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Top 20 SEC Tournament Moments

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My favorite long weekend of the year is once again upon us. Even with all the distractions all the controversy of the last couple of weeks, nothing to me is better than the SEC Tournament. This is now the 21st SEC Tournament since I began going annually in 1989 and every year it is always great. This year the crew is smaller, due in large part to the fact that the SEC idiotically put this game in in the Everglades. The crew is slightly different, with the regulars (Mosley, Macon Vol Fan and Payne), a known newcomer (Bobby Perry) and a wildcard (the possibility of a Sky Walker joining the excursion). This will be the fifth consecutive year that I do the Live Blog, in my view the best time of the year here on KSR. We have some new ideas as to how we will cover the event and I cant wait for it to begin. However in order to fully celebrate this 21st anniversary, below is the list of my 21 favorite moments from the last 21 years….some on the court, most off the court, some serious, some absurd. Now some of you may remember that we started this last year and I didnt finish it…..not this time, we will do 21-11 tonight and the rest tomorrow night. Look for news for the rest of the day on here, but for now without further ado:

(20) – Since 1996, my SEC Tournament attendance has been with a group of guys from high school, college and law school that over the years have morphed into the Kentucky Sports Radio crew. While covering UK is a hobby of the vast majority of the group, there are Tennessee fans as well (Macon Vol Fan and Payne for instance), thus making female watching the only unifying factor that can bring the whole group together. Thus each year we engage in a ritual known as “Ranking the SEC Dance Squads”, that has been known to generate the highest of controversy. During the first few days of the tournament, we watch the routines of the young ladies that are too unathletic/hot to be on the cheerleading teams and put together are top 12. The ratings vary from year to year, but some things are consistent. First, LSU and Arkansas always bring it….second, Ole Miss is always bitterly disappointing…..third, like its basketball team, Vandy occasionally makes a surprising run. One of the wildcards is that Macon Vol Fan (like all Tennessee fans) is strange, and thus he cant just look/judge the beautiful college dancers, but instead feels the need to get to know their families. Thus he will attempt to meet the parents (or in some cases grandparents) of the young ladies, in order to try to seem like a sweetheart. This leads to the inevitable moment when they return to the stands, their grandmother looks up and says “honey, this is Macon Vol Fan….he thinks you and the girls are pretty!” She proceeds to give a look of disgust and Macon Vol Fan leaves in shame. A good tradition….

(19) – Few people know just what a strong affinity I have for Renaldo Balkman. I loved the way he played, his tremendous energy and the fact that he looked like Humpty Hump. But during the SEC Tournament of his Junior season, I found myself giving NBA Draft advice to the man whose name is pronounced with an “umpty.” South Carolina had played well for most of the tournament and I had interviewed Balkman a couple of times, mostly out of boredom. After the last interview, his sister came up to me and said, “you seem to know what you are talking about….With your experience in the world of scouting, where do you think Renaldo would go in the NBA Draft if he were to leave early?” Now of course, I have no experience in the world of scouting, and I had no real ability to give her an answer….but that has never stopped me before. So I said to her, “well from my contacts in the NBA (I of course have no contacts in the NBA, but it sounded good), I think he would have a shot at going in the first round.” She smiled and said, “thats what we are thinking.” After the season Balkman declared for the Draft, and was a First Round Pick….and I prefer to think it was because of me.

(18) – The 2002 SEC Basketball Tournament in Atlanta was easily the worst tournament from a basketball perspective in the past 20 years. Mississippi State beat Alabama in the finals and no one cared outside of Rick Stansbury’s parents. The Cats that year were seeded in the #2 East position like this year and thus played at 9:45 on Friday night. That draw (which I like) always puts the crew in an odd spot, for besides Mosley and Macon Vol Fan and I, the rest could care less about the other games. They thus are left moaning about watching bad games and asking my continually, “when does UK play again?” Such was the case in 2002 with my friends Brett and Trevor as they waited endlessly for Kentucky to take the court. As game after game went by and the Cats didnt play, Brett and Trevor began to sip some Kentucky bourbon, thus making them thoroughly rowdy for the Cats game late on Friday. The Cats took the court….proceeded to get stomped by South Carolina….and Brett and Trevor proceeded to get angry. Trevor yelled out “I have seen LSU play 14 TIMES THIS TOURNAMENT and now Kentucky is out…..I hate you Alabama!” Besides being nonsensical, this comment got the Alabama fans attention and Brett and Trevor found themselves nose to nose with a random old man for Alabama screaming about who had “less class” (Trevor also told the fan he “smelled like Birmingham’s armpit” which also didnt make sense, but is kind of funny). At that moment we learned a lesson that will be applied this and every year….when the Cats play late, make sure that the bourbon drinking is kept in moderation….or at least sit away from other teams’ fans.

(17) In 2001, the tournament was in the newly constructed Gaylord Center in Nashville and a young Mosley, Vol Fan and I (the same diehards for every tournament) showed up early to see the new digs. Our seats were at the top (we have improved greatly since then) and we went to our seats to see our section empty, with one exception. For in the vast structure of the Gaylord Center, only one seat is truly obstructed….Section 221, Row 3, Seat 12….directly behind a pole. There in that seat sat the most pitiful fat man I have ever seen, who unfortunately for him, bore an uncanny resemblance to Milton from “Office Space.” As we walked up, he was planted (with nachos) in his chair, staring at the ticket he just bought from a scalper. He looked at us and said, “I dont think this is fair….you cant see out of this seat.” We just shrugged our shoulders and set down, taking up five seats each since no one was there. Rather than move however, Milton stayed behind that pole for the entire tournament, never once considering even moving one seat over to the empty one next to him. As every game went on, Milton just stared at the pole….not content, but obeying the rules to such a degree that he would not claim a different seat….thus reminding us all that patience is indeed not always a virtue.

(16) – Two years ago in Atlanta, Rob Gidel and I had the first tournament with our new radio show. Rob and I arrived in Atlanta ready to do the show live from Jocks and Jills across from the Georgia Dome. Hubby came along as our producer and we walked into a packed bar on Thursday morning ready to begin. Now some who have been around me know that at times, I can have a hair trigger for a temper….especially at people who seem to be inept at what they are doing. Case in point this day, where as we walked in the door, I asked the Assistant Manager where our show would be set up….and he responded with authority that there was no show happening at the bar. Insisting that he must be mistaken, I calmly asked him if someone had just forgotten to tell him….he said no, and using the 0-80 temper I can occasionally have, I then proceeded to have what some would call a “rant.” Letting me finish (which was nice of him), He then responded to my query by asking us to kindly leave, thus giving Rob and Hubby the chance to punch me in the face with their collective stares.

Having no place to do the show at this point, we went into panic mode and tried to find a place where we could call long distance and broadcast to the masses. Our three collective heads came up with the best option we could think of….a Fraternity house at Georgia Tech. We drove across town, knocked on the door and proceeded to walk into the basement of the most disgusting, vomit-ridden frat house in all of the modern American college system. Because (shockingly) the Sig Eps at Georgia Tech (who still repulse me) did not have a working radio studio in their basement, we were once again unable to get our equipment to work and we left to go with the next best option….broadcasting (I am not kidding) over a speaker phone in our hotel room, while paying hotel long distance rates. The ensuing show on 1570 AM was quite possibly the worst broadcast in modern radio history, complete with a drunk Tomlin giggling throughout about a midget he saw in the elevator, Rob trying not to throw me off the balcony during commercial breaks and the random sound of Hubby flushing the toilet every 30 minutes over the air. It was a day that will live in radio infamy and was summed up well by Gregg Doyel, who was a guest that fine afternoon, when he said, “Never in my life have I been more embarrassed to be a part of something than I am today.” Ladies and Gentlemen, Kentucky Sports Radio!

(15) – Part of the excitement of the SEC Tournament every year is to try and catch glimpes of minor celebrities in attendance that we may be able to annoy or harass in some way. Usually that group only extends to the Chik-Fil-A “Legends” (for all of you waiting to see Gerald Glass or Barry Goheen in person, you are in luck!), but occasionally can also include some other big time stars. One year we saw Mark Curry from “Hangin With Mr. Cooper” fame….one year we saw Isiah Thomas next to the Arkansas band, which he then proceeded to immediately ruin…and of course there was the year that we nearly got an EPO for our continued harrassment of Danny Ferry. But really for us, especially in the early years, the celebrities were whoever we saw that we might have remembered from television. One year we were trying to get rid of some early round tickets (there is no sense of self-delusion greater than the Kentucky fan who thinks he can sell his seats to the games in which Kentucky is not playing for anywhere close to face value….watching these people is endlessly entertaining) and my friend Corey was trying to find a price which the market would bear. Seeing random people walk by, he tried to do the old sales trick of making it personal and thus when a Tennessee fan would walk by he would say, “Discounted tickets 10 bucks if you are a UT fan!” When that didnt work, he got a bit more personal and when a guy walked by with a Digger Phelps-esque 1930s hat, he said, “Discounted ticket if you have a funny looking hat!” That however didnt work either and Corey was growing impatient when out of nowhere he saw Larry Conley walking towards the Arena….Larry at this time was on television almost nightly on ESPN and was a big star (not as big as Kige Ramsey, but close)….and we were very impressed. But Corey didnt miss a beat, yelling “Discounted ticket 5 bucks if you were a Rupps Runt!” Conley stopped, looked back and smiled and handed Corey 5 bucks for the ticket….a very special moment…well at least until Corey blew the 5 bucks on Dippin Dots (”The Ice Cream of the Future” which simply wont get here already).

(14) – Everyone has their favorite random player from another SEC team. Maybe you liked the toughness of a guy like Matt Frieje or the crazy accuracy of a “I’m Sorry” Chris Jackson (Ooh I am for real). But for the Kentucky Sports Radio crew, no one will ever beat Joey Waldrop. (pictured above and now an amazingly, an actor). Waldrop was the king of awful and his performance at the SEC Tournament was so hideous that his legend still remains with us to this day. Not only did he have a body straight out of a Dunkin Donuts factory and a face that Adam Morrison would mock, but he also found a way to play even more awkwardly than he looked. Watching Waldrop drop a pass, fall down or throw it forty rows into the stands never got old….but no moment quite matched his famous free throw on a Thursday against Ole Miss. With the crowd of approximately 50 people watching on (including those of us would never miss it), Joey got fouled and went to the line. He awkwardly lifted the ball over his hand (exposing his knotted up armpit hair) and shot a free throw….which he missed….by two feet…..left of the goal. Think about all of the free throws you have seen. An occasional free throw will come up air ball short and it is correctly mocked. But have you ever in your day seen an air ball missed left? Probably not, and that is why Joey Waldrop will always be our #1 crush.

(13) – My first year with a press credential to the SEC Tournament was 2004 and it was an amazing experience. Getting to go behind the scenes of the event never ceases to be cool (if for no other reason than to make fun of all of the reporters), but the first time was truly special. I never thought I would have a chance to be in that situation and when I did, I was a bit star struck. However I must admit that on that first day of 2004 I never really thought that it would be the day where I would almost see Dale Brown die. While standing in the backstage area looking lost and hoping not to be discovered, I heard a man yell for help, only to look down and see a pale Dale Brown lying on the five feet from me. Realizing that he had passed out and this would be a good time to exit stage left, I quickly got out of the way as terrified people surrounded the fallen coach. There was a serious worry backstage that something bad had happened to him when he passed out, but he turned out ok….still yet, it was a bit of an odd experience. I was used to the Dale Brown back when I started in 1989, the one you yelled at and screamed to have kicked out while he was yelling at the referees coaching one of his underachieving teams, not the Dale Brown that passes out at my feet like an old Brian the Intern. Thankfully Dale was ok and everything went on unscathed….but I refuse to get close to Sonny Smith this year, that is for certain.

(12) – The 2001 Tournament in Nashville contained a lot of heart-pounding moments and ended in a great Kentucky victory yet again. But the highlight of the trip for me may have been at the beginning, when I first arrived in Music City. AT that time we generally agreed to have Macon Vol Fan arranged for our living accomodations. We were all cheapskates at this point….staying in hotels that often had barred up windows and coackroaches working as the Concierge. This particular year, Corey and I were to arrive early and Macon Vol Fan had set up the reservations at just such an establishment. He told me that when I checked in, I needed to be sure and mention his “coupon” that would get us a great rate….if I forgot, we didnt get the rate. In classic Macon Vol Fan style, he reminded me of this approximately 400 times until I had it engrained in my head. But as it got close, I choked and as Corey and I arrived and checked in….I immediately forget the “coupon.” As we filled out our registration, the man said the room would be $49.95 a night (again big spenders). It then hit me that I had forgotten to mention the “coupon”….I looked at the man and said, “Oh yeah, I forgot to say that my friend said we had a coupon for the room.” The clerk looked at me and said, “Oh ok, let me see the new rate.” He then proceeded to do a number of calculations with a stern look on his face and looked up, without a hint of humor, and said, “that will be $54.95 a night.” There you have it….only a Tennessee fan could pull that off.

(11) – When you watch these players on television and follow their college careers, you often dont think about what happens to the guys when they finish their time at college. Such was the case for me with Arkansas star Todd Day. I knew Day had played some in the NBA, but when he left the Celtics I wasnt sure where life had taken him. As far as I knew, he didnt have his own blog and had yet to be on a reality show, so he had slipped off my radar….well at least until the fateful day at the 2003 SEC Tournament in New Orleans when I ran into him at the famous Jambalaya place Mom’s. When I sat down to dig into some good cajun food, I turned around and noticed that the former Martin to Lee Mayberry’s Lewis, Todd Day was sitting next to me. Remembering him from his days at Arkansas, I said hello and noticed he had on a Razorbacks warmup suit. I asked him what he was doing now and he said he was doing some work with the team. I then had what to this day is one of the more depressing conversations I have ever had. A partial transcript:

Me: Man I remember those Arkansas-Kentucky games back in the day. They were so much fun. You guys used to bring great crowds to these tournaments.

Todd Day: Yeah those were the days. Back then basketball was great…now it just sucks.

Me: Oh yeah things arent great at Arkansas now, but it will get better.

Todd Day: Yeah maybe but maybe not. Are you in college now?

Me: No, law school.

Todd Day: Well enjoy it, because I tell you when school is over its all downhill man. Things just start piling up and it just aint fun like it used to be. You get problems wtih women, people be after your money. Man seriously life will start sucking for you soon….so enjoy it while you can.

Me: Ok Todd….well I gotta go.

If that is the attitude Todd Day has, imagine what Oliver Miller thinks….

I will have 1-10 tomorrow night (promise), but until then, stay tuned all day as we get you ready for all things SEC……

Article written by Matt Jones