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An Outside Visitor Chronicles His First Trip to Rupp


If you listened to the radio on Saturday, you know that Connecticut journalist/blogger Aaron Torres was in town to catch his first Kentucky game. We first learned of Aaron from this article he wrote in 2009, after seeing Kentucky and UCONN play in Madison Square Garden. He spoke about how passionate the UK fanbase seemed to be and we told him then, he had to come to Lexington. Well he was here this weekend, covering the game for KSR and seeing the sights of Big Blue Nation firsthand. He is a great guy who fell in love with Lexington, whose experience on the radio suggests that Kentucky fans seemed to like him as well. This is the first of two articles he is writing for KSR on his experience:

When I reflect back on my first trip to Rupp Arena, the biggest thing that sticks out, is the welcome message fans received right prior to tip-off. It came from the P.A. announcer, and happened when he belted out the following sentence: “Welcome to Rupp Arena, home of the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball.”

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m unsure if Kentucky has the “greatest” tradition in the history of college basketball. I simply don’t know. Lots of others schools have great traditions, and I’m sure if you asked the fans at Duke, Kansas or Carolina, they could probably state a pretty compelling case for their school.

But while I don’t have the answer to the first question, what I will say unequivocally is this: If Kentucky doesn’t have the “greatest” tradition in college basketball history, it’s certainly the most unique. You feel it from the moment you drive up to Rupp, until the second you walk out the door, and pretty much every second in between. In Rupp Arena, tradition practically drips from the roof tiles.

And above all it is those traditions, and the memories of those traditions that I will take with me as I am not getting set to leave Kentucky. While I might not remember what happened on the court in a week or a month, it’s the non-basketball memories that will stick with me most clearly.

I’ll remember getting to the Hyatt hotel attached to Rupp Arena at 9:15 in the morning (nearly three hours before tip-off), and seeing dozens of blue-clad Kentucky fans milling around, having a few beers and eagerly awaiting the game. I’ll also remember walking around with KSR’s Matt Jones an hour or so later, and seeing probably 500 times as many people doing the same. Apparently I wasn’t the only one enjoying the experience of being at Rupp.

I’ll also remember getting into the arena and seeing the banners hang in the rafters, as the players warmed up and the fans slowly started to trickle in. I’ll remember eating the lousy pregame meal that Drew Franklin warned me about on the radio Friday, as well as snapping a quick picture of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, after my buddy Mark begged me to before I left town earlier this week. As he told me, “AT, help me out. MKG is my college basketball man-crush.” Actually Mark, he’s a man-crush for a lot of us.

Of course I’ll also never forget the over-the-top, kinda-cheesy, yet equally cool player introductions right before the game. My initial thought was, “Are fireworks really necessary for a mid-afternoon, mid-January game?” I then followed that up just seconds later by thinking, “Man, that was actually kind of cool,” before it eventually just turned to, “Damn, I wish somebody lit off fireworks when I walked into a room.” Unfortunately, unless UK’s athletic department is in charge of my next birthday party, I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon.

Speaking of the introduction, one of my favorite parts was seeing the players walk back to the bench afterward, as John Calipari sat alone in a chair 10 feet from the sideline, a spotlight shining directly on him. At that moment, Calipari wasn’t so much basketball coach as he was mob boss alone in the back of a restaurant, and honestly, it was freakin’ awesome. Not to mention, it was the perfect symbolism for the Calipari Era at Kentucky. The spotlight was shining bright, as Cal sat alone on his throne.

Once the game started, the first thing I noticed was that common press box etiquette simply doesn’t apply at Rupp Arena. As a general rule, the media aren’t supposed to “cheer” for either team when they’re covering a game. After all, they are professionals. And this is a job.

Thankfully, Rupp Arena isn’t most places, and most of the people sitting around me had no problem making it quite clear who they were rooting for. Hell, the woman next to me practically knocked me unconscious throwing her hands in the air every time Kentucky made a basket. And you know what? I thought it was funny. If you can’t have fun at a basketball game, why even bother going?

And then there was the crowd, which was simply fantastic. Quite frankly, entering the game, I wasn’t sure what to expect. In all honesty, I had heard stories both locally within Kentucky and from outside the state that UK crowds weren’t always the most boisterous. While I can’t speak for any game other than Saturday’s, I found the fans to be informed and totally into everything that was going on. If there were 23,500 seats in Rupp Arena, 23,475 of them had butts in them at tip-off, rearing to go from the first possession. The fans were loud more often than not, and when they weren’t loud, it was usually only because Alabama had killed a Kentucky rally with a big shot get them right back in the game. If you didn’t see Saturday’s game, that probably happened at least 20 times, and is no knock on the Wildcats. Alabama absolutely came to play Saturday.

Speaking of which, I should probably talk a little bit about the basketball, and admit how impressed I was by both teams. Simply put, this was one of the hardest played games on both ends of the court I’ve seen in a long time. The calendar may have said “January 21,” but it felt like early March at the SEC Tournament.

And while I’ll leave the heavy-hitting analysis to the guys at KSR, what I will say is that if I had one personal takeaway, it’s that this Kentucky team has heart. Lots of it. Given the circumstances for Alabama (the road venue, two days after a bad loss), I’d say they played Kentucky about as tough as anyone this season. For the ‘Cats to hold on for the victory- despite foul trouble and some, umm, bizarre whistles from the refs- said more than 20 blowouts against Arkansas, Auburn or LSU ever will.

As a matter of fact, I actually thought Calipari summed up the game pretty well when he said to the media, “I told the guys, enjoy this win. It was a tough game.”

At first glance, that might not mean much. But how many coaches would’ve said the same, at this point in the season, especially to a team so young? Not many, but it’s safe to say Calipari’s point was clear: “This wasn’t just “another” win. It meant more than most of the others.”

Really though, if you want me to sum up why Kentucky is different than every basketball program on the planet, I’ll fast-forward beyond the basketball action and to when the game went final. Because if you’ve never been to a game at Rupp, you probably won’t believe at what I’m about to tell you…and if you have, well I apologize for covering something that might seem like total common sense to Big Blue Nation.
After a long day at the arena, an incredible game, and all the postgame fluff that us sportswriter types have to do (which is mostly just scrounging around the corridor looking for free food to take home with us), I went back out to the court to start writing this piece that you’re hopefully still reading.

But before I could get there, a funny thing happened: I turned the corner, and well, there were well over 1,000 fans sitting in the lower bowl at Rupp Arena. My initial reaction was that maybe they were friends and family of the players, but seriously, nobody has that many friends. Then I thought maybe there was a high school game or something being played following Alabama-Kentucky.
Nope, instead those 1,000 people were sitting around, watching John Calipari conduct a postgame radio interview. Like me, they were having way too much fun at Rupp, and weren’t ready to call it a day. Of course, they also do that after every single game, not just the afternoon I was there.

And really, I thought that summed up Kentucky basketball better than anything. I’d heard all the stories, read all the blog posts and hung out in the state for a few days, but it wasn’t until that moment that I realized just how important this team is to the people who cheer for them.

Now, does that make Kentucky the “greatest” tradition in the history of college basketball? Honestly, I’m not sure.

If not though, they’re pretty darn close.

Aaron Torres is a freelance writer who is writing two pieces for KSR. This was his first, and the second, about his time in Kentucky in general will run later this week.

Be sure to follow Aaron on Twitter, and also be sure to check out his first book, about UConn’s 2011 National Championship team. It’s called “The Unlikeliest Champion” and is available in both paperback and Kindle, on Amazon and at UConnBook.com.

Article written by Matt Jones

51 responses to “An Outside Visitor Chronicles His First Trip to Rupp”

  1. Sleeveless Vest

    Welcome to KY Aaron!

  2. yeah first!!

    damn

  3. topcat

    good stuff, great writing

  4. Red Rooster

    I like this guy Torres. Great writer, and seems like a good guy. I am sure I would enjoy his company.

  5. CliffFrankLou

    Is Aaron old enough to shave?

  6. Hal

    this guy has written a book? might wanna add some typos if you’re gonna post on KSR. can’t have you showing up franklin or beez.

  7. well done

    aka the big cheese ball

  8. WhatSheOrder?FishFilet?

    I like these stories of guys experiencing Rupp Arena for the first time. Makes you proud to be a UK fan and humbles you knowing that you get to experience something so special.

  9. C-A-T-S Cats Cats Cats

    Glad to see our fan base portrayed in such a positive light. Doesn’t happen much from outsiders.

  10. Cal Purnell here

    Great Read! Hope you didn’t introduce him to Tipton or Cutler!

  11. Not Billy Reed

    Great job well written. Welcome to the big BLUEgrass state!

  12. Han

    Someone link him to the reason UK is #1 post at CatsIllustrated or whatever they call themselves now.

    First in about every category except for Titles. First in attendance year after year, too. We’re no bandwagoneers.

  13. Bankshot

    Well done. Come back anytime.

  14. Cat fan in Ohio

    Aaron, thanks for sharing your views as an “outsider.” You are part of the family now!

  15. hb

    Great job. Glad to have your contributions on KSR. I will look forward to more of your work in this and other outlets for years to come. Glad you could explore our wonderful town.

  16. Carlos (It Is Not A) Toomer

    Nice story on ESPN about how Tipton almost cost us from getting Pitino.

    http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/story/_/id/7432671/how-rick-pitino-got-kentucky

  17. GoCats2010

    “leave the heavy-hitting analysis to the guys at KSR”

    BAHAHAHAHA

  18. Lincoln park

    Always interesting to read an outsider’s perspective. Entertaining read.

  19. BLY 4EVA

    WELCOME TO BIG BLUE NATION!!!!

  20. Cat fan

    Hey Herald Leader, why don’t you hire this talented writer? It is time to put Tipton down.

  21. Ryan

    I enjoyed that. Thank you, Aaron.

  22. TulsaCat

    Nicely done.

  23. catfan68

    I for one think Aaron did a nice job…he portrayed our fanbase in a postive light…this doesn’t usually happen so I appreciate his writing.

  24. Big Blue 66

    I see my truthful thoughts on this guy was taken down, nice job of KSR.

  25. Cat fan

    16. Interesting link, thanks!

  26. Big Blue 66

    So I will put it in a less KSR theatening way…I dont need young guys with zero experience and no real knowledge to validate UK’s status.

  27. greatest tradition, no question about it....

    nice post.

    Just to touch on this though…

    “lots of others schools have great traditions, and I’m sure if you asked the fans at Duke, Kansas or Carolina…”

    So Aaron Torres, check this out. Duke is not in the conversation. They are a “one coach program.” Duke B-Ball IS Coach K. They have been AWESOME under Coach K, but that is all they got. Similar to Syracuse, and your UCONN Huskies. Those programs, while good in the recent past, are not in the conversation for “greatest tradition.” They had one GREAT coach. That is it.

    UCLA really is also in this boat as well (Wooden), and IU to some extent…they are pretty much about Bob Knight..

    Ponder this- we have won the NCAA title with 4 different coaches- Rupp, Hall, Pitino, Smith. There is a very good chance we will have 5 different coaches very soon.

    We have been GREAT for every decade going back until the 1940s.

    We have Final Four visits in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s & 90s we were one bum ankle away from it in the first decade of the 2000s, then we were there again in 2011.

    Can any other program stand next to that? FACTS, DUDE!!!!

  28. UKeith

    I always wondered what happened to the kid from the Wonder Years. Now I know. Good write up. Very well written.

  29. Bob Loblaw

    Great post but I will have to let you know I won’t be reading your book. I can’t relive the missed free throws that cost us the Final Four. :-(

  30. Bob Loblaw

    #16 I still don’t understand why tipton still gets a press pass for the game. I’ve watched him during the game and he hardly watches the game at all.

  31. capnmonkey

    26. If KSR only posted things that you needed there’d be alot less sports stories and alot more advertisements for products that help people to not be debbie downers

  32. jpizzle

    Well Aaron’s no “playmate” but I guess he was a pretty good guest blogger. That’s how KSR rolls Steve Scott

    Seriously though, that was cool and I look forward to reading the second post later this week. Now #FREETHEPODCAST

  33. Partisan UK Hack

    Loved both articles. Great to hear your perspective and thanks for the props.

  34. go cats

    Aaron…you single?

  35. WKY Dude

    #33…well, never mind.

    Anyway, great job Aaron. Thanks for writing this piece and sharing.

  36. Nappy Boy

    Nice job, but isn’t it time to admit that you were actually born on Friday?

  37. Uncle Ted

    Kids got a bright future ahead of him

  38. Teddy Bruschi

    Torres……Connecticut……26 years ago. Mother of God.

  39. Denim Brown

    The Cats need a shooter like me.

  40. Checkmate

    Whining about the “lousy pregame meal”? How much did you pay for it? I bet it was zero. Love how the media and wannabe media types get to attend sporting events/games for free, park for free, eat “lousy food” for free, sit in the best seats in the arena/stadium and yet they still complain. Anyone want to trade jobs? What a bunch of spoiled pinheads. My seats are in the top of the arena and I pay to sit there and to park and to eat. Let’s trade places. When you start paying for things, THEN you can complain. Until then…

  41. Housethatruppbuilt

    38, LOL

  42. JimR

    Great write-up, Aaron. As, a UK fan for the past 60-plus years, I enjoyed seeing you introduced to our passion.

  43. SeoulCat

    Nice article, but the kid lost points with me when he said that Duke could make a legitimate claim to being the greatest program of all time. I’ll give you that Kansas (#2 in wins, but equally important: they gave birth to the game) might make sense, maybe, if you see things through Jayhawk-filtered goggles. North Carolina? Kentucky-lite, but, hey, they gave the world MJ.

    Duke? In what regard? How?

    Wins? Nope. Championships? Nope. NBA stars? Nope. Longevity and tradition that stretches back 100 years? Nope. How? And don’t say Coach K is the all-time winningest coach, or I’ll puke so hard that my chunks take flight and not return to Earth until they find Storrs, Connecticut.

  44. Sheeeeiiit

    Very nice post. Im glad you like UK. Im sure you are learning why we have the best tradition in college basketball. Especially when you throw Duke in the mix. UK fans will not stop telling you how wrong you are. Check the facts and you will see. We are not just blabbing. We got the stats and the facts to back it up.

  45. Dakota Cat

    Those 1000 people couldn’t move. They were blue hairs and had no clue the game was over. Hell, they probably didn’t know if it even began.

  46. Fake Chester

    That’s not a buncha bull crap

  47. bluebiscuit

    Aaron, I can tell by your slightly self-conscious look in that photo that you are embarrassed that you are not wearing UK Blue like all of those people behind you. Your nicely written article makes it sound like you are being objective, but it’s pretty obvious you are dying to be a Cat fan.

  48. NotTheSlickistRick

    Great article with a unique perspective from an outside fan of the game.

  49. derek

    Great take. Very good job of capturing your perception of UK basketball in words.

  50. DCFan

    I loved Aaron’s “Madison Square Garden” article and had emailed him (at the time) to tell him so. He graciously responded back to me, and I was impressed with his professionalism. Welcome Aaron!

  51. booney

    @38, go back to your single-wide, you bum.