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Rex Chapman remembers his Apollo heroes, and heartbreak

March 15, 2018 FieldsColumn

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BY MIKE FIELDS

When he was a basketball star at Apollo High School, UK and in the NBA, Rex Chapman was a hoops hero to thousands (millions?) of Kentucky kids.

But Rex remembers two of his own heroes when he was growing up, and one of them — Steve Barker — is coaching Apollo in the Sweet 16 this week.

Rex Chapman

Barker was an all-state player at Apollo 40 years ago when Wayne Chapman, Rex’s dad, was the Eagles’ coach.

Barker and Jeff Jones were four-year starters for Apollo, which reached the state tournament in 1976 and 1978.

“Steve and Jeff were two of my very first (heroes),” Rex said. “Steve could really shoot it, and Jeff was a really good player, too.”

The ’78 Apollo team took a 35-0 record and No. 1 ranking into the Sweet 16, but lost to Shelby County and its star Charles Hurt in the first round at Freedom Hall.

Rex was only in the third grade, but he remembers the agony of that defeat.

“Oh my gosh, it still hurts thinking about it. We beat Charlie and them in the LIT, then came into the state tournament 35-0 and we drew each other that first game.

Apollo Coach Steve Barker

“We wanted to win so bad. We lived and died with it.”

Barker recalled Rex being around all the time, coming to practices and games with his dad. 

“He was always that kid out on the court with the ball, always in the way,” Barker said with a laugh. “I can remember vividly him being around us that whole year.”

One of Rex’s earliest memories was his dad bringing the Apollo team to watch him play in his elementary school championship game.

“They walked in, we went out for the jump ball, and I threw up all over the court,” he said. “They cleaned it up and we won the game.”

As Barker noted, “Rex grew up to be a pretty good player.”

Rex played in the Sweet 16 his junior year (1985), was voted Mr. Basketball after his senior season, and then starred at UK and was a NBA lottery pick.

Barker visited with Wayne and Rex when they attended Apollo’s practice Wednesday at UK’s Joe Craft Center.

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