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.)