Tuesday, October 20, 2009

In the Beginning....

I can honestly say that I don’t remember a time when Kentucky basketball wasn’t a part of my life. I was born into a family that was (and still is) crazy about UK basketball. I grew up watching the Cats play.

Winters were spent sprawled on the living room floor either watching or listening to games with my Dad. You knew to settle in about 10 minutes before tip off and there was to be no moving around during the game. No walking in front of the TV. No talking. Games were serious business.

As I got older and started to play basketball myself, games were a chance for Dad to teach me. I learned about zone defenses, pick and rolls, and full court pressure by watching Kentucky. The proper techniques for bounce passes, free throws, and setting screens were demonstrated by players like Ford, Delk, Mashburn, and Rhodes.

And then, some time around the start of 6th grade I fell in love. Most girls that age were pouring over Tiger Beat magazine. They had posters of the New Kids on the Block on their walls. I read the Kentucky Basketball Yearbook and had a UK basketball poster hanging over my bed. My love? Travis Ford.

Now, don’t get wrong, I loved all my UK basketball players, but Ford was by far my favorite. I read his section of the yearbook so often I could recite it by heart. I knew his height, his weight, all his stats from the year before, and more non-traditional things like his favorite ice cream and his favorite movie. During games, I watched him all more than anyone else. I talked about him with my friends. The highlight of my life was when my Dad went to a game and brought me back a 3 point card signed by Traivs Ford. At one point I was going to marry him.

That season (1993-94) was his senior year. It was the year of Jeff Brassow’s last second tip in to win the Maui Invitational. It was the year Ford hit a record 50 free throws in a row. It was the year of the Mardi Gras Miracle down at LSU. But most importantly, it was the year that I got to see my first UK game--Live.

It was UK vs Mississippi at Freedom Hall in Louisville on Wednesday January 12. My Dad, my best friend Melissa, and I sat mid court in the balcony row B (yes, I remember all that). The minutes leading up to the team coming out for warm up were some of the longest of my life. (We were in our seats as soon as the doors opened.) And, when they ran out, I got my first glimpse of the guys who were rock stars in my world. I’m kind of surprised that I didn’t pass out.

What I did do was take about 3 rolls of film worth of pictures (remember film?) on a camera with no zoom and a flash that you had to attach externally. Not one of them was any good--all the players were about the size of ants--but to me they would be priceless. We all cheered for the whole game, me so loudly that I couldn’t talk the next day. And, while I don’t remember much about the game itself (UK won 98-64) I do know that it was one of the best days of my life. And I’m pretty sure that my mom and my sister got tired of hearing me talk about the game in the weeks and months that followed.

After that point, there was no going back. I had been fully initiated into the Big Blue Nation and I was destined to bleed blue for life.

Here's video highlights from the Mardi Gras Miracle game (incidentally I went to bed before the miracle come back, it was the last time I ever didn't watch the end of a game, no matter how horrible things were going.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

It's Basketball Time in the Bluegrass!!!

With basketball season nearly upon us, everyone is talking about our new coach and what he is going to bring to (or should I say bring back to) Kentucky basketball. Excitement is at an all time high. Rumors and speculation are running wild.

The coach himself, however, cautions that we need to keep in mind that we have a young team full of new players who have to learn a whole new system of basketball and things will be shaky at the start. I contend, however, that the learning curve doesn’t just apply to the players (and the fans) as they learn the dribble drive offense, but to the coach as well. There is nothing quite like Kentucky basketball and it can take an outsider a little while to learn to ropes.

Over the years I’ve had the task of trying to explain what Kentucky basketball is and what it means to several people. What I’ve found is that UK basketball is one of those things that defies description.

Sure, you can list the stats--7 NCAA Championships, 13 Final Fours, 48 Tournament appearances, 43 SEC regular season titles, 25 SEC tournament Championships, 1988 games won--but there is so much more to it than the numbers.

It’s about the love that the people of Kentucky have for their team. It’s about the pride we feel when we watch them play. It’s about the heart ache we feel when they lose and the glee we feel when they win. It’s about people who pass season tickets down to their grandchildren and drive 3 hours both ways for every home game.

It’s about the people who show up for every game and those that never see them play. The ones who fly to Maui and Alaska for pre-season Invitationals. The people who throw game day parties to watch on HD TVs, those that watch in bars with 300 of their closest friends, and those that spent years crouching around radios to listen to Caywood.

It’s about kids that grow up playing ball in driveways and backyards, on courts made of dirt, concrete, shingles, and grass with backboards tacked to the sides of houses and barns and stuck up on light poles. It’s about kids who take thousands of last second shots to beat teams like Louisville, Duke, and Florida. Kids who grow up idolizing people like Macy, Issel, Givens, Delk, Mashburn, Rondo, and Patterson.

How do you put all of that into words? What can you say that encapsulates everything that this team is to everyone? You can’t. You can’t possibly understand Kentucky basketball unless you have lived Kentucky basketball.

But I would like to try. I would like to try and explain what Kentucky basketball is, at least to me. So, what I’m going to do is, in a series of posts, try to highlight different aspects of my relationship with the Wildcats. It may not work, but hey, why not at least play the game?

Monday, October 5, 2009

An Open Letter to Lexington

Dear Lexington,

You know I love you. I must. I’ve lived here for 9 years now and for the most part I can’t complain. I love your horses and your fences--both the wooden ones and the stone ones. I love your downtown with the fun bars (putting in one named the penguin was a big plus). I thoroughly enjoy living in a town where I can buy booze, eat at a nice restaurant, and go to the mall.

But, don’t get a big head. You’re not perfect. Your super pollen kills me in the spring and fall. You have a decided lack of good live music venues. And don’t get me started on your traffic problems. Scratch that. Someone needs to point this stuff out and, like any good friend, I’m going to volunteer.

First, let me say that I feel I’ve been very patient with your wonky traffic. I’ve put up with streets that change names three (or four) times. I’ve dealt with the funky light system on Nicholasville Road. And I’ve never said a word about the fact that New Circle can’t seem to decide if it wants to be an expressway or main street. But these days you are really testing my patience.

We all knew that the new hospital was going to require some road work--after all, everything UK does requires digging up some portion of road somewhere--and the randomly changing lane closures on South Limestone during rush hour and basketball game traffic do keep things interesting, but that schtick is getting old. Please finish that stuff up so that I drive over asphalt again and not the giant metal plates you insist on putting down every time you dig a giant hole in the road. It’s killing my shocks and suspension.

Also, I thought you were crazy when you decided to close portions of South Limestone (aka Nicholasville road, aka US 27) for a year. Really? An entire year!?! Is that necessary? Especially when you didn’t start this project bak in May after all the students left, but decided to wait until August, just before they all came back (and just before football season).

I won’t harp on you too much for the Old Frankfort Pike closure, since I’m rarely on that side of town, but it does seem to be a pretty major hassle for those who live up that way (I’m told that people do live on the North side).

And it seems in poor taste to close a large section of Main Street at the same time as both S. Limestone and Old Frankfort Pike/Newtown Pike are closed. Remember when I said one of the things I loved about you was downtown? You are making it really hard for me to get there theses days.

I’ve managed to do okay so far, navigating the continually shifting maze of open/closed intersections and road. Sure, it now takes me 30 minutes to go the 1.5 miles between work and church and getting downtown from Nicholasville road requires an advanced degree in geometry and navigation. But those are minor nuisances compared to what is coming.

Must you really insist on closing Limestone between Cooper and Virginia? That stretch of road is really hard to navigate around, since Cooper is not set up to handle a large volume of traffic and the back roads between Virginia and Cooper are even worse. I will commend you on deciding to do this work over a weekend and not during the week (or on a football game weekend). But, really this is crazy talk. If you insist on doing this, I will have to break up with you. It’s been a good run, but I’m starting to feel like you are pushing me away. Let me know when you decide to let me back in. Until then.....

Your Friend,


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Amazing Thoughts on the Amazing Race Week 2

Week 2: Vietnam
  • A Moving Pit Stop is the best idea ever! Although with some of these teams, I'm not sure they ever know where they are, so this may have been overkill.
  • One of the Gay Brothers has the prettiest eyes ever. Too bad he bats for the other team.
  • Race Rule #1: Read your clue people! All the way through--twice if you have too.
  • I still love the Globetrotters and we need more water dragon puppet theaters in the US.
  • Why in the world would you think that making sexy eyes at a puppet would make the puppet come to you? Or dancing for that matter?
  • Race Rule #2: Yelling at your partner doesn't solve anything. It just makes them mad and may lead to a failure to comply with Race Rule #1 (which is probably what lead to the yelling in the first place). Also, screaming at random people on the street will not make them inclined to help you. Do what your mother always said and ask nicely. Please is a magic word in any language.
  • There is nothing better than seeing a team that encourages each other in a positive way. I love Zev and Justin You can tell Justin knows just how to get the most out of Zev without being mean, hateful, or counter productive.
  • You never ever want to be the only team that chooses a particular detour unless you know it is something that you can do very well and very quickly.