- Richie Farmer
- Hometown (Last School)
- Manchester, KY (Clay County)
- 1988-89, 1989-90, 1990-91, 1991-92
- August 25, 1969
Richard Dwight Farmer was born August 25, 1969 in Corbin, Kentucky, but grew up in the eastern Kentucky town of Manchester. He was the second of three children born to Richard and Virginia Farmer. The couple had three children: a daughter, Rhonda, followed by sons Richie and Russ. The two boys took an early interest in basketball, and every morning Richard Sr. would show them a new move before heading off to his job at Shamrock Coal Company. They would practice until he returned home at the end of the day, only breaking when Virginia called them in for bologna sandwiches and soda. Their backyard court was made of dirt and sat on top of a hill, which Richard Sr. credits for their shooting ability: “Every time they’d miss, the ball’d go rolling down the hill. They would come complain and I just told ’em if they didn’t want to have to go chase the ball they better focus on making their shots.” Farmer credited his father, a transportation manager at a local coal mine and a standout point guard at Clay County High School in 1963, with developing his basketball acumen.
As a freshman in high school, Farmer led his team in scoring during the regular season, averaging 16.4 points per game from the shooting guard position. He also led the Tigers in scoring in each of their three games en route to the 13th Region Kentucky High School Athletic Association basketball championship. In the opening round of the 1985 KHSAA state tournament, Farmer scored 14 points on 6 of 16 shooting in a win over Boone County High School. Then, in back-to-back victories against Metcalfe County High School and Doss High School, he led his team with 21 and 20 points, respectively, to help Clay County reach the tournament finals. Farmer scored 10 points in Clay County’s 65–64 loss to Hopkinsville High School in the championship game. He was the tournament’s second-highest scorer with 69 points, one behind Hopkinsville’s Lamont Ware, and finished second in the voting for the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, which went to Hopkinsville’s Wendell Quarles. Only Apollo High School’s Rex Chapman received more votes for the all-tournament team.
Clay County ranked only behind Owensboro and Scott County High School in the Lexington Herald-Leader’s 1985–86 preseason coaches poll. During Clay County’s 22–6 regular season, Farmer, who moved to the point guard position, averaged 18.6 points, 10 assists, and 8 rebounds per game. The Tigers won the 13th District Title, setting up a matchup with Pulaski County High School in the first round of the KSHAA state tournament. Farmer had scored 30 points in Clay County’s regular season matchup with Pulaski County, but his team lost by one point in overtime. In the tournament rematch, Pulaski County held Farmer to 20 points and won 83–78; Coach Dave Fraley credited a defense centered on stopping Farmer for his team’s victory.
As a junior, in the Lexington Herald-Leader’s 1986–87 preseason coaches’ poll, Clay County was ranked 14th in the state, and Farmer was named one of the state’s best 25 players. Farmer led his team in scoring at 23.9 points per game, and Clay County finished the regular season with a record of 28–2 and again won the 13th Region tournament. Farmer scored 19 points and grabbed 5 rebounds in his team’s 90–80 victory over Highlands High School in the KHSAA state tournament’s opening round, but his performance was overshadowed by teammate Russell Chadwell’s 43 points. In the quarterfinals, Farmer led the Tigers with 19 points, defeating LaRue County High School 62–56 in front of 24,041 spectators at Lexington’s Rupp Arena, a record crowd for a high school basketball game. In the first half of Clay County’s semi-final matchup with Madison Central High School, Farmer scored 18 and his younger brother, Russ, added 12 to account for 30 of their team’s 39 first-half points. The Tigers’ 17-point halftime lead grew to as many as 25 in the second half, and the elder Farmer again led his team with 24 total points in Clay County’s 78–58 victory.
The win over Madison Central set up a title game between Clay County and Louisville’s Ballard High School. Clay County had only one starter taller than 6 feet, while Ballard started four players taller than 6 ft 3 in, including star shooting guard Allan Houston. The game featured 24 ties and 15 lead changes; neither team led by more than four points during regulation. Farmer scored Clay County’s last 9 points in regulation, including consecutive go-ahead baskets at 3:19, 2:46, and 0:30. Ballard’s Leonard Taylor scored on a put-back basket at the buzzer to tie the score at 65 and force overtime. Clay County never trailed in the overtime, and Farmer’s 15-foot jump shot with 1:44 left put the Tigers in the lead for good. The 76–73 win was Clay County’s first-ever KHSAA state championship. Farmer played all 35 minutes of the game and led all scorers with 27 points to go with 6 rebounds and 4 assists. He was named to the all-tournament team, selected the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, and given the Ted Sanford Award for citizenship, basketball ability, academic achievement, and sportsmanship. He was also the only underclassman named to the Lexington Herald-Leader’s 1987 All-State First Team.
Farmer doesn’t hesitate to rank the ’87 championship as the pinnacle of his athletic career. “Basketball has always been really important to this area. This community, especially back in the ’80s—it just meant so much to the whole town,” he says. “The next day, there were cars lined up on both sides of the road from the time we got off the interstate all the way to Manchester. It was an unbelievable homecoming.”
In the summer following his junior year, Farmer was named to the Kentucky Junior All-Star Team, which played exhibition games throughout Europe, including stops in Iceland, the Netherlands, and West Germany. After the European trip, he helped lead Clay County to a 15–0 record in Amateur Athletic Union play. It was the first AAU season which recognized the three-point field goal, and Farmer made 53 of his 73 three-point attempts. In July 1987, the Kentucky Junior All-Stars finished second to a team from South Carolina in the Kentucky Prep All-Star Festival at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington; Farmer sat out the championship game with a hand injury he suffered in the previous game.
As a senior, Clay County was ranked as the top team in the state in the 1987–88 preseason coaches’ poll, and Farmer was voted the state’s best prep prospect, garnering twice as many votes as second-place prospect Allan Houston. The Tigers started the year 8–0 before suffering their only regular season loss in the first game of the 1987 Beach Ball Classic against Eau Claire High School. In Clay County’s next game in the Classic, Farmer broke the school’s career scoring record, scoring his 2,193rd point in a 76–57 win over Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Nathan Hale High School. Gary Gregory, who had held the record since 1974, was in attendance at the game. In the tournament’s fifth place game, Farmer scored 33 points and broke the single-game record for assists with 16, besting Kenny Anderson’s year-old record of 13. Clay County defeated Simi Valley High School 95–91, and Farmer was selected as the tournament’s Outstanding Player and named to the all-tournament team.
In the opening round of the January 1988 Louisville Invitational Tournament (LIT), Farmer scored 40 points on 15 of 30 shooting in an 86–82 win over Pleasure Ridge Park High School, pushing Clay County’s record to 16–1 and setting up another meeting with Allan Houston’s Ballard team. Farmer scored 39 points – including 14 of his 15 free throws – and grabbed 12 rebounds in Clay County’s 92–88 double overtime victory. In the championship game against Bardstown High School, Farmer battled through fatigue and a thigh injury to lead his team in scoring with 24 points in an overtime win. In the three-game tournament, Farmer scored 103 points and played all of his team’s 105 minutes, while committing only 4 turnovers. He was selected to the all-tournament team and named tournament MVP. Already being recruited by Western Kentucky, Alabama, and Notre Dame, Farmer’s performances in the Beach Ball Classic and LIT brought notice from Eastern Kentucky, Wake Forest, Auburn, Louisville, and Kentucky.
In the 49th District Championship game, Farmer broke Clay County’s single-game scoring record with 51 points in a 101–59 win over Jackson County High School. In the 13th Region tournament opener, Farmer scored 40 points as Clay County defeated Corbin High School 75–56. Clay County went on to defeat Bell County High School 53–36 in the semi-finals and Knox Central High School 73–69 in the finals to once again advance to the KHSAA state tournament. Farmer scored 38 points on 14 of 24 shooting in a victory over Rowan County High School in the tournament’s opening round. Four minutes into the Tigers’ quarterfinal matchup against LaRue County High School, Farmer scored a three-point basket that tied Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones’ record for most points scored by a single player in the KHSAA state tournament (223). Farmer went on to break the record, scoring 30 points in a 91–54 win.
Farmer’s 18 points in the semi-finals against Pleasure Ridge Park helped Clay County to a 92–90 win and a rematch in the title game against Ballard High School. Farmer set a title game record against Ballard, scoring 51 points on 20 of 32 shooting (including 9 of 14 from three-point range), but Clay County lost 88–79. Ron King set the previous title game record in 1969 with 44; only Kelly Coleman’s 69-point performance in 1956 bested Farmer’s 51 points in a tournament game. He was selected to the all-tournament team, received a Dawahares’ Sweet Sixteen Academic Scholarship Award, and was voted the tournament’s MVP. Following the state tournament, Farmer said he was contacted by LSU, Vanderbilt, Virginia, and Indiana in addition to schools who had previously recruited him.
For the season, Farmer averaged 27.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game, all career highs. The only player to play in the KHSAA state tournament five times, he finished his career with records for most points scored (317) and most field goals made (127) for a career in the tournament. He posted a total of 2,793 points in his high school career. He was named Kentucky Mr. Basketball, Kentucky Associated Press Male High School Athlete of the Year, and was the leading vote-getter for the Kentucky All-State Team, appearing on 160 of 167 ballots. The Clay County Judge/Executive renamed a road outside Farmer’s hometown of Manchester “Richie Boulevard”. In a 1989 Lexington Herald-Leader poll of sportswriters and former high school coaches, Farmer was the near-unanimous choice as the best high school player in Kentucky during the 1980s.
In May 1988, Farmer was selected to an AAU all-star team that played an exhibition game in Memorial Coliseum against an all-star team from the Soviet Union. He scored 17 points in a 107–93 win. In the first of two matchups with Indiana’s All-Star team, the Kentucky All-Stars lost 102–82; Farmer had a bad shooting performance, going 5 of 18 from the field, including 2 of 9 from three-point range, for 15 points. In the rematch the following week, Farmer scored 19 points in a 112–100 loss.
Although he was popular state-wide and publicly stated his desire to play collegiate basketball for the Kentucky Wildcats, Coach Eddie Sutton was reluctant to offer Farmer a scholarship. After Farmer announced that he would visit other colleges and issued a deadline past which he would no longer consider Kentucky without a scholarship offer, Sutton relented, and Farmer joined the University of Kentucky. On April 13, 1988, more than 1,600 people watched him sign his letter-of-intent with Kentucky in the Clav County High School gymnasium.
Kentucky struggled during Farmer’s first year, finishing with a 13–19 record. Farmer’s high game of the season was against Western Carolina in Rupp Arena—15 points, four rebounds. three-for-four from three-point range. He was a crowd favorite whose love for hunting and fishing and his country drawl endeared him to thousands of Kentucky fans.
Prior to his sophomore season, Eddie Sutton resigned and was replaced by New York Knicks head coach Rick Pitino. After recruit Henry Thomas suffered an off-season injury to his anterior cruciate ligament, Kentucky was left with just 8 scholarship players, none of whom were taller than 6’8″.
Pitino and newly hired strength and conditioning coach Rock Oliver instituted an intensive conditioning program. The Lexington Herald-Leader noted that Farmer lost 12 pounds in the off-season, reducing his weight to 168 pounds, and Pitino praised his improved speed and endurance.
In a December 19, 1989, victory against Furman, Farmer attempted 7 three-pointers – tied for second-most in the game – as the Wildcats set an NCAA record for most three-pointers attempted in a game with 47, besting their own record of 41 set earlier in the month against Tennessee Tech. A week later, Farmer set a career-high in points with 21 – including three made three-pointers – as the Wildcats set records for the most three-pointers made in a single game (21) and most points ever scored against North Carolina but lost the game 121–110. The Wildcats closed out 1989 with a closer-than-expected 86–79 loss against eighth-ranked Louisville,
On February 15, 1990, in front of a record 24,301 fans at Rupp Arena, Farmer hit six consecutive free throws to help Kentucky overcome a career-high 41 points by LSU’s Chris Jackson and pull within a half-game of first place in the SEC with a 100–95 win. For the season, he averaged 7.0 points per game. Fans and the media nicknamed the team “Pitino’s Bombinos” for their fast-paced offense that relied heavily on the three-point shot, which contrasted sharply with the more deliberate offensive schemes run by Pitino’s immediate predecessors, Joe B. Hall and Eddie Sutton.
In September 1990, Farmer had a disagreement with strength coach Rock Oliver, returned home to Manchester, and considered leaving the Kentucky basketball team. Pitino, who was away from campus on a recruiting visit, called Farmer and scheduled a meeting with him for the following weekend, after which Farmer decided to return to the team.
In a December 22, 1990, win against in-state rival Western Kentucky, Farmer posted a new career high with 22 points, despite missing his first five three-point attempts of the game. He would not approach such scoring numbers again until a February 3, 1991, contest against Georgia, when he scored 16 points.
Farmer notched 20 points – one behind team leader Jamal Mashburn – in Kentucky’s final game of the season, a 114–93 win over Auburn. The win pushed Kentucky to a conference-best 14–4 record, but an SEC rule forbade declaring a team the regular season champion if they were ineligible for postseason play, as Kentucky was. Farmer was one of five players to average double-digit points per game (10.1); it was the first time since Kentucky’s 1977–78 championship team that so many players had averaged double-digit scoring
In a January 2, 1992, game against Notre Dame, Farmer entered the game after just three minutes when starter Dale Brown sprained his ankle. In the first half, he equaled his career high of 22 points – including five three-point baskets – en route to a new career-high of 28 in a 91–70 victory.
In the SEC Tournament finals in 1992, Kentucky faced three-time defending tournament champion Alabama, which was without forward Andre Perry, who suffered a broken foot in the semi-finals against Arkansas. Star sophomore Jamal Mashburn led all scorers with 28 points on 12-of-14 shooting, en route to an 80–54 victory and tournament Most Valuable Player honors.
Kentucky was seeded second in the East Region of the 1992 NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats held a narrow 62–59 lead with 8:25 to play in their first round matchup against Old Dominion when Farmer hit a layup that keyed a decisive four-and-a-half-minute, 15–2 run, helping Kentucky to an 88–69 victory. Kentucky’s next game, against Iowa State, was decided at the free throw line. Kentucky was called for 29 fouls in the game, and Iowa State hit 34-of-38 free throws, but in the final 1:27 of the game, Kentucky shot 14 free throws – making 11 – to win the game 106–98. Farmer, who finished with 14 points, hit four consecutive free throws in the final minute of the game. After the game, Pitino commented, “If not for Richie Farmer, we don’t win the game.” In the regional semi-finals, the Wildcats faced a rematch with third-seeded UMass. After the Minutemen cut a 20-point Kentucky lead to 2 with almost six minutes remaining in the game, UMass coach John Calipari was whistled for a technical foul for leaving the coach’s box while arguing that one of his players had been fouled on a loose ball rebound; Farmer, who finished with 7 points, made the resulting free throws, starting an 11–2 run that helped Kentucky to an 87–77 win.
In the regional finals, Kentucky trailed top-seeded Duke by 12 in the second half but battled back to force overtime. With 2.1 seconds left in overtime, Sean Woods hit a running bank shot to put Kentucky up one. Then, Duke’s Christian Laettner caught a long inbounds pass, faked right, and hit a shot at the buzzer to give Duke the 104–103 victory. The game, which ended Farmer’s playing career, is widely regarded as one of the greatest college basketball games of all time. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski later recalled, “The thing I’ll always remember about that game is Richie Farmer’s face as the ball went in. That, to me, helped me to have a better understanding of that game. … To me, that was the deepest emotion that was on the court, the emotion that was on Richie Farmer’s face.” Local media gave the seniors the nickname “The Unforgettables”. Collectively, they were voted as the Lexington Herald-Leader‘s 1992 Sportsmen of the Year.
At the team’s annual awards night, Athletics director C. M. Newton surprised the four seniors by hanging their jerseys in the rafters at Rupp Arena. Newton cited the seniors’ “unusual and outstanding contributions” to the program as reasons.
Richie’s basketball playing days ended, as they had begun, in Kentucky. He did not play in the NBA or try his hand at a career in an overseas league. Instead, he graduated with a double major in agribusiness management and agricultural economics and held jobs in a variety of fields in Lexington and Clay County, including sports marketing and insurance sales. “You have to be realistic,” Richie says. “When you graduate from the University of Kentucky you have a window of time and opportunity. I know a lot of guys who went and chased a dream for a couple years and then they come back here and people are like, ‘Where? Who? What?’ It’s been different with me—the people of this state have always supported me.”
Richie was inducted into the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012.
Interview with Richie Farmer, October 9, 2018