As sports betting operators begin positioning themselves for the upcoming Kentucky launch, the next step is finding Kentucky sportsbook ambassadors to help advertise to their customers.
Kentucky, a state with no major professional sports teams, is a hotbed for college athletics. So it’s not crazy to assume that when Kentucky sportsbooks start advertising in the Bluegrass State, they’ll use some of the area’s biggest former stars.
Let’s be clear: We could have gone with many former Kentucky Wildcat basketball players here. And it’s likely that one former UK basketball player will be on the list when these ambassadors are announced.
But just anyone can’t be a sportsbook ambassador. An ambassador needs to be someone who’s essentially a local legend, someone who’s gone on to represent their home state or school well. A great candidate must also fit the part of a sports gambling ambassador, which would rule out Rex Champman. Chapman, a UK basketball legend and a popular follow on Twitter, was at one point addicted to horse racing and went to Gamblers Anonymous.
Additionally, don’t expect to see any active NFL players on this list, considering how the league looks at gambling. It may be a few years before we see an active player boast a gambling endorsement deal. So, you won’t be seeing former Louisville star Lamar Jackson here.
No active college athlete will appear on this list as well. While some highly-touted prospects command sizeable endorsement deals, the state’s NIL laws prohibit student-athletes from taking endorsement deals from gambling-related entities.
Here’s a look at which individuals would make for good Kentucky sportsbook ambassadors.
John Calipari — Kentucky basketball coach
John Calipari is one of the most high-profile coaches in college basketball. And a deal with a sportsbook would be a major splash in the Kentucky market.
Calipari boasts a 387-113 record in his 14-year tenure with the Wildcats. Under his tutelage, Kentucky won the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
One can assume that sportsbooks have or will line up to call the legendary Kentucky coach. But it may not happen due to recent gambling investigations by the NCAA. Active coaches, staff members and student-athletes cannot wager on sports, per NCAA rules.
Given what happened at Alabama and Iowa, it might be too soon for an active coach to make a deal.
In 2018, when the Supreme Court decided sports betting would be up to individual states, Calipari wasn’t outraged like some.
“There is all this money out here, and the gambling is not going away,” he told reporters. “It’s there. Maybe everybody shares in it because it’s going to happen anyway… If anybody’s going to be doing anything to (threaten) the integrity of the sport, they’re going to do it whether it’s legal gambling or illegal gambling. I don’t think that matters. That’s how I see it.”
And it may never happen. But Calipari would be quite the candidate.
Anthony Davis — former Kentucky basketball star
Anthony Davis was the best player on Calipari’s 2012 championship team. That season, he averaged 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and an astounding 4.7 blocks per game.
Davis currently plays with the Los Angeles Lakers. The NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement allows active players to become sportsbook ambassadors.
Theoretically, Davis would be a great candidate to become an ambassador for a sportsbook in California. But the state has yet to legalize sports betting. And it’s not like Davis would make for a great Louisana sportsbook ambassador, considering New Orleans Pelicans fans have a sour taste in their mouths, years later, from his exit.
Given his successful NBA career (and Hall of Fame trajectory), Davis would be a great candidate to represent his collegiate state.
Rajon Rondo — former Kentucky basketball star
Another Kentucky great, Rajon Rondo played 957 games in his NBA career. He last played for the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2021-22 season.
Rondo is a two-time NBA champion, four-time all star and three-time assist leader. He’s a four-time all-defensive player and led the league in steals during the 2009-10 season.
Rondo spent two years with the Wildcat program. He was an SEC All-Freshman team member during the 2004-05 season.
In short, Rondo is a future NBA Hall of Famer. And while another state or sportsbook could eventually poach him as an ambassador (looking at Massachusetts because of his Boston Celtics career), it would be wise for an operator to bring his talents back to where he played college ball.
And let’s not forget Rondo telling a fan that he hopes they bet on the Lakers.
Dan Issel — former Kentucky basketball star
It would be crazy to come up with a bunch of former Kentucky basketball stars and not include Dan Issel on the list. He averaged 25.8 points per game during his three-year collegiate career, scoring 33.9 per game in 1969-70.
Issel, the program’s all-time leading scorer, not only dazzled in college but starred at the professional level. After suiting for the Wildcats, he dominated for the ABA’s Kentucky Colonels. In his first year in the ABA, Issel averaged 29.9 points and 13.2 rebounds while shooting 48.5% from the floor. After playing with the Colonels, he had a successful NBA career with the Denver Nuggets.
Issel is the oldest name on this list at 74 years old. But he’s arguably one of, if not the, greatest Kentucky basketball player in the school’s history. And having played his collegiate career in a state with an absolutely rabid fanbase, he’d be a hot commodity for any sportsbook looking to make a splash.
Tim Couch — former Kentucky football star
There is no former UK football player with a better collegiate resume than Tim Couch.
In 1998, Couch threw for 4,275 yards and 36 touchdowns in 11 games. Over his three-year Wildcat career, he tallied 8,435 yards and 74 touchdowns.
Many football fans outside of Kentucky Couch not living up to his pre-draft hype, and just another tale of an air raid offense star floundering at the next level.
But should any sportsbook target a college football star from the state of Kentucky, Couch would be a prime candidate.
Ja Morant — former Murray State basketball star
This one is a long shot. Especially with the recent off-court issues.
But, should Ja Morant clean up his image, a sportsbook would be crazy not to try to work out an ambassador deal.
Until the off-court issues recently, Morant was a part of the next generation to take over the NBA. He’s arguably one of the most popular players, especially with the younger generation. And he just so happens to be one of the best basketball players to have played at Murray State.