I finally got around to watching “Bluegrass Kingdom,” Turner Sports’ documentary about Kentucky basketball last night (just couldn’t handle it on Sunday). Like you guys, I had a lot of opinions about it. Here are my highlights and low-lights:
(Miss it? Click here to watch it on YouTube.)
The Rupp Era
Having been born after his death, I will admit, I am not as familiar with the Rupp Era of Kentucky basketball as I am the program’s more recent history. I’ve heard stories and watched games from that time, so I appreciated the documentary’s in-depth look at Rupp’s time as coach and how he shaped Kentucky basketball into the empire it is today. The footage they used was interesting, as were Riley and Joe B.’s insight into his coaching methods. As for the perception that UK was an elitist white program? I thought they treated that carefully with views from both sides. Was that Confederate flag photoshopped in to the footage from the Texas Western game? Maybe, but this part of the documentary didn’t offend me as much as the exclusion of Tubby Smith, which we’ll get to later.
One of the pleasant surprises in the documentary was Pat Riley’s interview. I feel like, despite having a great and storied playing career at Kentucky, Riley has become somewhat of an enigma to the Big Blue Nation. Maybe it’s because he’s gone on to do so many other things, but before now, we haven’t really heard much from Pat Riley about his time at Kentucky. For that reason, his interview was one of my favorite parts. Like a certain current coach in blue, Riley exudes a certain coolness and swagger, and is one hell of an ambassador for the BBN. I hope this means we’ll see some more from him in the future.
Kenny Walker’s living room
Kenny Sky Walker’s living room looks exactly how I expected it to. Who else would have a slow-mo shot of themselves dunking done in neon lights?
Joe B. Hall
Any time Joe B. Hall talks about Kentucky basketball, you listen. I enjoyed his take on Coach Rupp and the footage from his time as coach. I thought the documentary did a good job of highlighting Joe B.’s “legacy” of integrating the team and his feud with Bobby Knight. I wish other important games/series from Kentucky’s past had been given the same treatment as Kentucky’s rivalry with Indiana during the Joe B. Era.
Interviews with former players
The in-depth interviews with Riley, Goose Givens, Rex Chapman, Jamal Mashburn, and Derek Anderson were awesome. Anytime you can highlight past Kentucky greats is fine with me. In fact, the interviews were probably the best part of the whole documentary. I wanted more of their stories.
While we all have certain feelings about Rick these days, I still respect the man for what he did for the Kentucky program. Watching the footage of him talking about making UK tickets the most precious item in life was almost nostalgic. I had also forgotten how thick his accent was back then. Still…no mention of him going on to become the coach of Kentucky’s biggest rival? Come on.
The 1996 Team
The 1996 team got their due, with profiles of Derek Anderson and and glowing comments from Ashley Judd about how the team was “destined to be.” The footage and pictures they use capture the giddiness and energy of that moment well.
I’ll admit, this was my favorite part. At least five minutes of the documentary focused on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, one of the most beloved players in UK history. They interviewed both Michael and his mother, Cynthia Richardson, about his decision to come to UK and go pro after one year. It was great to hear Michael’s mom talk about his struggles with his speech impediment and how Cal soothed her concerns about him fitting in at a big-time atmosphere like UK. When she tears up about how Cal’s helped her son realize his dream, I won’t lie, I teared up too. But that might be because I miss him so much.
The end of the program was basically a recruiting commercial for Cal and the program, which is a little bit ironic and cruel given that it aired right after Kentucky didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. But I liked how they portrayed Cal’s views on the “one-and-done” rule, which MKG says isn’t for everybody, but it was for him. Nothing could ring truer right now. The best quote about Cal also comes from MKG: “Coach Cal, his whole swagger is amazing. The way he walks, the way he talks, I want to please him in everything I do. That’s my guy.”
If you watched the documentary, you’re probably also wondering what happened to the part about Tubby Smith and the school’s 7th National Title. For a documentary that focused so much on the racial history of Kentucky basketball, you would think they’d include the ten-year tenure of the school’s only African American coach. Instead, they skipped from the Rick Pitino era to the Calipari Era. I understand there are time restraints, but leaving Tubby on the editing room floor is disrespectful.
Major story gaps
The documentary really needed to be two hours. Along with the Tubby Smith era, the documentary glossed over some big parts of Kentucky basketball history, including the Kentucky/Louisville rivalry, which encompasses the state for most of December, and yes, Billy Gillispie’s tenure, which I didn’t mind one bit. Also, while they spend a long time focusing on MKG, they just casually drop in a line that, oh yeah, Anthony Davis was the first pick in that draft, and he went to Kentucky, too. Time was obviously an issue, but there were some major story gaps that made it pretty obvious that this was put together by an outsider, and probably in a hurry to get it in time for the NCAA Tournament.
Joe B. Hall’s face
What happened to Joe B.’s face?! Is he okay??
Too much Tipton
Just kidding, Tipton did a fine job, but why couldn’t we get another UK historian in there…like Oscar Combs?
TOTAL SCORE: One thumb up
Overall, I enjoyed watching “Bluegrass Kingdom – The Gospel of Kentucky Basketball.” Was it a comprehensive look at Kentucky basketball’s long and storied history? No. Was it a good way to spend an hour? Sure. I didn’t even mind Drake’s narration. The only thing at really irked me was the exclusion of Tubby Smith, who at the very least deserved a shoutout for winning the school’s seventh National Championship. The program felt like an outsider’s look at Kentucky basketball, which is all fine and good, but when you’re marketing it towards Kentucky fans, the nitpickiest of them all, don’t expect anything less than a thorough review in return.