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Four hours from now we’ll be saying hello to a brand new year and leaving behind one that was full of memories — some positive, some negative. It was a bad year for Kentucky basketball, one of Cal’s two worst seasons ever, but the basketball Cats still provided us with many great moments before it all crumbled in the NIT. Kentucky football finished at the bottom of the SEC, again, but progress was made off the field and a Nation was awakened.
So to welcome 2014 and to say goodbye to the past 365 days, Matt, Tyler and I listed our 14 favorite memories from 2013. Please leave your favorites in the comments section.
“Big Blue Fan In The Morning”
Singing Joe’s “Big Blue Fan In The Morning” is my favorite Kentucky song of 2013, and possibly ever. It makes the list of KSR’s favorite memories of the year for Joe’s persistence on the radio, his many performances in public, and the story of him looking for love at his class reunion. I’m a big fan of Joe and this song will be played at the Franklin household for a long, long time.
Check out: “Big Blue Fan In The Morning” at Meijer; “Big Blue Fan In The Morning” at the fair; KSR sings “Big Blue Fan In The Morning”; “Big Blue Fan In The Morning” at Keeneland, ft. Marcus Lee and E.J. Floreal
Nerlens Noel and Kelly Melton attend The Kentucky Derby
If we were to rank the best photos of 2013, I can’t think of any that would top the photo of young Kelly Melton, a 7-year-old leukemia patient, waking Nerlens Noel up for their trip to the Kentucky Derby. Nerlens could’ve chosen anyone to accompany him on the red carpet at Churchill Downs, and he chose a friend he met at the UK Children’s Hospital to be his special guest.
Kelly’s interview in this Courier-Journal video will tug at your heart strings. That voice…
Kentucky football spring game
Though the wins and losses column of Kentucky football’s first season under Mark Stoops was nothing to brag about it, the excitement around the program was at an all-time high, as evident by a record crowd at the annual spring game. 51,000 fans showed up at Commonwealth Stadium for the intrasquad scrimmage to usher in the Stoops era, topping the previous year’s turnout of 4,500 by almost 47,000 fans. It was the second-highest attended spring game at the time, ahead of programs like Texas, Texas A&M, Georgia, Ohio State, South Carolina and Florida State.
The unbelievable support around the struggling program sparked a surge in recruiting that is still going strong today. It’s only a matter of time before it translate to the field, Cats fans.
Taking selfies on an airplane with Marilyn Manson
Every so often, something so bizarre happens in life where you look back later and wonder if it ever really happened at all. KSR’s Burbank, California-bound flight with Marilyn Manson sitting between us is one of those moments. I was there, completely coherent, and still wouldn’t believe it if not for the 25 pictures sitting on my phone as evidence.
Can you imagine the stories and photos if we had actually gone to his house???
MRS. TYLER THOMPSON…
Calipari Fantasy Camp
When I walked into the Joe Craft Center that Saturday morning in September, I knew it was going to be a special weekend. For months, we’d heard the hype about this freshman class, how they were the best in college basketball history, and could lead Kentucky to their ninth national championship, or dare we dream, an undefeated season. Imagine my delight when I walked into the gym and saw all of them on the floor together, putting on a show for the fantasy campers. Fantasy, indeed. The weekend just got better from there: meeting Jay Bilas, who ended up being the nicest and most genuine media member I’ve ever met; standing next to John Calipari at his house during the 2012 “One Shining Moment” video (when I asked him if the video ever got old, he smiled, shook his head and said “never”); seeing DeMarcus Cousins take a selfie in front of Cal’s house; and sitting at the scorer’s table during the Alumni Game. Months later, I’m still pinching myself to make sure it all happened.
Women’s football and basketball clinics
I’ve attended the football and basketball women’s clinics in the past, and per usual, both were fantastic this year. The basketball clinic is always big and impressive, and everyone left happy with a piece of the national championship floor. However, I have to say I enjoyed the football clinic much more because of the raw, genuine excitement over the Mark Stoops era. 523 women attended the clinic this year, up 400 from 2012. It was one of the first times the public was able to meet the staff, and you could tell Mark Stoops and company were blown away by the outpouring of support. There was a point in which Mark Stoops was at the podium unable to start his speech because the women were cheering too loudly. The look on his face was priceless. Rebuilding the program will be a long process, but it’s a lot easier when you’ve got the Big Blue Nation in your corner.
The Drew Barker Diaries
One of the cornerstones of the rebuilding process is Drew Barker, the 2014 quarterback who sparked the Yahtzee craze when he committed to UK over South Carolina back in May. Getting Barker alone was a huge coup–most thought he was headed to South Carolina–but since May, he’s proved to be Kentucky’s most valuable recruiter, along with Vince Marrow. Barker is so dedicated to helping the Cats that he agreed to do a diary for KSR, documenting his senior season and giving us scoop on the 2014 class. I worked with Drew on the entries, which was incredibly easy because the kid is a walking recruiting pitch for Kentucky. It was a true treat to get to know Drew, who is by far the most mature teenager I’ve ever encountered. It’s hard not to get excited about the future of the program when speaking to him, and even if for some reason he doesn’t live up to the huge expectations from the BBN (I think he will), he has a future in the sport in coaching or commentating.
One of my favorite things about my job is getting to travel to away games during SEC play. Last season, I got to go to Auburn, Tuscaloosa, Oxford, and Athens, and despite some bad basketball, I thoroughly enjoyed each trip. Even though all of those towns are drastically different during basketball season than football season, it was fun to tour them and get to see what the team is like on the road. I’m looking forward to this season’s SEC road trips, which will hopefully include some more wins, and some extra time in Oxford, Mississippi.
UK vs. UofL
I wanted to include at least one game on this list, and it came down to either the win over Florida last season or the Louisville game. While the Florida game was awesome and totally unexpected, the afterglow and importance of the Louisville win bumped it to the top. There was blood in the water on Saturday, and for once, the team wanted the win just as much as the fans. While I’m sure there will be more bumps on the road for this young team, Saturday’s win was huge for momentum and cohesion. It may go down as the most important non-conference win of the John Calipari era, and gives the Cats’ tournament resume a huge boost. In Cal’s words, the team “grew up,” and seeing both the team and fans celebrate after the game is a memory I’ll hang onto for a long time.
Football Signing Day
I never cared one iota about Football Signing Day until this year. To me, every new football signing class was just a random assortment of people, only notable if there was a particularly good one from Kentucky or if someone had a uniquely awesome name (Shaq Love for instance). But this year was different…I followed all of the last minute Signing moves, helped report at least one big commitment (the Jason Hatcher switch) and attended the news conference in which the new class was introduced by a giddy head coach. It was the one aspect of UK Athletics that I had always ignored and this year, it was much fun. The site had one of its biggest days ever and it became the day that I realized that maybe, just maybe, UK could be a football school
Andrew Wiggins Day
No we didn’t get Andrew Wiggins. But the day of his decision was one of the most fun of the year for me. Our radio show called 25 guests ranging from the Sklar Brothers to Jay Bilas to Tony Schiavone and everyone guessed where he was going. Josh Hopkins called in from the TNT plane (and handed the phone to Noah Wylie) and we took the decision live on the air, infuriating the Rush Limbaugh fans in Lexington who had their show pre-empted by one hour. We of course messed up the technical aspect, causing iHeart listeners to lose the feed and all in all, it was a perfect KSR day…except we didn’t get Wiggins.
Teaming with Jason Taylor
Tyler already mentioned the Calipari Fantasy Camp, but I have to note again what a great time it truly is. I have been fortunate enough to participate for the last two years and it is always one of the highlights of the season for me. Through the camp, you meet a lot of interesting people from all over the country and form relationships with the most random of folks. I was teammates with former Miami Dolphin Jason Taylor (who handled my inability to hit a jumper fairly well), was coached by a Hall of Famer in Del Harris (who handled my decision to shoot less well) and became friends with numerous folks, including referee Tony Greene, who is a great guy. There are no better three days of the year and I can’t wait to do it again.
Excitement of Ole Miss Night
Last year’s basketball season wasn’t the most positive and since Tyler took UK-UL, I will focus on the one time I was giddy during the 2013 season…when Kentucky won at Ole Miss. That game, in which the Cats fought back on the road to beat Marshall Henderson, saw the best Nerlens Noel performance of his career, an amazing offensive game by Kyle Wiltjer and the come from behind victory that gave us all hope that the team could make another Tournament run. It all came crashing down soon after in Gainesville with a loss and a Noel injury, but for that night, optimism reigned throughout the Big Blue Nation…and it was a giddy feeling.
The Many KSR Travels
Thanks to all the great fans here, we have been able to take so many amazing trips this year, that it is hard to really believe. We covered the Masters for Izod/Maxim, the US Open, Indian Wells and Cincy for Tennis Channel, went to the Breeders Cup for Twin Spires and numerous other cities following the basketball Cats. We met UK fans at every stop along the way and had some of the greatest experiences of my life. It was a tremendous year and has me even more excited for 2014
Happy New Year, y’all!!!
By Drew Franklin on ©December 31st, 2013 @ 6:30pm
UK’s first 2014 commitment sat down with Sports Illustrated to discuss his recruitment to Kentucky, life as an emerging star in high school and who he modeled his game after growing up. Towns wanted to be the next Magic Johnson until his body grew too big to play the point. That’s when he turned to tape of Len Bias and Hakeem Olajuwon.
When asked if he has a taste of Big Blue Nation, he said right now he just has the appetizer and he can’t wait to get to Lexington.
Kid’s so well spoken.
By Caleb Epley on ©December 31st, 2013 @ 5:30pm
As 2013 comes to a close, now is a good time to review how our two returning sophomores are performing. Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein turned down a likely spot in the NBA draft to pursue a national championship this year. With a new influx of talent, both have seen their roles change significantly through the first part of their second seasons. Below is a summary of their statistics before SEC play last year and this year:
2012: 20 MPG 7.8 PPG 5.9 RPG 2.1 BPG 61.6% from the field
2013: 28 MPG 8.8 PPG 8.2 RPG 4.1 BPG 63.2% from the field
After the departure of Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein has assumed the role of UK’s leading shot-blocker. And he’s done pretty well. His 4.1 blocks per game is nearly double what he averaged at this point last year, even though his minutes have only increased by 40%. It’s not just his shot-blocking that has improved: Cauley-Stein has increased his numbers across the board and is currently shooting an impressive 63.2% from the field. Despite the added talent of this year’s squad, Willie has improved his production greatly and will continue to play a leading role going forward.
2012: 27 MPG 14.0 PPG 6.2 RPG .5 APG 64.2 % from the field
2013: 18 MPG 4.8 PPG 5.9 RPG .6 APG 45.5% from the field
At first glance, it seems Poythress has regressed from this point last year. However, the numbers might be a bit misleading, as Poythress has assumed a different role on this year’s team. At this point last year, Alex was attempting to fill the role of the team’s go-to scorer. Remember, that at one point early last season Alex scored at least 20 points in four straight games. This year’s team simply doesn’t need Alex to be a scorer, and his stats reflect it. Despite seing a 33% decrease in minutes, Alex’s rebounds and assists are nearly the same. While his decrease in field goal percentage is pretty disappointing, Poythress is impacting the game in other ways. Hopefully, his shooting will improve throughout the rest of the season.
By Drew Franklin on ©December 31st, 2013 @ 4:30pm
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— Happy New Years Eve, KSR readers! Everyone have big plans tonight? I’ll be ringing in the New Year at Skybar in downtown Lexington, the opposite of what the Kentucky basketball team is doing to welcome 2014. The Cats are putting in work all day/night during Camp Cal with no time for celebration, seen here in this photo from @KentuckyMBB:
Free throws and wall sits over champagne and kisses.
— That Alex Poythress dunk over Marcus Lee was filthy. Who wants to see more of that from Alex in games? **Raises hand.**
— The 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions for Matt Elam are still moving further and further in Kentucky’s direction, now sitting at 60 percent ahead of Alabama. The John Hardin defensive tackle is four days away from announcing his final decision and confidence is high around the state that he’ll stay home to attend the University of Kentucky. As Chris mentioned in his recruiting roundup earlier today, Kentucky quarterback signee Drew Barker isn’t betting his life on it but he expects his good friend to join him in UK blue. At this point I believe Alabama would be the surprise pick, one that would devastate Kentucky football fans.
— Josh Hutcherson’s appearance in Rupp Arena continues to make national headlines and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down. The photos were featured this morning on Good Morning America and on popular websites such as Perez Hilton, New York Daily News and ABC News. I know The Hunger Games series is big — the first movie grossed over $691 million worldwide and was the highest-selling DVD of 2012 — but who knew his visit to the Louisville game would be such a big story? Move over, Ashley. There’s a new star in Big Blue Nation. (Still love you, Ashley.)
— This video of the Wisconsin football team reacting to Randall Cobb’s game-winning touchdown makes me like the Wisconsin football team.
That poor Bears fan in the middle.
— On today’s podcast we reminisced back on 2013, discussed the future of Chane Behanan, and urged our listeners to Pay It #McForward today by buying a meal for a complete stranger. The response to the #McForward movement has been overwhelming. Listen to the story that got it started and more, online at TalkRadio1080.com.
By Cody Daniel on ©December 31st, 2013 @ 4:30pm
As 2013 draws to a close and conference play inches closer with 2014 only a few short hours away, let’s take a look at how each of college basketball’s superstar freshmen have played throughout their nonconference schedule.
- Minutes per game: 30.2
- Points per game: 21.3 (Leads NCAA Freshmen)
- Rebounds per game: 8.0
- FG%: .548 (.377 from three)
- Double-doubles: 4
Up to this point, Jabari Parker has solidified himself and the top freshmen in college basketball, and maybe even the top player overall. Parker’s NBA ready scoring ability has lifted him to double digit scoring numbers in every game thus far including eleven 20+ point showings. Offensively, Parker can and has done it all this season from low post moves to creating his own mid-range shot to hitting clutch three pointers. Not only is he an offensive juggernaut but he is also a rebounding machine with eight a game. Jabari Parker has drawn comparisons to Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James for good reason, he is a star. His athleticism is very underrated but a little bit more polished defensive game wouldn’t hurt either.
Overall Grade: A+
- Minutes per game: 29.6
- Points per game: 18.1
- Rebounds per game: 10.6
- FG%: .564
- Double-doubles: 9
- Scored in double figures every game this season
- Scored 20+ points in five games
- Latest NBA Mock Draft position: 6th
Julius Randle exploded onto the college basketball scene after finishing each of his first seven games with a double-double. Randle has proved night after night why he is a very special player with his ability to completely dominate teams with his physicality in the post. To take his game to the next level during conference play, being able to hit some jump shots and reduce his 3.2 turnovers per game would leave a smile on the faces of Kentucky fans. Not to mention, drastically improve the Cats chances for a 9th National Championship
Overall Grade: B+
- Minutes per game: 31.0 (Leads team)
- Points per game: 15.9
- Rebounds per game: 5.4
- FG%: .470 (.341 from three)
- Double-doubles: 1
- Scored in double figures 11 of 12 games
- Scored 20+ points in four games
- Latest NBA Mock Draft position: 2nd
Let’s try to be realistic when it comes to Andrew Wiggins. The expectations placed on his shoulders might have been a little too high with the LeBron James comparisons although there is no denying this kid is something very special. The biggest cause for concern with Wiggins is his passive nature, which is scary for a guy who has scored in double figures in all but one game and scored 20+ points in four games. If Wiggin’s late game heroics in the near comeback on the road against Florida where he single handedly carried Kansas is any sign of Wiggins taking the next step, Kansas will be a team nobody wants to play come March.
Overall Grade: A
- Minutes per game: 30.2
- Points per game: 12.5
- Rebounds per game: 7.6
- FG%: .500 (.389 from three)
- Double-doubles: 4
- Scored in double figures 11 times
- Latest NBA Mock Draft position: 7th
This highlight reel of a human being has played very well and consistently through the first 13 games of his college career. Gordon has found himself to be nearly un-guardable around the rim with ferocious dunks and crafty layups rarely seen by someone of his size. His tremendous athleticism has allowed him to be a constant force on the boards as well. Aaron Gordon is likely a 1-and-done player, but during conference play he must show an improvement in his jump shooting and free throw shooting (.452%) if the Wildcats’ dreams of a deep tourney run will come true.
Overall Grade: B-
- Minutes per game: 21.6
- Points per game: 10.8
- Rebounds per game: 6.9
- Blocks per game: 2.3
- FG%: .667
- Double-doubles: 2
- Scored in double figures 7 times
- Latest NBA Mock Draft position: 3rd
At 7’0 with a 7’5 wingspan, Joel Embiid is an absolute load in the post. Embiid has utilized each game this season to show us exactly how good this kid could end up being. Joel runs the floor exceptionally well and finishes powerfully in transition, which could be credited to his soccer and volleyball background. Still a very raw product, but Embiid has begun to dominate offensively, defensively, and on the boards on a nightly basis and his draft stock has risen because of it. Kansas is known for their big men and Embiid could very well be the next big thing to come out of Kansas.
Overall Grade: B+
*All mock draft positions are taken from Bleacher Report. To see the full first round projections, check out http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1893515-2014-nba-mock-draft-jabari-parker-overtakes-andrew-wiggins
Coach Cal brought the helmet back out after Alex Poythress threw one down over the top of Marcus Lee in practice yesterday. He also did a first with the Helmet Dunk award by recognizing an opposing player, applauding Russ Smith for his nasty dunk on Julius Randle on Saturday. Cal called Smith’s dunk one of the best he has seen this season.
But was it better than courage roaring in Monday’s practice?
Happy final day of 2013! One of the greatest (?) television traditions on this day are the New Year’s Eve Countdown shows. Every year, each network and cable news channel parades out their “top stars” for you to spend the final moments of your year with, along with musicians who had no where else to be. Some shows are nice enough to start at 11:30, so you only have to watch the countdown for 30 minutes, while others start at 8:00 PM for four hours of quality (?) television. If you’ve decided to stay inside on New Year’s Eve and are trying to decide which channel to watch, Funkhouser is here to help with:
Funkhouser’s Guide To New Year’s Eve Celebration Shows
8:00 – 10:00 PM – A Toast to 2013 with Kathie Lee and Hoda Kotb – “Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb are joined by celebrities as they’re reminded what happened in 2013, since they’ve been inebriated by 11:00 AM every morning this year”
10:00 – 10:58 PM – NBC New Year’s Eve with Carson Daly – “The countdown for 2014 begins in Times Square, for those who can’t stay up to midnight, and are naturally put to sleep by Carson Daly.”
11:30 PM – 12:30 AM – NBC New Year’s Eve with Carson Daly – “Jane Lynch co-hosts in NBC’s bizarro version of CNN’s New Years Eve with Anderson Cooper & Kathy Griffin. Also more Carson Daly.”
2:30 – 3:00 AM – Last Call with Carson Daly – “Why not? Someone might actually be awake to watch this…”
8:00 – 10:00 PM – New Years Rockin’ Eve Presents the 30 Greatest Women in Music – “Ryan Seacrest, Jenny McCarthy and Fergie countdown great female artists. Fergie walks off set mid-show when she finds out she didn’t make the cut. Two hours of seeing Lorde ranked in all 30 spots on the list.”
10:00 – 11:00 PM – Dick Clark’s Primetime New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2014 – “Seacrest, McCarthy and Fergie wait for an hour as the announcer finishes reading the longest television title in years.”
11:30 PM – 12:30 AM – Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2014 – “Seacrest makes a public announcement of his New Year’s Resolution to never try anything like Million Second Quiz again, vows for Matt Lauer’s job. McCarthy goes on yearly quest to make out with every military person in Times Square. Fergie sulks about not making the Top-30 list earlier in the evening.”
11:00 PM – 12:30 AM – New Year’s Eve Live – “Counting down to 2014, hosted by Mario Lopez. Check out all the performers that couldn’t make it on NBC or ABC. Also, Panic at the Disco! We should have just done the Saved By The Bell reunion we discussed in July, but MPG and Tiffany Amber Thiessen declined, telling us they were on successful cable shows… we wouldn’t know.”
9:00 PM – 12:30 AM – New Year’s Eve Live with Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin – “Will we vow to never have Kathy Griffin on our show again for the fourth year in a row? Will Anderson Cooper giggle like a little girl after a fart joke? Will Griffin’s 94 year old mother, Maggie, get to the bottom of three boxes of wine? Find out the answers to all of these questions tonight at 9:00 PM.” (The actual blurb on the cable box says, “No Information Available.” That’s about right…)
9:00 PM – 12:30 AM – All-American New Year – “Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Bill Hemmer ring in the… you’ve stopped reading haven’t you? What if we told you Willie and Korie Robertson are going to be on to talk about Phil? You know, Phil Robertson? Duck Dynasty? Have you been on Facebook in the last two weeks? Also: Susan Boyle performs.”
Happy Holidays dear readers! I hope that you all had an enjoyable Christmas break and that you continue to revel in your time off to end 2013. I know that I’ve been absent from the site for a little bit–for reasons that you’ll soon see–and, to those of you who have been anxiously awaiting my next post (Hi, Mom!) this time has been filled with an anxious, ridiculous, soon-to-be-ludicrously-euphoric feeling that is the same one I felt during my holiday travels. If this does indeed sound familiar to your holiday travails, then maybe you too engaged in the frivolity and Kafkaesque cheer of long distance train travel on Amtrak!
Flying is quite expensive these days. It seems especially expensive to fly out of Austin in a northerly direction. So when plans were made to spend Christmas in Chicago, we weighed all of our options according to price and amount of time spent traveling. Driving is probably the cheapest and takes about 18-20 hours. Flying is the most expensive but would, with a direct flight, only take around 7 hours (including arriving early and waiting for baggage). The third option, the little pig in the brick house, is Amtrak.
Turns out Austin is on the Texas Eagle line, a direct route from San Antonio to Chicago. It was about $150 cheaper, round trip, than flying for a coach seat with a stated time of only 28 hours. What everyone will tell you is that you don’t take the train if you are worried about being somewhere, only if you want to go somewhere and enjoy the journey. So because driving means you have to stay awake, and kind of sucks, and because it was relatively cheap, we decided to embark upon the great American rail journey knowing only that it would be some sort of adventure, whether good or bad.
It did not disappoint. So many things, small and large, happened during this trip that I’m almost not sure where to begin. They continue to happen as I’m writing this an hour outside Austin on the return leg. For instance, right now the elderly Japanese man in the booth across from me is blowing a ridiculous amount of blood into his handkerchief. I am now seriously frightened about the plague which I have likely been infected with many times over on this train.
I should probably start at the proper beginning because it sets the mood of the entire train trip. It was a bright, cool Sunday morning in Austin, Texas…
Part 1: Time Is On My Side
The train was leaving at 9:30 in the morning and Amtrak recommends that you arrive an hour in advance if you’re going to check luggage. Unlike airlines you get to check two bags for free and carry on two bags plus whatever “personal items” you have. This meant that I was awake by 7:30 having packed the night before, needing only to put all of the cold food into the cooler before my brother picked Erin and I up in his cop car around 8:15. The Austin Train station is somewhat hidden in downtown, right off of N. Lamar, right on the river, and there’s not much to it. The tiny single room, downtrodden building right across the tracks from a sizable, derelict warehouse covered in graffiti gives off a real rust-belt vibe absent in most of Austin.
Having well and thoroughly prepared, we were able to drive around in circles for 10 minutes trying to find the entrance to the station, which is almost as hidden as platform 9 and ¾. Finally finding it, we grabbed all of our bags out of the car, said our farewells to my brother Jaron, and walked into the station as he pulled away. Now, being a bit of a stickler when it comes to punctuality, I had been checking my newly downloaded Amtrak app to ensure all morning that the train was on time. And right up until we stepped up to the window to check bags, it was. Giving our bags to the Amtrak guy, he informed us “You know this train is delayed until 1:05, right?” Well, no, guy, I didn’t. In fact, neither the Amtrak app nor the “text alerts” I had signed up for seemed to function at all.
(The Japanese man across from me is now staring down his bag of chestnuts and chewing them more intently and with more focus than I’ve ever given anything in my life. If chestnuts are a life’s purpose, he is winning.)
Luckily, for us and a few others, it was Sunday and we had someone to come pick us up. Dropped back off at home there was time for breakfast now, so we cooked and dawdled and then were standing outside waiting at 11:55 for my dad to pick us up. I checked the website and, of course, the train had been delayed again until 3:45. Unfortunately, my father doesn’t own a cell phone so it was too late to keep him from driving to pick us up and then having to go home again. This precise scenario happened twice more, the timing working out with ridiculous perfection.
3:45 turned into 4:15. 4:15 to 4:50. I had time to watch the whole Cowboys game against the Redskins, another thing I can blame Amtrak for. I was calling their customer service, checking the website, and refreshing the app constantly and every time I got a different number from each. One of the Amtrak agents informed me that the train had been delayed coming down from Chicago the previous day for 13 hours and that the turn around had been slow. The train sat, uncleaned in San Antonio waiting for its crew and a spit shine.
Finally, at around 5:20 pm, we received word that the train had finally left San Antonio. At 5:30 I got a text alert telling me that my train was delayed and wouldn’t be leaving at 9:30 am. Wow, thanks Amtrak! Arriving at the station, again, at 5:45 pm we saw the same people that had been there at 8:30 am that morning. What herculean patience that 8 hour wait must have taken!
Now, I studied abroad while I was at UK in Germany. German trains are the height of efficiency. If a train is more than 5 mins late, it’ll almost be a national news story. You get onto the train, put your bags up and then once you’re moving they check your ticket. Once a train there starts towards a destination, it rarely pauses and generally moves at a heady pace. Amtrak is the film negative of this description.
When we got to the station we sat down and, as we did, other people started forming a long line by the tracks. I laughed and told Erin that it was ludicrous to line up, “there are at least 5 cars and each car has 2 doors!” I said. “You get on and then you find your seat, it’s easy!” says I. Cue the McLaughlin Group, “WRONG!!!” Eschewing all modern forms of efficiency, Amtrak in Austin waits until the train gets there and then checks every ticket and ID of every passenger. We were, obviously, in the back of the line.
Part 2: To Infinity… and Beyond!
Yet, finally, we got on the train and were headed north. I had been tweeting at Amtrak since that afternoon, trying in vain to get some comped drinks out of them, but even though my ploy didn’t succeed we were finally moving. Getting settled in my seat I was ready for a leisurely and scenic ride through the heartland of America. An hour later we were still in North Austin. And still no drinks.
@KalanKucera We are so glad you are moving. Contact Customer Relations at 1-800-USA-RAIL after your travel, about your trip.
— Amtrak (@Amtrak) December 22, 2013
.@Amtrak how bout dem DRAAANKS?!?
— Kalan Kucera (@KalanKucera) December 22, 2013
To call Amtrak slow would be an insult to turtles. The train, at least on our ride up there, was frenzied. We’d be moving, then we would stop. We’d go, then we’d stop and back up. I have a theory that this is because Amtrak doesn’t own any of the track it uses and must give right of way to freight trains. I back this up with the fact that EVERY FREAKIN’ FREIGHT TRAIN IN AMERICA got to pass us on the way up. This has to be the reason that we stopped for an hour in Ft. Worth, and hour in Dallas, and even longer elsewhere. Because we were already running 9 hours late so you’d think that they wouldn’t stop for no reason at all! Right??
(The old Japanese man, bag of chestnuts vanquished and returned to the phantom zone, has just fallen asleep with his face smashed flat against the booth table. I’ve never seen a human being sleep like this.)
We pulled into Dallas around 12:30 or so, and after a few hours of playing Rummi, Egyptian Ratscrew and the iPad app version of Settlers of Catan (of which I am Lord), I was ready for sleep. Having not brought a pillow, this proved to be harder than it seemed. There was enough leg room to sort of stretch out, but little enough that I had to bend my ankles slightly in order to fit. This hurt in the morning. I had to bend my neck slightly to rest it against the window of the carriage. This also hurt in the morning. So when I was awakened, sore and tired, at 3:41 am by the children alighting in Texarkana screaming at the mother, I was not very happy.
People, and mainly children's, voices are so much more annoying at 3:41 AM.
— Kalan Kucera (@KalanKucera) December 23, 2013
When they sat right behind me, I was less than not very happy. They blabbered on and on for an hour and when they finally got to sleep around 4:45 I got back to a very fitful sleep. This lasted until about 6:15.
On our way up (and back down, but that’s later) there was a very annoying family sitting next to us. These people were, purportedly, lawyers though I’ve never seen any self respecting lawyer wear pink elephant pajama pants and an off-pink raggedy t-shirt out in public. Throughout the entire trip this lady and her husband, both gargantuan in girth and volume, argued on the phone, argued with each other, argued with their children and argued with Amtrak agents. They were insufferable. We had avoided them most of the night by hanging out in the lounge car. But at 6:15 am I was suddenly awakened by the shrill voice of this lady talking to her mother on the phone.
“Are you awake?” she asked.
I certainly am now. I thought to myself. Drifting in and out of sleep I was able to ignore her until she began to speak more and more loudly. About 10 minutes in we got to this delightful bit of conversation (Firstly, this is more or less what was said I don’t remember exactly. Secondly, if you don’t want your conversations blogged about, don’t scream them at grumpy sleeping strangers at 6 o’clock in the morning.)
“Oh yeah, I slept great! I’m a really heavy sleeper!”
“You remember when I had (insert one of her kid’s names), I slept through her/him crying all night! They didn’t have to give me a sedative or anything!”
Not only was I now awake, I was having to listen to stories about this lady’s personal life. Not interested. Please let this stop! Probably my own fault because I was so unprepared for this trip that I forgot to put music onto my phone and headphones. My penance was the chalkboard scratch of this lady’s voice. Throughout the rest of the day she and her husband would argue about everything from what they were going to eat (earlier in the day they’d been bragging about how much food they’d brought along, later they were lampooning Amtrak for running out of snacks), how they were going to get to her parent’s place in Ohio, and about which one of them their 9 mo. old baby loved more.
Additionally, they stopped every Amtrak agent that passed by the entire second day, trying to find out about their connecting train and threatening litigation if, and I quote, “my babies have to sleep on the cold train station floor.” She referred to “my babies” multiple times in each sentence.
When I start paying attention to something that annoys me, I have a really hard time stopping. So when I started actually listening to these idiotic conversations, I could hear them from everywhere! Their voices penetrated through time and space to make me want to claw my ears from my head.
But it wasn’t only them. Nor was it the poorly behaved children behind me, proverbially kicking my seat. (Do I sound like a grumpy old man yet?) The trip took soooooooooo long. When we were woken up, we were in Little Rock, AR. To drive to Little Rock from Austin takes 7 hr and 40 min. We had made it in just over 12 hours by train.
Austin to Texarkana takes a car 5 hr 33 min. We can double that. We're Amtrak.
— Kalan Kucera (@KalanKucera) December 23, 2013
As we hobbled along through NE Arkansas and SE Missouri, it actually started to get pretty hilarious and, as little as I can say for Amtrak’s service, their crew was pretty funny. Somewhere in Arkansas they informed us, tongue-in-cheek, that even though our delays were reaching over 10 hours, and they were really sorry, that we should, “look on the bright side! We are, after all, traveling through Northeast Arkansas and Southeastern Missouri, some of the most beautiful country America has to offer!”
What landscape is the conductor looking at? pic.twitter.com/ZkXWUA6qS9
— Kalan Kucera (@KalanKucera) December 23, 2013
A landscape only a mother could love.
At least they were in a decent mood though, and it wasn’t their fault the train was running late. Sometimes though, I had to keep myself in a decent mood. Like when we accrued another hour’s worth of delays while we had the toilets pumped in St. Louis.
I just made up a song called "How Long to Pump the Poop?" while we're delayed again in STL. It's a reggae track. #10hrDelayAndCounting
— Kalan Kucera (@KalanKucera) December 23, 2013
It took out train 1.5 hrs to drain the toilet tanks in STL pushing back our delay to almost 11 hours late. What did Amtrak eat last night?
— Kalan Kucera (@KalanKucera) December 23, 2013
I can’t for the life of me remember the tune I came up with for the song, but it was a chart-topper, I promise.
A telling sign, I thought, was that we sped way up once we crossed into Illinois. I don’t know what is different about trains as you go north, but they seem to go faster and with more purpose. The 5 hour stretch from St. Louis to Chicago actually wasn’t that bad. We went through Springfield, Lincoln, Pontiac and Joliet, cruising towards Union Station at a pretty reasonable pace. It was finally a train like I’d remembered!
That’s when they dropped the best part. The trains Amtrak employs haven’t been updated in a while. Probably not since Amtrak was founded in 1971. And the people who enjoy Amtrak’s service (as you might gather from what you’ve read already) are unique in both temperament and appearance. It, along with the basic fact that you’re on a train, gives the trip a very ramshackle, hobo-y feel. So when they announced that, because of the myriad delays and because they’d run out of food, they were going to give everyone on the train a free bowl of beef stew, I couldn’t do anything but laugh.
It was snowy outside, I was on a train, I have a beard, and I was being given free beef stew. I’ve never felt more like my depression-era, hobo self. To me, this also begged the question, “If they’ve run out of food to serve, from whence did the beef stew originate?” Sadly, this might never be answered. But the beef stew did flow, and the masses were satiated.
So it was 37 and 1/2 hours later, eyes deeply sunken, heads pounding, and bellies full of stew that we arrived in Chicago at midnight. As a Texan, the cold that greeted us was shocking. All of my stored up boogers from my tissue-less trip instantly froze.
From there on it was Christmas. Gifts were opened, liquids were imbibed. I had my first Italian Beef at Beef Villa in Elgin, IL–an experience I can highly recommend. We saw Anchorman 2 on Christmas Day, and it was truly vile and pointless. Shame on you Will Ferrell. And yet as the days went by, at the back of our minds we knew that the return trip lay in store. It haunted our dreams and stole from us our sleep (though that, in part, can go to the pillow I was using. No matter how often I scrunched all the stuffing together, as soon as I laid my head onto the pillow, I found the miracle hole in the stuffing).
After a hearty 7 days in Chicagoland (where I opened up the debate about whether Elgin is actually a suburb or not, opinions?), it was Sunday afternoon. Time to re-board and go. Signs were less auspicious this time around. The Bears game was moved back to the afternoon slot, sparing us traffic, we didn’t have any baggage to check, and the weather had spared us the oncoming snow for the time being. After lining up in the Great Hall for what I was sure was going to be a long delay in boarding, we actually got onto our train and left Chicago on time.
Part 3: There and Back Again
In fact, the ride back was–for the most part–a lot better. The families were all seated in the back, so we had only adults around us. We started out in Illinois and the train moved a lot faster. We made it to St. Louis in time to get a good view of the Arch, which we hadn’t been able to do the first time. All in all everything was going smoothly. I went to sleep, with a pillow this time, hoping that when I awoke we’d be in Texas.
Well, we were in Texas when I was awakened by the seemingly normal woman sitting behind us. At 7:00 am in fact. Like the sun’s rays slowly rising over a hill, the sound of this woman’s cackles grew slowly louder and louder. Her laugh sounded like a mixture between Woody Woodpecker and Salacious B. Crumb and it got bad. After half an hour of that laugh, every 10 seconds or so, I finally got up to go elsewhere and saw the source. She was watching an episode of Reba. Now, I can’t claim to have ever watched an episode but can anyone tell me if it’s actually funny enough to laugh every 10 seconds? Was she a former member of the studio audience or something?
I was awake though, and we were in Texas. We got to Dallas and had to wait an hour and a half because we were so early. Now if you’ll allow for a small tangent, the station is right next to Reunion Tower and two blocks away from Dealey Plaza, so Erin and I got out of the train and walked over to the corner of the book depository and stood on the grassy knoll. There were a lot of tourists there. There’s also an ‘x’ drawn on the street at the exact spot where JFK was shot. For some reason these tourists were running out into the street, with traffic zooming past them, and taking pictures of themselves looking silly while standing on the ‘x’. Not-train-related, and far be it for me to judge (a cue for exactly what I’m about to do) but should we really be taking silly selfies on the spot of JFK’s assassination? I might sound like a codger, but I really don’t think so. Grumble, grumble, rabble, rabble.
People running out into traffic on Dealy Plaza to take a pic where JFK was shot. That's… Weird… pic.twitter.com/XoF8YSmnSv
— Kalan Kucera (@KalanKucera) December 30, 2013
After walking back to the train we sped off across the Metroplex to Fort Worth. After being delayed by being early, it was nice to be moving again. We roll into Ft. Worth and **GUESS WHAT**? We were early and had to stay there for 2 and ½ hours. Far be it for me to question the logic of Amtrak’s scheduling, but does it make sense to anyone that they build in 5-6 hours total of time that they have to stop so that just in case they run late they can make up the time and pad their numbers?
NO! It’s silly! We sat on the tracks in the Metroplex for almost 4 hours. 4 hours that, if scheduling were done differently, we could have been on our way south and moving. This wouldn’t have bothered me so much if, upon leaving Ft. Worth, we hadn’t been immediately delayed for another hour and a half.
The cause of this delay was apparently a freight train. The conductor of our train came over the intercom and told us that the freight train was passing and that now we had to wait for the train dispatcher to “determine our route.” Now I don’t know much about rail logistics in North Central Texas, but where we were, right outside of McGregor, I imagine it looks something like this:
And it took an hour and a half to decide. I imagine there was a lot of flipping the line over and over and over again. So we’d waited 4 hours doing nothing and now we were going to be an hour late anyway. I don’t know why, but that was annoying beyond all else! Which meant I was in the proper mood to start writing this post! I sat down in the lounge car, across from a very bizarre old Japanese man, and the rest… is history.
It’s true that if you’re going to take a long Amtrak train, you probably shouldn’t care about when you’re going to get to your destination. People on the train told us the delay was unusual, but everyone I’ve ever talked to who used Amtrak had the same issues. I love taking the train, I love being able to watch the countryside go by, to play games and drink, to walk around with impunity and to not be in a 700 mph bullet 30,000 ft in the air (I’m not a huge fan of flying).
The delays were ridiculous, the people were ludicrous, and the food was at best mediocre. I slept like crap and all of my limbs are sore. But you know what? It was an adventure. You never knew what was going to happen, what city along the route you’d get to spend an hour exploring, whether or not the people who got on were going to be crazy or normal. And I’d do it again tomorrow. … … Well, maybe not tomorrow, but some other time for sure!
Post-Epilogue (Is that a thing?)
PS. Shhhhhhh…. I had to tell you I liked the train. Amtrak is always watching you!
— Amtrak (@Amtrak) December 29, 2013
PSS. Happy New Year!!
The players arrived Sunday and will practice this week in preparation for Saturday’s game. Since that time, there have been three developing story lines to follow for Kentucky fans:
1) Tide turning for Matt Elam?
On Sunday, Elam reiterated his recent comments on KSR, telling 247Sports’ Barton Simmons that while he hasn’t made a final decision, he feels more comfortable with the UK program as a whole, citing his relationships with the UK staff and current crop of commitments.
Those comments led to a momentous shift in Elam’s Crystal Ball where 15 of the last 17 picks have gone to the Wildcats, who are now projected (60/40 percent) to land the 5-star defensive tackle.
Elam, who measured at nearly 6-foot-5 and 372 pounds, was named one of the top performers on the East squad during Monday’s practice.
He is one of 11 players that will announce their college decisions Saturday and will choose between Kentucky and Alabama.
2) Can UK flip Ohio State commit Marcelys Jones?
After telling reporters Sunday that he planned to enroll at Ohio State Jan. 6 and that his official visit to Kentucky the weekend of Dec. 7 was “a vacation,” rumblings have continued to grow more and more audible in San Antonio this week that UK continues to be a legitimate potential landing spot for the Glenville (Ohio) 4-star offensive lineman and Ohio State commit.
Jones is rooming with Elam, who Sunday predicted that Jones would flip to UK, fueling speculation that Elam is actively recruiting Jones to join him in Lexington.
While sources on UK’s end of things still feel confident, Jones has played things very close to the vest and this one more or less amounts to a coin flip.
Offensive line continues to be a position of need for the Wildcats in closing out its 2014 recruiting class.
3) Drew Barker representing UK
Cold and windy weather conditions, combined with a new offense, terminology and receivers, were not conducive to stellar quarterback play during Monday’s workouts, but the UK commit is still trying to make his presence felt both on and off the field in San Antonio this week.
In addition to cementing his status as one of the premier pro style quarterbacks in the country, Barker is also doing his best to actively recruit Elam to Kentucky and feels good about UK’s chances, putting it at a “7.5 out of 10.”
“I’m not betting my life on it,” Barker said, “but I feel pretty good about it.”
Barker, who is playing opposite of Elam on the West squad, says he’d even be willing to take one for the team if it meant getting Elam in blue and white.
“If it makes him come to Kentucky, I’ll gladly take a sack from him.”
Barker will enroll at UK in January and take part in winter conditioning and spring practice, where he is expected to compete for the starting quarterback job.
For more recruiting scoop, check out CatsPause.com.
Follow Chris Fisher on Twitter: @ChrisFisher247
By Ally Tucker on ©December 31st, 2013 @ 1:00pm
A little over four years ago, John Calipari arrived in Lexington as Kentucky’s new head basketball coach. Calipari inherited two things upon his arrival: The best program in college basketball, but a program that was in a serious downward spiral. Right from the start, it seemed as if Calipari was the right fit for the job. He energized the fan base immediately, set the recruiting trail on fire and started winning games right away. Calipari spent a large part of his first ever Big Blue Madness using the podium as an opportunity to address the Big Blue Nation, setting a framework for what he and his coaching staff intended to do while at Kentucky. Calipari had a list of clear cut goals for this program, its players, the coaches and the fan base. Now that we are four years removed from that speech and heading into the back half of Calipari’s 5th year as the head coach of Kentucky, let’s reflect back for a moment upon some of those goals and see where the Kentucky basketball program stands in reference to these goals.
…Be a program built on a foundation of integrity and fueled by class, the gold standard of not only college basketball, but all of college athletics…
People can say what they want about how they view things in Calipari’s past from other programs, but he and his players have consistently represented the university with class and integrity over the years. Kentucky’s basketball program has separated itself as one of the very elite in the current world of not only college basketball, but college athletics. The facilities, the exposure, the caliber of players, etc. is second to none.
… Be a players-first program, one where kids across the country would want to play basketball, not only because of banners, rings and trophies, but because this is a place where their dreams become realities…
Sometimes even to a fault in the minds of some, Kentucky is a players-first program. Calipari and his staff are constantly striving to help the players reach their goals and dreams, putting them in a position to do so when they are ready– while not holding them back for personal interests. Players are given room to grow and given the tools to succeed, while also not being babied by the coaching staff. Time and time again we have seen that so many talented high school basketball players want to play basketball at Kentucky. Some of it is the tradition, the championships, the hoopla, the fan base, the exposure, etc… But a large part of it (and you hear it often in interviews) is that these young men and their families know that Calipari and his staff are going to do everything they can to help them reach their goals by putting the player first.
… My staff and I would recruit the best and brightest players from around the country and bring them to a program committed to a high standard of academic excellence and graduate our players…
Number one recruiting class. Rinse and repeat every year. Kentucky has also produced great GPAs on a regular basis throughout Calipari’s tenure, including a team average of 3.0 this semester. Cal’s players go to class, and they tend to perform strongly. Most of the players who don’t move on to reach their NBA dreams at a young age end up graduating from Kentucky. Those who don’t, often come back and finish their academic work at Kentucky during the 0ff-season, and Calipari is very supportive of that.
… We would make this the Commonwealth’s team and that you would be proud to wear blue and cheer for your team…
Put last year aside, and the last 4 years have been some of the most fun in recent memory to be a UK fan. The teams are exciting, the players are talented, the hype is all around. These are good days to be a Kentucky fan.
… Calipari made it a point to remember the past greats to have put on the uniform, never forgetting those who came before him and embracing them as family…
In his opening address to the Big Blue Nation, Calipari mentioned a number of the legendary players to wear the Kentucky uniform. One of the best things he has done for this program is to reach out to former players, some of whom were lost in the fold throughout the years, inviting them back to the program to feel a part of the family. Even players Calipari never coached, he reaches out to and brings them in to the mix. Calipari is very aware of those who came before him, coaches included.
… They (the players) will reach their dreams while we live out our own through their efforts and accomplishments…
Calipari has had 17 players leave Kentucky to be drafted in the NBA. Some were expected, and lived up to expectations (John Wall, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, etc), while others developed and went from players we may never have expected to be in the NBA early in their careers (DeAndre Liggins, Josh Harrellson)
… A vision of celebrations and banquets, diplomas and banners, rings and parades…
Elite 8. Final Four. National Championship. NIT. Although last year was a bit of a let down, the first few years, sprinkled with SEC championships and All-Americans as well, have been very successful and filled with reasons to celebrate.
… A return of this legendary program back to its rightful place atop the mountain of college basketball…
For a few years, Kentucky basketball fell out of the limelight. Kentucky had fallen off the grid with some of the elite of the elite (Duke, North Carolina, Kansas). Kentucky has returned to its rightful place atop the college basketball world .Whether or not Kentucky is always at the top strictly in a basketball sense, the program is one of the hottest in the nation. Kentucky is constantly a topic of discussion and a place where young kids want to play college basketball. The brand of Kentucky basketball is back and as good as ever.