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Garrett Sparks on the Immortal Walk-On

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I listened to 3 female friends argue on the steps of Patterson Hall about which of them was going to hook up with Corey Sears first. They devised various plans for rearranging their work schedules so they could sit the front desk at Wildcat Lodge on weekend nights, plots of chloral hydrate and laudanum, schemes to murder whatever bleached blonde piece of sorority trash dared get in their way. Rumors varied as to their success.

At the University of Kentucky, even the Walk-On is worthy of the sexual ruminations of nubile freshman co-eds. He becomes a piece of history. No bucket means more than the awkward 14-footer hoisted up by a guy who only sees the floor when we’re up or down by more than 20. We respect Coach Cal, we nod to his explanations, drool at recruiting rankings, but inside, we mourn the loss of the Walk On.

That said, it’s time capsule time! *cue flashback music* *no, not the porn music, the flashback music. thank you.*

December 8, 2001. Tayshaun Prince hits five 3s in a row to open a 79-59 Tar Heel humiliation. Only Jodie Meeks’ 54 against the Headbanded Heathens has eclipsed that performance in the 2000s. KSR has references this game no less than 17 times each week.

December 18, 2001. The Cats redefine “heart breaker” with a 95-92 OT loss at Cameron Indoor to then #1-ranked Douchies. Rashaad Carruth’s 19 points remind you that Lucifer was once the most beautiful angel in heaven.

These games, you remember them. Your grandmother remembers them. Your grandmother got a “I heart Tay-Daddy” tattoo for Christmas, but couldn’t show you where, because she’s a modest gal. But I ask you, where were you on December 15, 2001? Your Cats were nursing their post-finals hangovers with a “Somebody in the scheduling office got fired” match-up against Division-II Kentucky State.

(Admit it, you weren’t sure Kentucky State had a basketball team. Ah, but they do.)

Tubby Smith blew the dust off the Rolodex when Georgia Tech, in a bout of shameful delirium, made a last-second coward’s call and canceled their series with Kentucky. He apparently owed somebody in Frankfort big time after state police caught Jason Parker with a hydroponic growing kit in the Lodge bathroom. (You didn’t hear about that?) The Thorobreds (their spelling, not mine), coached by former Cat forward and Pitino assistant Winston Bennett, didn’t have anything better to do than to show up and take home a sweet paycheck. And show up they did.

And so did I, with 3 other friends, all nursing dreary headaches after serious post-finals debauchery. I’d only had worse tickets at Rupp once, and that was to see U2. There is no row MM. But there certainly is a row LL, and I’ve sat in it. But that’s fine. It’s Rupp. It’s still Kentucky, even if the game won’t count towards the RPI. If God can reach the back row in a Baptist Church, he would not forsake me in row LL.

Apparently K-State’s colors were some sort of heinous green and gold, and apparently K-State has alumni that represent. The arena looked like the vomit some kid on North Campus spewed in front of Holmes Hall the night before after drinking a 32 oz. bottle of Zombie juice.

We were not forsaken. Pre-game, two old guys in blue baseball caps and beige sweaters made their way up to Row LL and informed us that it was our lucky day. Apparently, the combination of the monolithic matchup and the winter break added up to us being the only group of students in our entire section, which magically entitled us to four tickets in the fourth row right behind Tubby, courtesy of some radio station whose name I didn’t catch as we grabbed the tickets and started running down the concrete stairs two at a time.

About 48 seconds later, I take my seat staring right at the back of Jules Camara’s shiny head. Beside us were three middle aged guys, dressed in camo pants and Kentucky sweatshirts, double-fisting Mountain Dews spiked with the fifth of Southern Comfort the fat one had duct taped to his inner thigh.

As for the game, the final score of 118-63 tells you most of what you need to know. Five cats in double figures. Highest point total for a Tubby Smith coached team to date. Rebound margin of 22. The Thorobreds never got closer than 40 after 5 minutes into the second half. Every Cat scores, except Rashaad Carruth. All was right with the world. But none of that tells you why the least important game in the past 10 years was one of the most wondrous ever, a game in which Jupiter and Halley’s comet came perfectly in line with the Tolly Ho.

With about 12 minutes left, their bottle of SoCo empty, the Camo Trio began a chorus, in loud drunken baritones, of “Put in the white boys! Put in the white boys! Put in the white boys!” They repeated the refrain reliably after each two minutes of game time ticked away. Initially, the bench ignored them. At eight minutes to go, a few of the players turned around, cracked up. Six minutes left, Tubby turned and gave them the “I’M GONNA KEEL YOU, SAUL!” look.

But with four on the clock, the post-racial dam burst. Corey Sears and Matt Heissenbuttel checked in at the scorer’s table. And there, four rows back behind Jules Camara’s empty seat on the bench, I witnessed history as both Heissenbuttel and Sears hit two-point jumpers in the same game. The blue-haired crowd, nearly comatose since the 100-point barrier was breached minutes before, stomped and hollered like it was 1949. Portions of my auditory range are dampened to this day.

Corey had two field goals during his entire career, and that was his last. He saw more time fighting Gerald Fitch on the team plane than he did on the floor. Matt had a touch more success, but is better remembered as the LexCath boy with the third-most misspelled name in team history.

So, friends, raise your bottle of Bourbon Barrel in honor of Walk-ons. And may your second toast be to the day when John Wall breaks Kenny Boynton’s ankles with a cross-over dribble.

TOMLIN’S TAKE: First off, let me say that Matt granted me the Herculean task today of making a judgment call between three great posts, the first of which you see before you today. Garrett, if I may call you Garrett (any relation to Patrick? Jordin?), I have to say that your narrative prowess in this piece is exquisite. You led us in with a hook and delivered with the uppercut. It’s both very funny and, in its fantastic execution, it paints a picture both outlandish and familiar to anyone who knows the true gamut of Kentucky fans. I would have never thought to focus on this game (who would?) but you make your case completely, with a theme and an angle that completely works. I’m a big fan. This is one of those posts that seems so pored-over and perfected that the final version seems to be exactly as it should be. I’m impressed, I’m laughing, and I applaud the creativity and prowess you display here. I’d really like to see more of what you can bring to the table. As I often say when I’m mentioning my favorite chocolate-covered granola bars, “kudos.”

Article written by C.M. Tomlin