Because the news has died down a bit in the last day, I thought I would use our nightly post to tell an anecdote from the road.
I just returned home from a long two days in the Simpson/Allen County part of the state with the Barnstorming Tour. During that time, I of course missed the biggest recruiting day in years, with the commitments of Josh Harrellson, Dominique Ferguson and the positive news from Jon Hood as well. However there will not be a regret on my end in the least as I experienced one of the more touching moments that I have seen in a long time in my life. Doing this tour has been enlightening on a lot of levels, from getting to see various parts of the state, to managing a large-scale operation to hearing interesting stories about UK players past and present. But maybe more than anything, it has allowed me to see the depth of passion around the UK program in ways that I havent been able to fully comprehend in the past. And along with that, it has allowed me to watch two young men who have helped build on the UK legacy, realize and embrace that passion as never before.
On Tuesday, while in Franklin, Kentucky, the guys went to the local Boys and Girls Club to play some games with the kids and sign autographs. Both Joe and Ramel are great with kids and little UK fans just flock to them naturally. As we were handling the autograph line, a young woman with three young boys brought a pair of shoes to the front of the line and asked if they could be signed. As she approached Joe and Ramel, she had tears in her eyes and held out the shoes, telling Joe that “we buried my husband last week. He was a huge UK fan and we buried him with your jersey.” At that point, all the young boys began to tear up and a very emotional scene developed. Joe was blown away and stood up and gave the woman and all the young kids a hug. She told the guys how much joy her husband got from the games and I watched as these two young men were moved in ways that you dont often see collegiate athletes experience. The woman and the boys thanked the two profusely and left the event with smiles on their face.
Immediately after the signing, we drove with one of the leaders of the Club to a woman’s house in Franklin for a quick visit. We were told that the woman was a huge UK fan with terminal cancer. I accompanied Joe and Ramel into her house, where her husband escorted us to the room in which she stayed on her bed, frail and looking tired. The moment that she looked up and saw Joe and Ramel, her expression could have lit up the room. She began to smile profusely and cry small tears of joy. She said that she was a huge fan of Kentucky and had watched every game, occasionally yelling at the tv “when Gillispie took you boys out.” Both young men gave her multiple hugs and she told them how seeing them had lifted her spirits. Ramel and Joe talked to her about her favorite games and players, and told her that we would all keep her in our prayers in the future. She thanked them multiple times, and we left to head down the road to Bowling Green.
The scene at the woman’s house and the 15 minute trip that followed is one that I will remember forever. Joe and Ramel sat in silence for a minute, before talking about the two extremely powerful experiences they had just been through. Joe was visibly moved and said, “you know, I knew this basketball was big, but I dont think I really knew it. To see the impact on these people, it just blows me away. I just wish I could have done more to make them happy or something. It is really unbelievable.” Ramel responded at one point, “when you realize this man and you come out here and see these people…it just makes you think how lucky we are.” Joe then said something that really was interesting as he said, “you know some people are already in the NBA or whatever….but I realize now that I am totally blessed to be here and to get to experience this. To meet these people, it is God’s blessing. I just wish I could tell the younger guys and they could see this too and realize how much it means before they are done playing. It just makes you realize what a blessing playing here really is.”
This entire trip has been something really special. Everywhere we have gone, the people have been wonderful and the events entertaining. But it has been equally memorable to see the passion of the UK fanbase and the depth of the love people have for these players. I know these two guys have been absolutely blown away by it and are still trying to process it, even as we go. I do know that for me, the sight of the lady in Franklin and the family who had lost their husband/father will stick with me for a long time. If you could have seen these two guys interact with them and lessen their suffering a bit, even for a short time, you would have realized what makes this Kentucky program and these two young men great. As Joe said, there really is nothing like it.