- Todd Svoboda
- Hometown (Last School)
- Cincinnati, OH (Princeton)
- September 14, 1971
Todd Joseph Svoboda was born September 14, 1971, in Middletown, Ohio. Todd played for Kentucky as a walk-on in 1992-1993. Todd was a 1989 graduate of Princeton High School in Cincinnati where he averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds as a senior. He also shot 62.0% from the field and 70.0% from the line. He was named MVP of Cincinnati’s East-West All-Star Basketball Game. He also lettered in water polo and tennis in high school and earned All-State honors in water polo. His sister, Tammy, played basketball at the University of Cincinnati and Stanford; his father, Wayne, was a doubles captain for the Purdue University tennis team in 1965-66.
Todd Svoboda was a 6-foot-9-inch center who could shoot. Tragically, his mother died from cancer when he was in high school. Svoboda wanted to be a college athlete like his father. NKU, then in Division II, needed players, and the school had the perfect program — a 3-and-2 partnership with Kentucky that allowed NKU students to transfer to UK after three years.
After three years he would do just that. But no one foresaw he’d be such a good Division II athlete. In 1991-92, in his third season, he averaged 18.1 points and 10.9 rebounds at NKU. He even won the Great Lakes Valley Conference championship in tennis, playing singles No. 5.
Svoboda was a transfer from Northern Kentucky University. He started three years at NKU where he is 10th on the all-time scoring list with 1,114 points, third in rebounding with 770 and fourth in field goal percentage at 56.2 percent. He also finished his career as NKU’s top rebounder by average (9.1 per game). NCAA rules allowed him to walk-on and play immediately because he was an academic transfer here to complete his degree in chemical engineering under a dual degree program between UK and NKU. And after trying out for one of the most talented college basketball teams in the country, then-coach Rick Pitino gave him a spot as a walk-on. Those 1993 Wildcats went on to earn a spot in the Final Four.
Todd Svoboda won the hearts of Kentucky fans, not only for his solid play in occasional mop-up appearances, but with his tireless enthusiasm from the bench.
Rick Pitino awarded Svoboda with the Sacrifice Award in 1993.
From the 1999 Kentuckian:
For UK fans, Coach Rick Pitino putting in walk-on Todd Svoboda was like singing the traditional “Na Na Na Na Hey Hey Hey Good Bye” to opposing teams before the game ended.
For Svoboda, every minute played as a Wildcat basketball player fulfilled a lifelong fantasy.
“You know, to play in Rupp Arena — that’s just a dream,” Svoboda said.
If Svoboda had been told in the spring of 1992 that he would bury a three point basket in the closing seconds of a NCAA Southeast Regional Championship game against Florida State, he would have said “dream on.”
Svoboda left his superstar status as the 10th leading scorer and the third leading rebounder at Northern Kentucky University to complete his chemical engineering degree at UK and attempt to walk on the Wildcat basketball team.
“I knew I was coming toward the end of the school year,” Svoboda said. “I knew right away that I wanted to walk on. I am just glad I made it.”
After making the team, Svoboda knew what role to play. “In the beginning of the season, Coach was like, ‘You know you’re probably not going to get in the game.’ I’d just be a practice player to prepare ’em,” Svoboda said.
Just getting in the game was the icing on the cake for the 6-9 senior.
“That’s just an added bonus,” he said. “You look down and see ‘Kentucky’ across your shirt and you play on the floor … aw, that’s great. Especially with all the fans.”
And the fans adored Svoboda. A blowout never went by without Rupp Arena ringing with chants of “We Want Todd,” and fans jumping to their feet every time Svoboda touched the ball.
“If I go in, that means we’re winning,” Svoboda said. “(Pitino) was like, ‘Todd, do you recruit these people and bring them down?’ I was like, ‘No’ …Whoever they are, I like ’em.”
The trait that was so great about this unassuming, likable player who had a buzz haircut and who blushed when he smiled, was that he really didn’t know why people liked him.
“I really can’t give a good answer for that,” he said, laughing. “Whatever it is, I wish I knew. I’m just glad they like me. I can’t imagine what Mash goes through.”
Todd’s cult hero status wasn’t because of his athletic prowess or because he was a Renaissance icon of the successful combination of brains and braun. It was more because he seemed to be a plain old student.
He was a person that rode his bike down South Limestone St. to try to get to his Nonequilibrium Thermodynamics class on time.
He was a person who hung around in the back of the locker room eating cheeseburgers while the other players were being barraged by sports writers.
He was a person who missed his father and wanted to be just like him. He was a person who always had his warm-up jersey off during the game.
And most of all, he was the team’s biggest cheerleader.
“This is a team without a lot of outward emotion and (Svoboda) has given this team this outward emotion,” said Coach Rick Pitino.
In 2014, Todd was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called an osteosarcoma: a fast-growing cancer that starts in the bones. Under care at the UK Markey Cancer Center, he beat it.
Svoboda, father of three, is currently a Senior Engineer at the East Kentucky Power Coop in Winchester, Kentucky.
Former UK basketball player turns to UK Markey Cancer Center after rare bone cancer diagnosis