Tonight is the night that we return to the scene of the crime….well not really the scene and its not really a crime, but tonight is the night that the Cats play Mississippi State for the first time since the debacle in Atlanta. For those of you that dont remember, the Cats lost last year to the Bulldogs after having a huge lead for the majority of the game and a seemingly insurrmountable lead in the last minute. But then, the wheels fell off as Tubby Smith signaled for Sheray Thomas to come off the free throw line…..Sheray’s head was turned, he began to move….unfortunately the ball had already been given to Jodie Meeks at the line, and thus the free throw was waved off and Miss State got the chance to hit a miracle 3 to send it to overtime. In overtime, the Cats fell apart and for all intents and purposes, the Tubby Smith era ended on that day.
I remember watching that game in a bar in Atlanta as we were doing our radio show live and feeling a complete punch in the gut. First of all, an important win was taken away that likely would have kept UK out of the 8-9 game and with a fighting chance in the tournament. In addition, when you watched the game, you knew that Tubby was likely done with his time at Kentucky. I still remember the look on Donna Smith’s face in the crowd and when I saw it, I looked at Rob and said, “they wont be back next year.” But often lost in that moment was the ending for the Senior class. The group of Bobby Perry, Sheray Thomas and the Artist Formerly Known as Woo were one of the best threesomes from a personal standpoint that Kentucky has ever had on campus. However their talent deficiencies often caused great consternation from the fans and unfair hatred of the group that always bothered me.
No one felt that wrath more than Sheray. Few UK players went through more real adversity in their career than Sheray Thomas. He began his time at Kentucky as an aggressive player who would put his body on the line for any rebound, looking like the potential heir apparent to Chuck Hayes. But then he had a real illness….not the torn knee ligament kind, but the kind that makes one re-evaluate your life and things were never the same. His relatively emotionless expression (a la Joe Crawford) made many fans feel that he wasnt trying or didnt care and led to some bad moments, the worst of which was him being booed on the Rupp Arena floor. The moment against Mississippi State symbolized all that had gone wrong in his career and I truly felt bad for him at that time and I can still see the look on his face now. Having said that, after talking with Sheray later one realizes that he has adjusted himself well. He is still playing basketball now and then and like all the other seniors, is set to be a success in life. And if the above picture is any indication, he isnt hurting in the lady department either.
So tonight is the first meeting since the night in Atlanta. The Cats come off their best game of the season and truly believe they can spark the upset in Starkville. The Bulldogs are 8 point favorites (a bit high in my view) and are led by Jamont Gordon, who is one of the best players in the country that no one knows about. Some of the other Cat killers of last year are gone however as the Delk twins have transferred and Tyler Hansborough’s brother is out with an injury. For the Cats, Meeks is a lean to play and Jasper is a lean not to play, however as we have learned this season, that may mean nothing and either of them could end up on the court. The game is important, with UT and UF back to back next, and a win could do HUGE things for this team’s morale and season ahead.
To get you pumped (in addition to the pic of Sheray’s lady), here is the video from the greatest road trip to Starkville….one of my favorite UK teams gets a tremendous win and one that had me jumping up and down in my apartment in Arlington, Virginia at the time. More throughout the day….