The Thing About Kentucky Basketball

Though we here at TTAF do our best to avoid obvious local biases (our love of bourbon notwithstanding), there are a few things which are such a part of our collective Kentuckian DNA that suppressing them is all but impossible. One such thing is Kentucky Basketball. In our state, basketball allegiances are more important than political ones, opinions on fashion essentially boil down to how much denim is appropriate in one ensemble, and UK’s team free throw percentage is scrutinized with twice the intensity as the peaks and valleys of the Dow Jones Industrial. In just three short days, another basketball season will begin, and ancillary concerns like our families, jobs, and sleep schedules will be pushed aside in favor of spending an unhealthy amount of time and energy following the exploits of a bunch of really athletic nineteen and twenty year-olds. (I’m only joking about our families, of course. They’re more than welcome to watch the games with us.) We thought we’d indulge ourselves a little and mark the new season by sharing some thoughts and memories in honor of our favorite team. Enjoy (except Louisville fans; we hope you get food poisoning).

Favorite Team By Year

Curtis: ’96.  The ’96 team is a sort of mythic entity in my mind.  I was only eleven when they won the championship and I have started to look back on that team like old men look back on how they used to walk up hill both ways, barefoot, and in the snow to get to school.  Is the ’96 team the best to ever play at Kentucky? Probably not. However, nine guys from the team eventually went on to the NBA, Tony Delk, Toine, and Ron Mercer (I remember watching him play in high-school on TV during elementary school) are some of my all-time favorites.

Josh: ’98. Cameron Mills’ three against Duke during the Regional Final comeback ranks right behind the birth of my son and my wedding day as the most formative moment in my life. Chills, every time.

Matt: ’96 or ’98 seems to be the eternal debate in Lexington. I’ll favor with ’96. Delk, Anderson, Mercer, McCarty, and Walker.

Drew: ’96. The ridiculous talent coupled with the cat-scratch shorts is almost too much to handle.

Favorite Player

Curtis: Jamaal Magloire is the second best thing to ever come out of Canada (the first thing being The Band).  He played with extreme ferocity, including putting Steve Wojciechowski in the Crossface Crippler in the Elite 8 on the way to a National Championship.  He was a character and a great talent ending his career as the all time leader in blocked shots at Kentucky.

Josh: If Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had stayed for more than one season, it would be hard for me not to pick him, but I’m going with Chuck Hayes on similar grounds. Chuck was probably never the best player on his team, even in high school, but no one made more of their ability, and I loved watching him play his butt off on both ends of the court.

Matt: Tony Delk. He led Kentucky through the 96 Championship with his high-arching three point shot. And while I realize he’s 6-2, which is a solid 7 inches taller than me, and not short at all, watching him on the court was awesome for short guys everywhere.

Drew: I’d have to go with Mark Coury Tony Delk. The only 6’2″ man ever with a 11’7″ wingspan. He was quick, aggressive, could shoot the lights out, never looked like he was trying too hard, and could dunk from half-court with his crazy arms – like Michael Jordan at the end of Space Jam.

All Time Starting Five and Sixth Man

Curtis: (I am paying no attention to position) Tony Delk, Anthony Davis, Jamaal Magloire, Jamaal Mashburn, and John Wall with Patrick Patterson as my sixth man.

Josh: (I’m only including guys I remember seeing play, so no Issel, Chapman, Bowie, etc.) PG: John Wall; SG: Tony Delk; SF: Jamal Mashburn; PF: DeMarcus Cousins; C: Anthony Davis; Sixth Man: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – I know this skews really recent, but if I’m building this team to win, rather than for nostalgic purposes, this squad gives me the best chance. (Just think of the press if I sub MKG for Cousins!)

Matt: Tony Delk, Jamal Mashburn, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Derek Anderson (healthy)

Drew: Wall, Delk, Mashburn, Cousins, Davis with Rondo coming off the bench.

Favorite Thing To Eat At Rupp Arena

Curtis: A soft pretzel and a frozen strawberry lemonade.

Josh: Half-time soft-serve ice cream from the window that always has a 200-yard long line.

Matt: Nachos. At pretty much any sporting event. With jalapenos.

Drew: Best soft-serve ice cream ever. Although it’s slightly awkward eating something in front of a bunch of people that requires you to repeatedly stick out your tongue.

Most Memorable Moment

Curtis: In 2003 Drew’s dad took us to the SEC tournament in New Orleans for our senior trip.  It was the best vacation I have ever been on and was too complicated to explain at length, but let’s just say that one of the nicest dinners I have ever eaten was paid for by Nike while old people yelled at us because we weren’t dressed to code.  Kentucky won the tournament by the way.  The SEC tournament trip made for an awkward moment while on my honeymoon when my wife asked if I had ever had a better vacation.  A close second is listening to Tom Leach call a game in which Jodie Meeks scored 54 points against Tennessee on a satellite radio in the middle of nowhere in Haiti.

Josh: I was there when Calipari’s first team (Wall, Cousins, etc.) beat North Carolina, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard Rupp as loud as when Wall went the length of the court, took the ball behind his back to avoid two defenders, and threw down a two-handed dunk in traffic. The noise was partly a celebration of the play (incredible in and of itself), but it was mostly a reaction to the feeling that we were “back” as a program after two years of being unwilling participants in the Billy Gillispie experiment.

Matt: Every time we beat Louisville. Or when One Shining Moment plays after a Championship, especially when we’ve beaten Louisville to get there.

Drew: What Curtis said.

Worst Moment

Curtis: #1 Christian Laettner #2 Billy Gillispie.

Josh: Re: the previously mentioned Billy Gillispie experiment – I was at Rupp when we lost to San Diego (on the heels of the more famous Gardner-Webb loss). At one point, the ESPN cameras found me and my three friends, all sitting in a row, heads in our hands, and they panned slowly across the four of us while the commentator said something about how representative we were of the way Kentucky fans felt at that moment. It was twice as terrible as it sounds.

Matt: Gillispie. Gillispie was hired the morning I got my wisdom teeth pulled. During his first year, I lived in Scotland, which means not only did I watch the losses to Gardner Webb and San Diego (and Louisville) via Slingbox, but I stayed up until 2 in the morning to do so each time. I also stayed up until 5 am to not watch a game that was canceled by a Tornado at the last minute. It wasn’t Gillispie’s fault, but I blame him anyway.

Drew: Gillispie.

Best Game You Ever Saw In Person

Curtis: The previously mentioned SEC tournament was great but we won it without any real effort.  The best game I ever saw in person was that same season when #10 Notre Dame came to Rupp.  We had great seats near the floor and watched as our lower ranked Cats dominated Chris Thomas and the Irish.  Cliff Hawkins has historically been one of my least favorite players at UK, but I remember being impressed with him that day.

Josh: January 3, 2004 (ESPN still has game recaps from this far back!) UK vs. North Carolina. Back and forth all game, Gerald Fitch hit a late three right in front of where we were sitting to clinch it.

Matt: Of all the exciting games that happen in Rupp, I’d say the most memorable is usually your first. For me, it was just a simple February game against Alabama. Nothing crazy happened, Kentucky maintained a respectable lead through the game and Rupp was quiet for the most part, but I was there for the first time.

Drew: I was sitting with Curt at the Notre Dame game, that was probably the best game I’ve seen in person. Although, I was there when Tubby started Brandon Stockton over RAJON RONDO, so it’s hard to tell.

Game You Wish You Had Seen in Person

Curtis: Other than any of the National Championship games that I have been alive for (3) I would have to go with the Tayshaun Prince game against UNC.  I was literally jumping on my parents’ couch when he hit his last of approximately 725 threes.  The greatest comeback of all time against LSU would have been nice to witness as well.

Josh: The Tayshaun Prince game. Five straight threes, including one from about 35 feet, to open the game against North Carolina, December 8, 2001.

Matt: The Tayshaun Prince game vs North Carolina being used already, I’ll go with the December 3, 2011 game vs. North Carolina at Rupp – the game many thought might be a preview of the National Championship, and the game where, ahead by one, Anthony Davis blocked UNC’s shot with 5 seconds to go to seal the victory. Rupp was electric.

Drew: I had a ticket to the Florida game in 2003 when they were No. 1 and we beat them by 75 points (approximately). The day of the game I became violently ill and had to give my ticket to my brother-in-law, who is an Oklahoma fan. I would have liked to have been there. I suspect he put something in my food.

Favorite Piece Of UK Memorabilia

Curtis: I have a denim Tony Delk jersey and warm up.  I was told that it was actually worn by Tony Delk and the guy who gave it to me could have possibly had the connections to acquire it, but I still have my doubts of its authenticity.  Either way it is hanging up in my closet.

Josh: I have a pen made out of the old floor of Memorial Coliseum, which is pretty cool. If I still had my denim Converse shoes from 1996, those would get the nod.

Matt: I don’t have much nostalgic memorabilia. I do still have the original “True Blue Fan” buttons and towels from 90s, but for me it’s just my pair of gym shorts.

Drew: Probably my 1995 Starter jacket before the Wildcat’s tongue was changed. How did they miss that?

96 or 2012?

Curtis:  If I have to pick the best team as far as talent I will go with 2012.  If I have to pick my favorite team then I will go with ’96. I think that the ’96 team is my favorite because I felt like I knew the players better back then.  Many of Kentucky’s players now are here for a year and then go on to the NBA.  I have no problem with that, because it means we are getting the best talent, but it does take away from the feeling of the guys on the team being part of Kentucky.  With that said I will certainly trade the warm fuzzy feelings for championships.

Josh: I feel like if I really took the time to work this out, my house would end up looking like John Nash’s shed in A Beautiful Mind. With my life on the line, I’ll say ’96, only because of the depth and style of play. Usually, the press is used as a gimmick, and hyper-talented teams don’t bother with it, but the ’96 team had a ton of NBA talent committed to constant pressure. The first five on 2012 are better, but from one end of the bench to the other, ’96 has the edge. Excuse me while I go clip out some newspaper articles and buy a lot of red string.

Matt: ’96. Again, just the ridiculous depth and all-time great players. And I agree with Curtis, I love winning championships utilizing any dynamic, but I especially love winning championships with players I get to know over the course of 2-4 years.

Drew: I have to say ’96 because, well, did you see them play? But 2012 was a lot of fun. A lot.

Here You May Wax Poetically About Kentucky Basketball

Curtis:  If I try to think hard about it, I can specifically remember about four events before my eleventh birthday.  When I say specifically I mean that I can tell you where people were sitting, what we were eating etc. etc.  I obviously remember other events but not like these.  One was when I broke my leg as a little kid.  The other is when my grandfather died (I ate chicken Mcnuggets with honey on the way to the funeral).  The other two are UK basketball related.  One was when Christian Laettner made every boy in the state of Kentucky weep in 1992 and the other is the comeback against LSU in the video above.  People outside the Big Blue Nation just don’t get it and I cannot explain it accurately.  During March in Kentucky you watch the UK games in school instead of learn and when the other games are on the teacher presses the mute button and allows you to watch St. Bonaventure play Purdue while you do Mad Minutes and learn about which Native Americans were farmers and which were hunter-gatherers.  My grandmother would gladly leave my grandfather for Travis Ford.  My wife would gladly leave me for Patrick Patterson.  My mom made me go ask Kenny Walker for his autograph when she saw him in the mall and I was too young to know who he was.  Old men get in fights at dialysis clinics over Kentucky basketball.  I love the state where I live and grew up and Kentucky basketball is just as much a part of my state as stock exchanges, car factories, national parks, and historical sites are to others.

Josh: There’s this quote from Nick Hornby’s book, Fever Pitch:

“…So please, be tolerant of those who describe a sporting moment as their best ever. We do not lack imagination, nor have we had sad and barren lives; it is just that real life is paler, duller, and contains less potential for unexpected delirium.”

Now, to be fair, I don’t consider anything having to do with Kentucky Basketball the best moment of my life, but I was only half-joking earlier when I said that Cameron Mills’ three-pointer against Duke was incredibly formative for me. I was twelve then, and was sharpening the obsessive edge of my fandom. When that seventeen-point comeback was complete, I knew that the elation would always be worth the stress and occasional misery that comes along with being a die-hard sports fan. The times I have spent with friends and family (my son now included) cheering for the Wildcats are some of the best memories of my life. I won’t apologize for that, and I can only hope that they bring all the excitement and joy and fellowship to my son that they’ve brought to me.

Matt: I have some family that are Louisville fans, they often tell me there’s more to life than college basketball. That explains a lot. What can I say, growing up in Lexington, you’re raised to live into Kentucky basketball. Start ’em young, raise ’em right. It’s how I was raised; it’s how my kids are being raised. No apologies.

Drew: I’ll explain it this way. About a year ago, when my kids were born (twins!) and the nurses wheeled them into our room, the first order of business was removing the hospital issued hats and replacing them with matching UK hats. And this was after trying to convince my wife that “Keith” and “Bogans” were perfectly acceptable names for our children.

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Categories: Ground Ball Democracy

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