If you listened to the radio on Friday, 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 second of two articles he is writing for KSR on his experience. You can read his first article here.
Hello all… my name is Aaron Torres, and if you haven’t heard, I was in town this weekend as a first-time visitor to Rupp Arena. Back in November I had the chance to meet KSR’s Matt Jones, and when he invited me down to cover a game, I jumped at the opportunity like Rick Pitino on a dinner special at Porci–you know what, never mind. Let’s just say that when the invite came, it was a matter of “when I was going to come to Lexington,” not if.
Well, that “when” was Saturday, as I attended the Kentucky’s matchup with Alabama. It was an excellent game, and a great time, and I really hope to get back to Rupp soon.
Beyond just the game though, I also spent nearly three full days in Kentucky, and had the opportunity to do a lot of things which didn’t make it into the article which was posted yesterday. Basketball was my primary focus yes, but I also happened to sit in on a radio show, catch the production of KSTV and see Kentucky’s top high school player commit to the Cats. Not to mention that I had plenty of time to experience the sights and sounds of both Louisville and Lexington as well.
And because of that, Matt was nice enough to ask me to write a second article about the “experience” of Kentucky, beyond just the basketball.
Well, here it is, with Ten Things I’ll remember about my visit.
10. Ashley Judd
Ok, so I know I just said that this article would be about things outside of Saturday’s game, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Ashley Judd. I obviously had no idea if she’d show up Saturday, but honestly, I’m kind of glad she did. Going to a Kentucky game and not seeing her would’ve been a bummer, like going to Philadelphia and not eating a cheesesteak or something. Granted, it wouldn’t have ruined the trip per se, but I probably would’ve left feeling like there was something missing.
Well regardless, Judd was in town Saturday, and now I can safely cross off “Bump into Ashley Judd in Rupp Arena,” off my bucket list.
My only other Ashley Judd related wish? That Drew Franklin would’ve been nice enough to offer her a seat at the postgame press conference.
9. The Stone Cold Willow Dance:
In the interest of full-disclosure, I’ll just admit that prior to Friday, I had no idea what the “Stone Cold Willow Dance” was… and even after viewing the video at least 85 times since then, I’m still not entirely sure. The best I can describe it is some combination of Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights meets the Cupid Shuffle, with some Kentucky basketball and sheer insanity mixed in. Quite frankly I wouldn’t be totally surprised if it’s outlawed by a couple states by the end of this calendar year. I also wouldn’t be surprised if replaced the “Electric Slide” as the go-to dance move at every wedding, birthday party and Bar Mitzvah within a year either.
Point being, the dance was awesome, and I’m glad the KSR guys shared it with me. And also on the off-chance that Mr. Willow is reading this right now, please don’t ever change. You sir, are my hero.
8. The Kentucky Sports Radio Show:
After sitting in studio with the KSR guys on Friday, my biggest takeaway is this: I find it hard to imagine that anyone on the planet has more fun at their job than they do. The callers were great, the topics were funny, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I laughed as hard as I did during the two hours we were taping the show.
It also led to two of my favorite moments of the trip. They were…
7. The Fiasco Surrounding My Birthday:
For those who didn’t get a chance to listen to the show or the podcast, let me try my hardest to explain what went down. But before I do, please understand that no matter how well I write the following few paragraphs, it won’t do any justice to just how funny this whole situation was.
Ok, so to the listeners of the KSR show, you’re probably familiar with a caller named “John” (I know John has another handle when he calls into the show, but I can’t remember it off the top of my head). Anyway, John is apparently a savant, someone who, if you name any random occurrence (like say, a birthday) he can tell you what day of the week that exact event fell on. We all have special skills, and apparently, that’s John’s.
Well John called in Friday, and after asking his UK related question, Matt then followed up by asking John to put his special skill on display, and name the day of the week that I was born. For those scoring at home, my birthday is July 6, 1985.
After some quick long division in his head, John came up with the day that he believed I was born, and determined it was a Friday. Hmm, that didn’t seem totally right to me, but really, who am I to question John, KSR’s official birthday savant? It’s not like I can remember my own birth or anything.
Apparently though, I was right…sort of. Because after Matt asked his producers to look up the date, they came to the conclusion that I was NOT born on a Friday, but instead, actually a Saturday.
And that was when all hell broke loose.
First, there was the source that KSR’s producers used to verify my birthday as a Saturday, with that source being… (are you ready for this)… a website called RootsandFruits.com. If you’ve never heard of that website, you’re not alone. I haven’t either, and it’s safe to say that not only will I not be buying my produce from them I don’t trust their calendars either.
From there, most of the rest of the show involved trying to figure out definitively what day of the week I was born on. We browsed Google and Microsoft calendar, and Drew Franklin even found a baseball box score from that day (in case you’re wondering, the Orioles beat the Royals). The callers weighed in, with a surprising number having strong opinions on what day of the week July 6, 1985 actually was. Believe me, of all the things I expected to happen during my visit to Kentucky, my birthdate becoming a statewide controversy wasn’t one of them.
Anyway, we eventually had no choice but to go to the best source of information we could find on the subject of my birthday, and e-mail my own beautiful mother Sue, who clearly had way more things to do at work than answer my trivial questions. Still, she’s a sweetheart and validated that I was in fact born on a Saturday, and also- to avoid any further controversy- that my sister was born on a Monday.
Needless to say, I appreciate my mom stepping up and helping out.
Still, even my own mother couldn’t save me from the wrath of…
Who came at me guns blazing during my time in the radio studio.
Now, before I start on this story, let me make one thing abundantly clear: Before going on Kentucky Sports Radio, I made the conscious decision to choose my words very, very carefully. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know the Wildcats even 1/100th as well as the listeners of the show do, so I wanted to make sure and not say anything dumb or uneducated to upset the masses.
For a while, I did a pretty good job of that. We got through a number of calls, all friendly, most welcoming me to Kentucky, before the conversation turned to some aspect of Saturday’s game against Alabama. When I was asked to chime in, it was mostly on my thoughts on the rest of college basketball outside Kentucky. One asked me my thoughts on the Big East so I shared them. My common takeaways are that Syracuse is far and away the best team in the league, and that Jim Boeheim was probably deserving of National Coach of the Year. Believe me when I say that as a UConn fan that grew up despising Syracuse, that was not an easy thing for me to admit.
Apparently though, a caller named Chester felt none of my pain. When he got on the air, he was first quick to call out my lack of credentials on evaluating Kentucky. Again, I’ll be the first to admit that the callers of the show know more about the team than I do, so honestly, my feelings were hurt.
Still, that wasn’t enough for Chester. Like a shark smelling blood in the water, he wanted more, calling into question my idea that Boeheim is a worthy Coach of the Year candidate. Apparently, you can get away with a lot of things in Chester’s world, but the National Coach of the Year race is where he draws a line in the sand.
Anyway, like a good radio host Matt decided that rather than letting a caller and a guest bicker like two teenage girls, we’d instead have an old-fashioned debate. I started it by defending myself, and gave what I thought to be pretty valid points; things like Syracuse being less talented than Kentucky, that they started lower in the polls in the preseason, and that entering the weekend they were undefeated, while Kentucky had one loss on their record.
Well apparently my logical arguments were of little use to Chester, and before Matt even asked him to give his response, he offered one anyway, by taking a short breath, before screaming…. “That’s BULL-CRAP!!!” It caused everyone in the studio to crack up laughing, and for me to forget anything he said from there on out.
A few quick follow-ups to my run-in with Chester:
A. Apparently, everyone enjoyed my debate with Chester as much as we did in the studio. You know how I know that? Because between Twitter mentions and the people I met at the game Saturday, you wouldn’t believe how many came up, looked me in the eye and simply said, “That’s BULL-CRAP!” to me. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure that if I died tomorrow, “That’s Bull-Crap” would be in the first line of my obituary.
B. At John Calipari’s postgame press conference on Saturday, KSR’s Drew Franklin practically begged me to sarcastically ask Calipari, “Coach, what are your thoughts on where you stand in the National Coach of the Year race with Jim Boeheim.”
I love Drew, but decided that it might be in my best interests to keep that question to myself.
C. And finally, with a few days to reflect, it’s hard to wonder whether Chester may have been right. You know, since barely 24 hours after our showdown at the phone-call corral, Syracuse actually lost their first game of the year.
So to Chester, if you’re reading, please know this: You may have won the battle my friend. But the war is only beginning.
5. The Rupp Arena Halftime Show:
While I’ve already written my impressions of Rupp Arena earlier, there was one thing that I couldn’t work into the article, but wished I had in hindsight. That was the Rupp Arena halftime entertainment, and I hope someone on the comments thread can verify what I saw. Because simply put, it was one of the most fantastic halftime performances I’ve ever seen.
To try to put into words, the act was basically a group of little cheerleaders and jump-ropers, and as I joked on the KSR live blog during the game Saturday, they showed more coordination and team-work in their 10-minute routine than my UConn Huskies have shown on offense all season long. They were jumping rope, doing flips, jumping over each other, and overall, probably reached a level of greatness that I will likely never achieve in my lifetime.
Deservedly, when their routine was done, they got a standing ovation.
4. Louisville and the Muhammad Ali Museum:
Although I spent Friday and Saturday night in Lexington, my trip did start off in Louisville, and it only seems fair that I mention a few things there as well.
The first is that I learned something new: I had no idea that Louisville was actually on the Indiana border. I found this fact out the hard way when I got lost going downtown, took a wrong turn, and actually ended up on the other side of the border. Woops. Still, no worries to the good folks of Indiana who may be reading this article: My three minute stay in your state was everything I hoped it to be, and more.
When I did actually make it downtown though, I did just about the most touristy thing imaginable, and went to the Muhammad Ali Museum.
For those of you who’ve never been, well, I actually highly recommend it. Admittedly, I’m a sports dork, so I enjoyed the whole thing, specifically learning about Ali’s early years, how he got into boxing and stuff like that. But beyond, there was actually a lot of cool information on other stuff; his religious conversion, the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement, all which added to the experience.
For the $9 price of admission, I’d definitely say it was worth it.
3. The Derek Willis Commitment:
I’ve got to admit that from a strictly, “Wow, a lot of crap happened” standpoint, I quite literally couldn’t have picked a better weekend to be in Kentucky. Nothing exemplified that better than the Derek Willis commitment.
Seriously, how lucky can I be? To be in town for the commitment of any player would be a big deal. But for it to be when a Kentucky kid commits to UK, when his family are Louisville season ticket holders, and the press conference is close enough to drive to? You’ve got to be kidding. You know how they say “Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good?” Yeah, I’m living proof of that.
From a strictly basketball perspective, I obviously can’t give you any insight into Willis, but to actually be at Bullitt East High School when Willis made the commitment was pretty cool. There were TV cameras yes, but also lots of UK fans, and probably every student at the school packed into the tiny library where the announcement was made. As someone who hasn’t been in high school for some time, it’s pretty easy to forget just how tight-knit and caring a community that high schools are.
Then there was the moment that Willis actually made the announcement that he was going to Kentucky (albeit in his quiet, “I’m not totally used to being in front of the cameras yet” voice). When he did, the place literally exploded.
It was a very cool scene, and again, I was just lucky to be a part of it.
2. Rupp Arena:
Considering that the main point of the trip was actually to attend a game at Rupp Arena, I’m happy to report that I made it safely to the arena, and as you probably know by now, enjoyed the game.
1. The People Who Made The Trip Worthwhile:
As I said in my article that was posted on Sunday, when I reflect back on this trip in 10 or 20 years, chances are pretty good that I won’t remember the game itself. No matter how sharp anyone is, the names, faces and final scores eventually fade. Instead, it’s the experiences, and the people who made the experiences which stay with you.
First and foremost, I really want to make sure and thank Matt Jones for inviting me down, and along with Drew Franklin (or is it Drew Kidd-Franklin?), showing me around town, around the state, and around Rupp Arena. Thanks also to everyone at KSTV and KSR for letting me sit in, and see what it was like behind the scenes in the TV and radio studios. Thanks to Sean and his staff at Rafferty’s in Hamburg for taking good care of me, and sending me back to Connecticut a solid seven lbs. heavier than I was when I arrived in town. Also, a big shout out to my buddy Mark Ennis for showing around Louisville on Thursday.
And finally, I want to thank all the fans for adding to the experience. As I said earlier, when people saw me walking around with Matt, Drew or anyone else from KSR, they were quick to introduce themselves and welcome me to town (As I mentioned before, many were nice enough to even yell “Bull-CRAP at me too, marking the first time in recorded history that the term was used as a sign of affection).
Honestly, this trip was the most fun I’ve had in a very long time.
And if nobody minds, I’d like to come back and do it again soon.
Aaron Torres is a freelance writer who is writing two pieces for KSR. This was his second, with the first about his experience at Rupp Arena running on Sunday night.
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.