- Bret Bearup
- Hometown (Last School)
- Greenlawn, NY (Harborfields)
- 1980-81, 1981-82, 1982-83, 1983-84, 1984-85
- November 17, 1961
Bret Bearup was born Bret Neal Bearup on November 17, 1961, in Pocatellio, Idaho, to Linda and Charlie Bearup. He had four brothers. He was affectionately known as simply “Bear.” His father, an executive with DuPont, played basketball at Idaho State. Bearup’s family moved to Long Island, New York in 1976.
In high school, Bearup was a consensus prep All-American and was ranked the number one power forward in the country. He was a two-time All-Stater. As a senior Bret averaged 28.5 points per game, 17 rebounds per game, and six blocked shots per game for Harborfields High School in Greenlawn, New York. He also shot 60 percent from the field. As a sophomore, he averaged 16.7 points and 11 rebounds per game. As a junior, he averaged 22.8 points and 15 rebounds per game. He was an outstanding student with a 3.4 GPA on 4.0 scale. Bearup was chosen as one of nine prep players who were honored in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. His photo was exhibited along with Sam Perkins, Vern Fleming, Gary Springer, Glenn Rivers, Russell Cross, Derek Harper, Ralph Jackson, Earl Jones, Charles Sitton, Kenny Perry, and Patrick Ewing. The players were selected by a poll conducted by Parade magazine. He participated in the third annual McDonald’s All-American game in California on April 12, 1980.
On his birthday on November 17, 1979, and two weeks after an official visit to the UK campus, Bearup announced that he would be playing for Kentucky. He made visits to Ohio State, North Carolina, Duke, and North Carolina State but none compared with Kentucky in Bearup’s mind. He said he got goosebumps just watching Kentucky play Duke to open the season and the previous week he was awake for three hours in the middle of the night just thinking about coming to Kentucky. Bearup spent eight days at the University of Kentucky’s summer camp, in 1979 where he played with several Wildcat players, including 7-2 center Sam Bowie, a much-heralded freshman. “I think the players down there are super people,” Bearup said. “I really got along very well with them. I want to spend four years with people like that. They’re good people. They can contend for the national title for four years. I want to be a part of it.” He joined Dickie Beal, Melvin Turpin, and Jim Master as one of the nation’s top recruiting classes.
As a freshman at Kentucky, Bearup was not your average 6-foot-9 high school All-American forward with a soft jump shot who was ranked in the top five percent on the National Merit Test and could clean and jerk 300 pounds. There’s a lot more to Bearup than that. Bearup was “extremely outgoing, with a bizarre, zany sense of humor that’s more strange than funny.” He was a prankster according to Assistant Coach Joe Dean, Jr. “Bret was a prankster,” said Dean Jr. “He liked to pull pranks and cut up. He was always involved in mischief and things. I think one time he went a little too far and coach Hall got after him.” Bearup played in 26 of 28 games his freshman year. He scored in double figures three times as a reserve forward and averaged 2.7 points and 1.7 rebounds. Bret Bearup was realistic enough to be awed at times playing against the finest competition in college basketball. But the husky forward from Centerport, N. Y. is mature enough not to dwell on it for very long. “Yeah, in most of the games I play in, there’s a moment I think, ‘Hey, I’m here, this is where I want to be.’ But it comes and goes quickly because, you know, you’ve got to get down to business,” says Bret. Bearup was all business on the court and what he saw game after game was eye-opening. Although he was a prep All-American in high school and competed with the creme of the high school senior crop in all the post-season all-star games, he was impressed with the level of competition at the college level. “It’s the great intensity with which every game is played. There are so many people watching and the teams are so well prepared—us and our opponents. The game is just played to its maximum. The aggressiveness is unreal, the talent is incredible. You have to be on your toes every game.” Bearup was known for letting you know how he feels. Once in junior high, when asked to predict his progress in high school, Bret boasted he would be All-County as a junior and All-State as a senior. Although he made good on those predictions—he even went it one better by making prep All-American —he has matured in his outlook. “My main personal goals were just to improve every game, get myself paced to the flow of the college game,” he explained. “l think I’ve made progress to that end.” Bearup improved every game. On December 19, 1980, Bearup scored 12 points against the Alaska Anchorage Seawolves. He had some help against Alaska. “Coach Hall called me over during warm-ups and said, ‘Now, you know you are one of the best players out here. Just play like you’re the best player out here, smile, talk . . . ‘ And I guess I just tried to do stuff like that. Coach Hall is a great psychologist.”
Before the 1981-1982 campaign got underway, Bearup made a decision that will perhaps rate as one of the best he has made in his young career. He decided to sit out the year—to gain an extra year of experience and more importantly, maturity. “By redshirting, it will give me another year to play for UK and an extra year in Lexington to enjoy everything Kentucky has to offer,” Bearup said. “I’m looking forward to majoring in accounting and possibly going into law school, and this extra year would help me with my grades.”
After a year of redshirting, Bearup was chomping at the bit for a chance to play. “I’m really tired of red-shirting,” Bearup said. “I’m ready to play right now.” In his redshirt sophomore season, Bearup played in every game. He showed great improvement after red-shirting the 1981-82 season. Bearup was ranked eighth on the team with an average of 12 minutes played per game. On November 27, 1982, in his first game back after a year’s absence, in a win over Butler, Bearup started and played 18 minutes. He scored 10 points. On December 12, 1981, Bearup played 18 minutes and made a significant contribution for 2nd-ranked Kentucky in a win over Illinois. He had nine points, six rebounds and one blocked shot. Bearup got most of his points on his own, through sheer aggressiveness. The best example came little more than a minute after Bearup had replaced center Melvin Turpin with 12:08 left in the first half. When Dirk Minniefield made a steal, he hit Jim Master with an outlet pass. Master, under duress, missed a layup. But there was Bearup, racing to catch up with the play. soaring into the lane and ramming the ball home. Rebound dunk, heavy on spunk. On March 24, 1983, in the NCAA Mideast Regional against Indiana, he hit four of five from the field and scored eight points in only 14 minutes. He averaged 3.4 points and 1.9 rebounds per game for the season.
As a redshirt junior, Bearup figured to be a key reserve for the Wildcats but he spent most of his time as a spectator. Bearup contracted mononucleosis and was unable to participate in UK’s pre-season conditioning program for six weeks. He had to get stitches over his eye after a collision with Sam Bowie in practice. He was also battling Sam Bowie and freshman Winston Bennett for playing time. He saw action in 26 games and averaged 1.5 points and 1.2 rebounds. His best outing came on December 16, 1983, against Wyoming in which he scored 7 points in 15 minutes of play. “The fact the team has been going so well has taken alot of the sting out of my lack of personal accomplishments,” said Bearup. “Personally, though, this has been a frustrating year.” For the first time since the 1978 NCAA championship season, Kentucky reached the Final Four after the Wildcats won the “state” championship by beating Louisville 72-67 and then claimed the NCAA Mideast Region title by holding off determined Illinois 54-51. The Cats made it to the Battle in Seattle. “This is why I came here,” said Bearup. “This is the greatest feeling you could have.” On March 31, 1984, in the Final Four, the Cats went cold and fell to Georgetown, 53-40. Bearup played only four minutes and scored two points.
As a redshirt senior, Bearup was one of only two seniors on the squad and he became a starter after Gunther Behnke, the 7-foot-4 West German, left Lexington a mere four days after arriving. On December 8, 1984, Bearup played perhaps the finest minutes of his Wildcat career in a losing effort against Indiana. He played 33 minutes and scored 13 points (12 in the first half) while grabbing 11 rebounds. On December 21, 1984, he scored 11 points and snagged 5 rebounds in a win over East Tennessee State. Bearup wouldn’t earn any All-American honors. But that doesn’t mean he was not valuable for the Kentucky Wildcats. “Bearup and Bennett have overachieved to the extent that I don’t think people have truly recognized what they have done.” says UK Coach Joe Hall. “Bearup is in his fifth year. He’s been a force on defense and has given us a great effort every outing. He has added stability to our team. Bret is in the right place at the right time. He’s been doing his job very well and with very little credit. All you hear about him is criticism and I don’t understand that. Without Winston Bennett and Bret Bearup we would be in bad shape.” Bearup’s averages of 6.7 points and 5.8 rebounds per game were not eye-popping. Yet, late in the season, he averaged almost nine points and over six rebounds a game. At times, he was a threat rather than a mere solid rock. He was playing like he once thought he would as a college sophomore. In his final home game as a Wildcat, Bearup scored 13 points and grabbed 8 rebounds in 23 minutes of play as Kentucky dismantled Tennesse, 92-67. Before the game, Bearup began to weep when former Governor Happy Chandler sang “My Old Kentucky Home.” Tears really started when Kentucky’s coaching staff came onto the floor to bid farewell to Bearup and Troy McKinley, the other senior. Asked if he were trying to fight back the tears during pre-game introductions, Bearup said, “to tell you the truth, I was trying not to cry during the warm-ups. I tried not to cry, but the Bear’s got to break down. Especially when Happy started to sing. At first, I felt slighted when the band didn’t play, but when I found out that Happy was actually there, well, it was a great honor.” For the season, Bearup played in 31 games and averaged 6.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.
Bearup’s college career never gained traction. Contracting mononucleosis did not help. Neither did having to compete against Sam Bowie and Melvin Turpin for playing time. Bearup started only two games in his first three seasons. “The most heartbreaking thing for me was when I realized I wasn’t going to be a first-round draft choice and make 500 grand a year,” Bearup told The New York Times in a 1985 interview. Bearup made a bigger impact as a senior, in part because the expected center, Gunther Behnke, became homesick and returned to his native Germany. Bearup finished his UK career with averages of 3.6 points and 2.7 rebounds. “This year has been worth it all,” Bearup told The New York Times. “To be a starting member of the Kentucky Wildcats team that’s in the (1985) NCAA regionals, to be able to be needed, is very satisfying.” He proved to everyone that you could become a Kentucky legend without becoming a basketball star.
Bearup earned two degrees from UK — business administration in 1985 and law in 1989. He was admitted to the Kentucky Bar in 1990 and later became a successful financial advisor to several NBA players.
Bearup married Beth Ann Clark, a former Miss Kentucky from Mayfield, Kentucky, on December 2, 1990, at the First Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. They had three children: a daughter McKenzie, and two sons Alex and Benjamin.
On May 16, 2018, Bearup suddenly died from a massive coronary. He was only 56 years old.