along with being co-captain, the multi-talented forward could use his 6-foot-10 athletic frame to step back and hit a jumper from distance or flush it home with an emphatic dunk.
These days, McCarty has picked up another hobby that makes some noise.
“I love music,” McCarty said. “I love writing. Just like some people like to go out and play golf and some people like to read a book. For me, I like to write music.”
McCarty said he’s been in love with music since he was young. His musical career started when he was singing for his church choir in his hometown of Evansville, Ind. From singing to playing the piano, his passion for music grew, as did his love for basketball.
During his time at UK, he continued his singing prowess when he sang the national anthem before a home game at Rupp Arena. To top that, during his rookie season with the New York Knicks, he sang the national anthem at Madison Square Garden.
After requests that he record an album, McCarty came out with his first R&B album in 2003, “Moment For Love.”
McCarty, 38, has wrote and produced two albums to date. His second album, “Emotionally,” was self-produced and critically acclaimed. Now that he’s out of basketball, music provides an outlet for him to stay busy but have fun at the same time.
“When something comes to mind, I just write about it,” McCarty said. “It’s usually never anything in particular. I just write and go with the flow.”
According to McCarty, music is more than just the flow or the beat of the rhythm. That’s why he works with the I Love Music Foundation, a foundation that’s built around the promoting of the importance and values of music education in school today.
Whether it’s helping or entertaining others, McCarty has always carried discipline with him in the game of basketball and during his musical career. McCarty credits discipline and focus for allowing him to achieve everything he has today.
“If it’s one thing that I’ll take away from basketball it’s discipline,” McCarty said. “Whatever it is, you have to be all in. You have to commit yourself. You have to be dedicated and keep honing your skills.”
He said that music is a lot like basketball because you continue to evolve as you grow.
McCarty grew from being a leader for the Wildcats to a seasoned NBA veteran. Drafted 19th overall in the first round of the NBA Draft in 1996, McCarty played 10 years of professional ball, making stops along the way with the New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers.
After his playing days, McCarty didn’t drift far from the game of basketball. He served as an assistant coach both at the professional (Indiana Pacers) and collegiate levels (Louisville, 2007-10).
McCarty said the main difference between serving as a coach for college and the pros was the impact he could make in the lives of those around him.
“At the end of the day, you get to teach in college,” McCarty said. “You have an effect on the guys’ lives and they depend on you and trust you, and they know that you have their best interest in mind. In the pros, guys have been around the block a few times, so it’s more of a working environment.”
From being a Parade High School All-American, a national champion and a professional basketball player, McCarty made a ton of great memories throughout his basketball career. Nothing compares, however, to the bond he shares with his teammates at UK.
Looking back on his time as a Wildcat, he said that’s the one thing this year’s national championship will remember years down the road.
“I’ve played a lot of special games and there have been a lot of special things, but the thing that I remember is our relationships,” McCarty said. “We loved playing ball with each other. We loved going to movies or bowling. Our relationships are really what helped us prevail as national champs, which is the same thing with this year’s team. I think they won because they were so close. They really cared for one another, and they wanted to do it together.”