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Emery's success withstands the test of the time

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MTEN 09_10 UK_USC Web 01.jpgAs the wins piled up, Dennis Emery carried on obliviously, unaware of the longevity of his career at Kentucky and a historic milestone that quickly approached.

Nearly two weeks ago, Emery, the longtime men's tennis coach at UK, notched his 500th career win at Kentucky.

"I didn't really realize we were coming up on that until the night before," Emery said. "I didn't really have a lot of time to think about it."

Emery has been at UK so long - 28 seasons, to be exact - that it's become easy to overlook the sustained success Emery's tennis teams have had. Twenty-six NCAA Tournament appearances, a Southeastern Conference championship in 1992, three Elite Eights and two NCAA singles finalists are only half the story of Emery's success.

In this day and age where the durability of coaches to sustain consistent success is replaced by the knee-jerk reaction to find instant triumph, Emery is in a shrinking pool of coaches -- tennis, basketball, football, etc. -- that has remained at a school for a long period of time.

His longevity, more than the number 500, is the true testament to his success at UK. Emery ranks only behind men's basketball coach Adolph Rupp (876) and baseball coach Keith Madison (735) for all-time wins at Kentucky.

"In today's college athletics, it's very difficult in any sport to get to 500," said assistant coach Cedric Kauffman, who has spent the better part of the last decade-plus playing under and coaching with Emery. "In tennis, it's very difficult with the amount of matches we play. I think there are only a handful of coaches or less that have reached his plateau. He's one of the best coaches in college."

When Emery took over the UK program in 1983, the program was underwhelming. Just a year earlier, Emery's little-known team at Austin Peay defeated UK twice, and yet Emery jumped at the chance to take the UK job when the position opened.

Upon accepting the job, Emery had only a few but important objectives in his vision for the team.

"When I came to Kentucky, I decided I wanted to stay at one place for 30 years and see what you could accomplish if you were actually committed to do that," Emery said.

What he's accomplished speaks for itself.

Emery, who has a career record of 589-387 in 33 years of collegiate coaching, has led 15 players to 29 All-America honors. Among active coaches, Emery ranks No. 8 on the career wins list and is second in NCAA Tournament berths.

Among his most crowning achievements were Jesse Witten's national runner-up finish in 2002 and Carlos Drada's national runner-up in 2000. Drada now coaches the women's team at UK.

Win No. 500 against Alabama on March 28 was a chance for Emery to finally bask in some personal glory. Emery received a crystal ball during the South Carolina match last week to commemorate his 500th win at UK, but the longtime tennis pro took more satisfaction in the celebration of his players.

"The thing that meant the most to me is it seemed to mean a lot to the current players on the team and I got a lot of texts from former players," Emery said. "That really put it into perspective more than anything. I felt better about the fact that our players, current and former, took so much pride in it."

Emery called the secret to his prolonged winning the ability to recruit good players and shepherd talented assistant coaches, but Kauffman said Emery doesn't give himself enough credit for his high tennis IQ and for building one of the nation's top tennis programs.

"I think you must be patient," Kauffman said of Emery's best attributes. "That's No. 1. I think he is very competitive, No. 2. And No. 3, I think he does his homework. I think his skill is to be able to grow players from freshmen to seniors. Everybody that comes around here gets better."

This year's men's tennis team is what one would come to expect of an Emery-led team. The 11th-ranked Cats have a star in sophomore Eric Quigley and a budding compliment in sophomore Alex Musialek. From top to bottom, it's probably one of Emery's most balanced teams.

UK, which will host No. 13 Illinois and Murray State on Wednesday, has displayed traits of a top-tier team, defeating then-No. 2 Virginia earlier in the season. In fact, Emery calls it one of his best-suited squads to make a run for a national title, the only void on Emery's sparkling resume.

"My goal was to win a national championship," Emery said. "We haven't done that yet. We feel like we've got in place the team that we need to be able to do that over the next three years."

Even if Emery never captures that ultimate dream, it's clear he's become one of the best coaches in the ranks of men's tennis. Win No. 500 was only a reminder of that.

"I have never felt lucky to be at Kentucky," Emery said. "I've felt blessed to be at Kentucky. I don't believe there are any coincidences. I feel like things work out the way they're meant to work out. I'm just really pleased that on my personal journey that I've been able to do most of it at the University of Kentucky."

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