I am joyous! Maybe millions of other University of Kentucky (UK) Wildcats men’s basketball fans around Kentucky and the world are, too! UK won its eighth men’s NCAA basketball championship last Monday night (April 2, 2012).
The University of Kentucky (UK) basketball team probably has the largest following of any sports team in the state of Kentucky – by far. One reason is that Kentucky has no NBA teams, NFL teams, or major league professional baseball teams.
As a boy, I became a big fan of the University of Kentucky men’s college basketball team. They were the one sports team that I was a bit fanatic about.
At age 12 in 1970 I cried when Kentucky led by center Dan Issel fell to Jacksonville led by its center Artis Gilmore in the NCAA tournament, ending the top ranked Kentucky team’s bid for a national championship. I think most of you sports fans can appreciate how someone can cry over an upset loss by one’s favorite team.
Back in the 1970s few college basketball games were televised. I enjoyed listening to Cawood Ledford, “The Voice of the Wildcats,” call Kentucky’s games with emotion on the network of radio stations that broadcast all UK basketball games.
My College Years
In 1976 I enrolled as a freshman at UK. This was partly due to its quality library, relatively cheap cost, and its reputation as the best academic university in the state. But my enrollment was probably also partly due to being a big Kentucky Wildcats basketball fan.
I actually camped out Saturday night on at least a few occasions to get a quality student ticket in the ticket distribution on Sundays. On one occasion I even camped out Friday night -- I think that was for a big 1978 nonconference matchup against UNLV that was to be televised nationally. However, for those tickets several other students lined up on Thursday evening! I don’t think I was even in the first hundred students in line when I got there Friday!
The ticket distribution procedure for students was quickly modified to prevent Thursday night camping (after all UK has classes on Fridays!). And the procedure has been modified a few other times in the years since then. But following UK basketball remains a special experience!
The John Calipari Era
As an adult, I’m less fanatic. In fact I hadn’t been to a UK basketball game for several years until a close friend who holds season tickets let me use his tickets to most games for the 2009-10 season – to all of the 2010-11 season’s games – and to some games during the 2011-12 season. What a blessing! I saw the beginning of the John Calipari era!
There’s something about the joy, anticipation, fellowship, etc., that occurs in Rupp Arena (Kentucky’s home court) with over 24,000 other fans watching a game, especially a big matchup with a highly ranked rival. Home losses are relatively rare – in fact Kentucky is undefeated at home during John Calipari’s three years as coach. Kentucky currently owns the longest active home court winning streak in the country.
The joyous emotions that erupt with a win and the commiseration in a loss create a bond in a sense. Perhaps bonding even occurs over the years between the President of the University of Kentucky and the Kentucky Governor, as they often sit beside each other near midcourt at home games.
Yes, UK basketball is The Sport in Kentucky! Even the Kentucky Derby, the memorable annual horse race in Louisville doesn’t match Kentucky basketball fever!
Perhaps it’s appropriate that I published the original version of this article on April 1, 2011, April Fool’s Day. In a sense it is foolish to be so devoted to following a college basketball team.
But what a marvelous joy during John Calipari’s first season, 2009-10, to see John Wall unselfishly making assists and hitting sensational shots – as well as watching the entire memorable team play. That 2009-10 Kentucky team became the first in history to have five players selected in the first round of the annual NBA draft, including the #1 overall pick John Wall, as reported by UKathletics.com and numerous other sources.
UK even had the #1 overall pick, John Wall. However, they did not win a national championship or make the Final Four®.
The 2010-11 UK team enjoyed more success during March Madness® than any UK team since the 1998 NCAA champion squad. How wonderful for Kentucky to be in the 2011 Final Four.® This group of overachievers deserved its accolades.
But for we true Kentucky fans (fanatics?), winning the national championship is what makes a truly successful season. Saturday evening, April 2, 2011, UK’s 2010-11 season ended with a one point 56-55 loss to Connecticut in the national semifinals.
For the third year in a row, during the 2011-12 season UK arguably had the best freshman class in the country. In fact this young 2011-12 Kentucky team typically started three freshmen and two sophomores. But it became the favorite to win the NCAA title. They played together unselfishly as a team. And they lived up to their expectations by defeating Kansas 67-59 on April 2, 2012 to win the national championship. Winning NCAA title #8 is fabulous!
Kentucky’s basketball team has an illustrious history that puts it #1 all time in many national college basketball categories. But Kentucky is only #2 in the category that matters most to many fans: the number of NCAA titles. Before John Wooden’s phenomenal success at UCLA in the 1960s and 1970s, Kentucky led that category, too. We Kentucky Wildcat fans loved it when Kentucky added its eighth NCAA title this year, moving one closer to UCLA’s total of 11.
It’s amazing the effect a Kentucky win or loss has on people. I notice that people here in Lexington, Kentucky seem happier and friendlier after a big Kentucky win than after a loss.
Now I hope Coach John Calipari and his staff can succeed in recruiting some additional players for next season to replace those likely to be in the NBA. We want to repeat as national champions! This fan is already looking forward to next season! Go Cats!
Note: This article is virtually identical to one published earlier on another website.
UKAthletics.com; “Five Wildcats Selected in First Round of NBA Draft”; UKAthletics.com June 24, 2010; (Website accessed April 7, 2012); http://www.ukathletics.com/sports/m-baskbl/spec-rel/062410aag.html