After posting over 650 career wins, collecting 23 NCAA Tournament appearances and coaching three NCAA singles finalists in 35 years of coaching, former University of Kentucky men’s tennis head coach Dennis Emery was named as one of seven individuals elected into the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s 2013 Hall of Fame class, it was announced by the ITA.
“When I started coaching in 1977, I had several goals,” Emery said. “One was to win a team NCAA Championship, an NCAA singles title, coach the U.S. Davis Cup team and be in the Hall of Fame. We lost four Elite Eight’s, lost three NCAA singles finals (2000, 2002, 2012) and I never coached a Davis Cup. But, I now have reached the Hall of Fame, and it really does mean a lot to me.”
“Obviously, we are all excited for Dennis being elected with this prestigious honor,” UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart said. “Anytime you are elected to any hall of fame, it is special, but it is even more meaningful to be a first-ballot inductee. To put up the numbers he did and put together the body of work in his career is something to treasure and we are excited the ITA choose to honor him.”
With his retirement this spring from coaching, this was Emery’s first season of eligibility for the Hall of Fame. Emery is in elite company, as he joins Adolph Rupp and Bear Bryant, Joe B. Hall and Jerry Claiborne as the only coaches in Kentucky Athletics history to be elected to the hall of fame by the sports’ sanctioning body.
“It is really special to be named in my first year of eligibility,” Emery said. “I know how rare of an occasion that is, so for it to happen to me means a lot.”
Emery took over the UK program in 1983 after a successful five-year stint with Austin Peay University. In his 30 years, Emery guided UK to two Southeastern Conference championships, 23 NCAA Tournament appearances and helped 19 Wildcat men to 39 All-America honors. During his stretch of success, Emery was named SEC Coach of the Year three times - including 2012 - and was a finalist for National Coach of the Year twice. Emery also led three players to the finals of the NCAA Singles Tournament, including Eric Quigley a season ago.
“To all the great players from Joe Leytze and Paul Varga to Eric Quigley who represented me and the University of Kentucky so well, I am grateful.” Emery said.
In 2012, Emery helped Kentucky to its second SEC championship in school history behind the first undefeated SEC regular season in program history. The Wildcats eventually went on to play in the SEC Tournament finals and the NCAA Sweet 16. Emery led UK to its third consecutive 20-win season in 2012, marking the 13th time the UK coach had led his team to 20 wins or more. For his efforts, Emery would be named the SEC Coach of the Year and ITA Ohio Valley Regional Coach of the Year. The SEC honor was the third for Emery in his career, making him the seventh head coach in league history to win three or more coach of the year honors.
“For me to spend 30 years at Kentucky and in Lexington was a very special opportunity. I was very blessed to have this unique opportunity to spend my life here in Lexington.” Emery said.
Emery led Kentucky to the most successful four-year stretch in school history, winning 100 matches and finishing in the top 15 in the ITA final rankings each season, including in the top 10 twice. During that four-year stint, UK won an SEC championship and advanced to two SEC Tournament finals, three NCAA Sweet 16s and an NCAA Elite Eight. In 2011, Emery and Co. set a school-record for wins in a season with 29, while the 2012 squad finished with 28 wins. Kentucky also hosted the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament all four years with the help of associate head coach Cedric Kauffmann, who is now the head coach of UK, succeeding Emery.
“I was blessed to have some great assistant coaches in Clayton Taylor, Don Carbone, Mike Hegorty, Ford Lankford, Greg Van Emburgh and finally Cedric Kauffmann. One of the things I am most proud of is how many assistant coaches came out of Kentucky to have successful head-coaching positions today.”
Emery was the youngest-ever NCAA head coach in history at Austin Peay, as he led them to an 87-66 record over a five-year span that began with Emery at the tender age of 22.
“A special thank you goes out to George Fisher who hired me at Austin Peay as the youngest Division I head coach in history at 22 years old and 10 months for $3,500 per year.” Emery said.
“I would also like to thank Cliff Hagan. He played a big part in my career by hiring me at Kentucky in 1982 and I want to make sure I recognize him. Cliff made the construction of the Hilary J. Boone Varsity Tennis Center possible for us by matching grants.” Emery said.
“C. M. Newton, who along with Mr. Boone and the Ryan Holder Foundation made our outdoor complex a reality and then Mitch Barnhart the last 11 years was spectacular as he took this program and others to a higher level and put a special emphasis on tennis here in Lexington. Hilary Boone and his family really deserve a big thanks for their help in our indoor facility.” Emery said.
The ITA Men's Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame, housed at the University of Georgia's Dan Magill Tennis Complex, was inaugurated in 1983 and has inducted more than 200 players, coaches and contributors. The ITA Hall of Fame museum displays over 2,000 rare photos and memorabilia. Its members include the late Arthur Ashe (UCLA), Jimmy Connors (UCLA), John McEnroe (Stanford) and Dick Gould (Stanford).
“As a young coach, my idols were Don Magill and Dick Gould,” Emery said. “To be in the Hall of Fame at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex makes it even more special to me.”
When Emery retired after yet another Sweet 16 appearance in 2012, he was named special assistant to the athletics director, where he has been responsible for raising money for special projects. Emery so far has led a fundraising effort that has produced over 3.5 millions dollars towards UK facilities and collegiate projects in the last 25 years.
Included in the class of 2013 with Emery are two other NCAA coaches, three players and a contributor. The group of seven will be inducted on May 22, 2013 in Champaign, Ill., at the 2013 NCAA National Championships which will be hosted by the University of Illinois. Kauffmann, and Emery’s son, Matt, who is the assistant coach at UK, will introduce him.
“Finally, I want to thank my wife, Brenda. She has been the perfect coach’s wife for the last 35 years. None of what we accomplished could have been possible without her.” Emery said.