On Monday, I put up a post about your favorite UK stories that had nothing to do with winning and losing. And I was stunned by the amount of email that I received on that topic. It has really been amazing reading through all of the cool stories from the past that make you love this program even more. I was even more surprised about the number of football-related stories I got. So, I will begin posting this stories on the site in my morning post and other times until I can get them all up, because they are really something that should make you happy as a UK fan. If your story doesn’t appear today, don’t worry, because I will try and get them up soon. And if you haven’t sent me one yet, you can do so at [email protected].
In August of ’06, my best friend’s wife took him to New York for birthday. She invited me and another close friend. As she was the only female, this quickly became a “guys weekend.” The other friend was determined that we go to a strip club. The best friend was sure his wife would veto this quickly. Other friend promptly gets wife drunk, and convinces her that “something great” would happen if we went to a strip club. We end up at random club in NY, having a normal time (normal for a strip club anyway.) About an hour after we got there, in walks the tallest human I have ever seen. I do a quick double take and it’s Shagari Alleyne! Now, this was after he had announced his transfer from UK, but we were drunk and didn’t care. We immediately ran over for handshakes and a bunch of drunken rambling with him. After about five minutes, we went back to our table and left him alone with his posse. The best friend’s wife was amazed at how correct it was that “something great” happened!
My dad and I attended the father-son summer camp a few times. I played on my middle school basketball team and was with the high school team until midway through my sophomore year, but the second time we went was actually after I wasn’t playing organized ball anymore. The first time was before my freshman year. A few things stand out in my mind from that year. One was all of the campers packed into one of the dining halls trying to watch Game 5 of the 1994 NBA Finals, which, of course, was interrupted by the O.J. Simpson chase. It was on this trip that I also had Papa John’s pizza for the first time, as the chain hadn’t graced our far western Kentucky area just yet.
Neither of these things are as memorable, obviously, as the time we got to spend with Mr. Wildcat, Bill Keightley. In those few moments with Mr. Keightley, it became quite clear why no one has a bad word to say about the man. I felt like we were catching up with some long-lost family member. Quite an experience for us. Pitino was there for the first day but gone the second, leaving his staff and players to run the camp. I remember the rumor being that he was interviewing for another NBA job, which made it less of a surprise for me when he actually did leave a couple years later.
Our second trip provided another great experience for us. Tubby Smith had just been hired as head coach, and he was involved in the camp from start to finish and everything in between. The second day of the camp included a 2-on-2 tournament. Naturally, the speed at which some of us wannabes played left a fair amount of downtime between games. Dad and I were shooting to keep warm, and who walks up? Tubby and Saul: “You guys wanna play?”
My top memory from our game: Dad takes the ball at the top of the key. I’ve got Saul posted up at the top-right elbow of the lane. Dad fakes a bounce pass to my left, and I roll right and toward the basket. Dad hits me with a lob, I catch. Right foot, leap, left-hand layup … rolls off the right side of the rim. It became clear at this time that I made the right decision to quit my high school team. Still, a great time and a great memory.
For a few years as I was growing up we would go to Oxford, MS to watch UK play Ole Miss. As far as I know there was only one hotel in town which meant we stayed at the same hotel as the team. I remember me and my brother and cousin waiting for our dads to tell us the team was headed down to the restaurant to eat. We would go meet all the players and get pictures and autographs. As a kid that was maybe 9 or 10 years old that was priceless.
One thing that tops that was the day we were eating at the same time the team was. My dad told me that Coach Rupp and Caywood Ledford were at a table on the other side of the restaurant. As the youngest of my brother and cousin I was “elected” to go to their table first and ask for their autographs. As I approached the table I remember being as nervous as a cat. Even at my young age I knew what a legend Coach Rupp was. I eased up to the table and sheepishly asked for his autograph. Without hesitation Coach Rupp turned to me and said “Why would you want my autograph? My name is John Johnson.” I know I had to have turned white as a ghost and was about ready to bolt when he started laughing and put his arm around me and said “sure you can, son”. With the path now cleared my brother and cousin quickly lined up behind me for their autographs. We also got our picture taken with him which I have framed today.
It must have been during the ’71-’72 season because I remember when he walked into the gym before the game there in Oxford he received a standing ovation from everyone in the gym. I remember getting chills when this happened because even at that age I realized the significance of this happening to a Kentucky coach at an away game.
I appreciate all of this much more now than I did at the time. For a man who was such a legend as Coach Rupp to take the time as he was preparing for an away game in the SEC to be so gracious to a scared and nervous little UK fan still means alot to me. And to pull a little prank on me that would make the experience even more memorable is priceless. Though not at the time I’m glad now that my brother and cousin were too chicken to go ask Coach Rupp for his autograph and sent me instead.