Billy Clyde has now been the leader of the greatest collegiate basketball program in the free world for close to six months. And for most of his tenure, he has knocked it out of the park. The recruiting has been solid, the buzz is back and the fans are at a fever pitch across the state. While he has yet to play even the first game, most Kentucky fans believe like I do….that the Cats have the perfect coach for the program. However this week, Billy Clyde hit a clunker. The decision to cancel the Blue-White Game was extremely shortsighted and a mistake that goes against the true nature of the Kentucky program.
Every year the Blue-White game is one of the better experiences that a hardcore UK fan can have. The game is open to the public and generally draws a vastly different crowd than those that attend games at Rupp Arena. Fans can come, see the new team and incoming freshman, watch a moderately competitive game and generally see every player (except Jared Carter) score during the contest. I have gone to the last two events and I always enjoy talking with the people who make the trip from all over the state for their once chance to see the Cats live during the year. Today I received three emails and one phone call on the show from such people, all expressing the same sentiment…..they were very disappointed that a game that had been a part of their lives going back to the Hall era was now ending, with no real explanation.
Kentucky basketball is and has always been, about more than the games on the court. It is a communal experience between people in places as far apart as Pikeville, Paducah, Prestonsburg and Paintsville. In a state that is often the subject of national ridicule, basketball stands out as a defining event that can unite individuals and bring about a shared sense of collective happiness. While we all understand that college athletics is a big business and that Rupp Arena will inevitably be filled with more blue bloods than die hard Mountain fans, events like Blue-White game are chances for those folks who bleed blue more than anyone else to become part of a Kentucky experience. I understand that Billy Clyde may believe the team needs more practice or imagines that the game is a distraction that might not be needed for his young team….and maybe from a strictly basketball standpoint, he might be correct. But the Kentucky program is special, in large part because the experience is about more than what we see on the floor. Billy Clyde gets that, which is why he has reconnected with many of the old alumni, pushed his players to make appearances at other UK sporting events and connected with fans at various events. As Gregg Doyel has said many times, “no one can GET Kentucky basketball like a guy who lives and breathes basketball himself.” While that is most certainly true, that understanding makes Billy Clyde’s decision even more disappointing. Ending the Blue-White game and cutting out the one chance that many hardcore UK fans have of seeing the Cats in action was shortsighted, and unfortunately, is one of the very few strikeouts so far of the Billy Clyde era. Here is hoping the decision will be reversed, if not this year, certainly in the years to come…..