Actually, no, I don’t mean that Jeff Sheppard wants to be a blogger, though that’s totally cool with us if he does. I mean that these guys do, and they entered the contest: Mack Perkins, Adam Horn and Corey Nichols. You can read their entries about Jeff Sheppard after the jump. Or don’t. It’s a free country. But I will say this: one of them will be cut. Not physically. From the contest. Anyway, read on.
Shep and I do in fact have a storied past. This is my story, the following events are true. None of the names have been changed in order to protect anyone.
Do you remember the first time you met a Kentucky Wildcat in person? How was that experience? Probably not as cool as you envisioned it. It’s really a no win situation for said player. If he was rude, “How dare you, sir?” If he was nice, he wasn’t nice enough.
I remember the first time I met a UK player. He was Jeff Brassow. Jeff was at the local high school doing the barnstorming tour with Travis Ford and, I think it was Jared Prickett (probably a safe guess, since he was a 9 year letter winner). At the autograph signings at the end of the exhibition, I approached Brassow. I wasn’t going to even speak for my nerves, but mustered up enough courage to ask in my feminine middle school voice, “Can you make that out to Mack?” Brassow grabbed my book, ignored my girlish person, signed only his name, and passed it on to the other players. This, for some reason, infuriated me. At that moment, I wanted to become a great UK player myself for the sole opportunity that one day, Brassow would want MY autograph, and I would treat HIM as if he were a nobody and give HIM a generic signature. OBVIOUSLY, I got over it, and actually lost the autograph over the years. Brassow didn’t mean anything by it, but he was in a lose-lose situation. I had put UK players so high on a pedestal they could never live up to my expectations. All the same, I was crushed that particular night.
Fast forward 6 years later. UK had just won its 2nd title in 3 years. Jeff Sheppard was named MOP of the 1998 NCAA Tournament and was on the cover of the new NCAA video game. Shep was a hot commodity. During that summer, he and his wife, Stacey, were living in my hometown, London, KY. So our story begins.
I was a grocery bagger at the local London Kroger, and who but Jeff Sheppard comes waltzing in with his wife doing a little shopping. Everyone was freaking out, asking if that was really him. When they came to the front to pay for their items, I was the only bagger there. So, I bagged their groceries and insisted that I take them out to his car. I didn’t say much, being afraid to get crushed again. I stayed quiet for the most part. Then I thought of the particular circumstance I was in, and blurted out “This is really weird. I mean 2 months ago I was watching you on TV, and now I am bagging your groceries…ha ha..that’s weird.” It was in that moment Shep made me feel like the dumbest, smallest human on earth — though not on purpose, I’m sure. He simply half-smiled, turned away and got in his car. Stacey then tried to make me feel better by saying “He can’t hear that well” or something, but once again I was devastated.
I knew at that point I was no longer going to be a UK player and show Brassow and Shep how cool I was. So how did I respond? By writing a song that pokes fun of Jeff’s hometown, Peach Tree City, Georgia. It was a college cult classic and my mom loved it. It’s not that insulting, but was intended as a shot at Shep a t the time:
Whats up with all the golf carts down there?
Months later we actually had a conversation while he was signing books at a bookstore where I was working. He had no option but to converse with me. We discussed if Nazr should go pro or come back, you know typical stuff. I considered him to be cool again and forgave what may have happened in the past. I moved on.
The last time our paths crossed was when a church in London was hiring a youth pastor. I applied hoping to get it. Who ended up getting the job? Jeff Sheppard, of course.
The moral of the story is, these guys sign with Kentucky to play ball for the best university in the nation. They are not perfect, or super human, they play basketball. They’re not your friend just because you watch them on TV or tweet them (btw, follow me on twitter @mack_e_p). They’re just like everyone you meet on a daily basis; some are friendly some not so much. In the case of the 2 Jeff’s, they did nothing wrong. In fact, they probably did the right thing. We are so crazy about basketball, something as simple as a head nod may send us into convulsions. So, in the end, Shep, even though you will never know I exist, I ain’t mad at cha.
Shep for Us Young’uns (or, Why Madisonville loves Jeff Sheppard)
Let me do you readers who are expecting a piece of super-informed journalism a favor. My memories of Jeff Sheppard are about as vivid as my memories of Ben Savage: I watched him on TV a few times when I was a kid. Actually, scratch that; I watched way more Boy Meets World reruns than basketball games.
Unfortunately, knowing which school Topanga turned down to stay with Cory won’t help me tell you anything you didn’t know about Jeff Sheppard. Neither will being in Canada, where asking myself, “Was that Jon Hood on his third breakaway dunk? Was that Jerry Tipton who just got run over by a human bowling ball? Am I dreaming, or is everything better in Canada?” takes precedence over writing.
Then again, I guess BTI is proof that KSR has a long tradition of uninformed ranting and rambling. So here goes mine. If you’re in college like me, maybe you’ll learn something. If you’re old enough to remember the LSU comeback like it was yesterday, there’s a sick Sheppard dunk against Stanford on YouTube. By the time you get done reminiscing, maybe you’ll forget to make a snarky comment below.
Instead of telling you what little I know about Jeff Sheppard, I thought I’d look for a couple of guys who seem to know a lot about him. That brought me straight to Jon Hood, who wore Sheppard’s jersey out for his dunk contest at the Derby Classic, and Drew Franklin, who deemed Sheppard — a player whose career stats, despite his love from the fan base, are roughly equal to Erik Daniels’s minus the rebounds — “the greatest basketball player to wear a Kentucky uniform.”
Lucky for me, as an amateur journalist I’ve got as many unnamed sources as the Chicago Sun-Times. Those sources were able to get me the inside track on what exactly it was about Sheppard that took Franklin and Hood, Madisonville’s finest — so recently divided by Twitter conflict — and united them in love for a 6’3” shooting guard from Peachtree City, Georgia. Enjoy:
From Jon Hood’s Childhood Journal (circa 1997)
If only there were more to do in Madisonville. It’s like my parents thought they were going to Bowling Green then thought they were going to Owensboro then got mixed up and went straight between and a little too far and figured they might as well stay. But at least there’s Kentucky basketball to watch. My favorite player got a redshirt from Pitino this year, but that’s OK. They say he only averaged a few points a game his freshman year, but I like how he’s a man of faith and a team player. Besides, he’s got range on his shot, he’s a hard worker, and he’ll be a leader next year. I guess the bench isn’t such a bad place to be, not when you’re wearing the blue and white. I see you, big fella. I see you 1-5. I see you workin. I even heard he won the high jump down in Georgia. Isn’t much to do in Madisonville but go practice ball or maybe do a little high-jumping…
(Jon Hood, I don’t tweet and I’m not on staff here. You can’t block me yet.)
From Drew Franklin’s Teenage Diary (circa 1998)
Dear The Drew Franklin,
Today I took one of those career tests to tell me what I’ll be really good at when I get out of school. What’s a “Twitter All-Star?” Hope it involves women and booze, but whatever. I’ll pretend to be a celebrity anyways. But how bout them Comeback CATS? Should have been the third title in a row. Shep took over the Final Four. From redshirt to Final Four MVP… you gotta love it. That elbow he took from Wojo is what set us off in the Elite 8. In the sixth grade he wrote a paper about wanting to play for us in the Final Four! Shep proves one guy with Kentucky across his chest who won’t accept losing is all it takes to hang another banner in Rupp. I guess it’s time for a somewhat appropriate rap lyric: You’ll always be the greatest. I miss you big. Can’t wait for the day when I see your face again…
The Drew Franklin
Maybe those two sources helped make sense of what exactly makes 1-5 one of the most memorable players of the 90s. Maybe Jon Hood — whose first year, despite being spent on a much more talented team than the ’94 Kentucky squad, wasn’t much less productive than Sheppard’s own freshman season — will turn out to be as important as his idol in the long run. Maybe Drew Franklin had better not be my judge this round, or I’m sunk. Anyways, hey comments section: is Topanga still a looker?
WHO IS JEFF SHEPPARD?
“The only white guy I’ve ever wanted to be.”
“First white boy I can remember that I thought could jump out of the gym.”
“Awesome college bball player who literally forget [sic] how to play after that.”
“Player that is better in people’s memories than he really was. I loved him, but I’m just sayin[g].”
I was twelve in 1998. Memories are made when you’re twelve. Unfortunately most of those memories are terrible. Almost all of them, actually. Memories of asking a girl out over the phone (only because text messaging didn’t exist yet. Did it?) and getting turned down. May have had something to do with the braces. Memories of my dog running away while I was out of town, and my family not telling me until I got confused a few days later when she wasn’t in the backyard. Memories of getting grounded so bad I wasn’t even allowed to read. Don’t worry about why. Memories of getting gravel in my elbow (it’s still there) from wrecking on a razor scooter and completely ripping off my brand new corduroy pants at a family reunion. There’s a moment I want back.
Memories of Sheppard and the Comeback Cats, though, are anything but awful. I shouldn’t have to tell you why.
But memory is like nighttime: we enjoy it because it suppresses idle details. As evidenced by the quotes above, there are some slightly different reactions (including one confused guy who was clearly thinking about video games) from UK fans when it comes to Jeff Sheppard. Sometimes, when you take a closer look at something from your past, and analyze it for what it was and not just what it meant to you, you’ll find that it may not have been exactly like what you remember. Like 3 Ninjas. Ever watch that as an adult? Frickin’ awful.
So what should we remember about the first beloved #15 of the modern era? If we can be real for a minute here (isn’t this the circle of trust? the trust tree? the nest?), we may be surprised by some statistics. Sheppard went straight from championship team to championship team, since he redshirted ’96-’97. He went from averaging 5.5 points per game in ’96 to 13.7 points in ’98 (according to bigbluehistory.net). By all accounts, that’s a good improvement. But 13.7 ppg seems a little low for a Final Four MOP (why is it outstanding instead of valuable? That is still ridiculous to me), especially when you consider that, with rebounding and assist averages of 3.97 and 2.73 respectively, making points was his job in ’98. Yet even with this stat line, he is arguably the most revered player from Tubby’s first squad. Didn’t Jodie Meeks score more points per game just two years ago? Will Jodie Meeks be remembered like Jeff Sheppard? No, safe to say he won’t be. Jodie will be remembered as the guy who made Bruce Pearl cry. And there’s nothing wrong with that; I’d love to be remembered as such. So why do we idolize and heroify (real word? it is now) Sheppard?
Occum’s Razor, baby. The simplest explanation is most often the correct one. In this case, it’s as simple as one word (two times): Championship. Let’s be real here: Jeff Sheppard is the Bizzarro version of Lebron James. With limited NBA success and very few individual accolades (excepting FF MOP and 3rd Team All-America honors), Jeff Sheppard can attribute all his hype to the success of his team. And isn’t that what everybody is saying they want? In a basketball climate where legacies are measured in championships and individual accomplishments are eschewed (Kevin Durant won Scoring Leader this year? wtf.), the race for rings is on like Sonic the Hedgehog in Middle Earth. And Jeff Sheppard has two.
But he didn’t just win rings. In Kentucky, we’re blamed for saying that’s all we care about. That’s not entirely true. We want you to win championships as one of us. We want to welcome you into the family as a real Blue-Blood, instead of seeing you as a mercenary hired from out of state to come play basketball for a few years. I mentioned that I was writing this article to a fellow teacher, and she said, “Oh, I just saw him in a commercial the other day.” THAT is what we love about Sheppard: he’s still around, he’s still a part of the family. Not only is he still part of the family, but it seems like he always was, even while living in Georgia. In a recent interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sheppard said, “As a boy, I dreamed about playing basketball at Kentucky. I wrote a paper in the sixth grade about wanting to go to the Final Four with Kentucky.” How can we not love a guy like that?
We love Jeff Sheppard like we love ourselves. We’re not entirely honest all the time, and a few things may be exaggerated, but when it comes down to it, we want the best for him, because he gave his best for us. Maybe Sheppard’s dearth of professional basketball success endeared him to us even more. Didn’t Nazr Mohammed win some championships also? But Nazr isn’t living in London, KY right now, making commercials aired in the Bluegrass. Sheppard is like that cousin you’re proud of, even if you don’t see him all the time. He is, and always will be, a welcome son to the UK family, because while I had to research his 13.7 ppg in a database somewhere, the image of him holding cutting down those nets is one that I will always remember.
When you get to this point, you kind of hope that in your batch there will be one entry you really hate, because that makes it easier to judge. Alas, that wasn’t the case here, and all three were fine, fine pieces — which makes this very tough. But one must fall, and so let’s get to things:
MACK: I have to admit, my initial reaction to this piece was “man, this guy really has some deep-seeded baggage from being lightly snubbed by Jeff Brassow and Jeff Sheppard.” But by your very eloquent wrap-up of the issue in the last paragraph, I thought it was a nicely resounding point. Plus, I have to admit that it’s impressive you constructed an entire song about Sheppard’s hometown to get back at him, and I found myself laughing out loud at the elevating number of golf cart pictures in the montage. Overall, it was a nice mixture of weird, poignant and absurd. And that’s not bad at all. I did dock you a point for ending on “I ain’t mad at cha,” but only because I’m a stickler for grammar.
ADAM: First, let me say this — I am very much behind any piece which heavily features Boy Meets World, so kudos for that. Some really great jokes in here too. You say you wrote this in Canada, and I’m not sure if an extra couple of Labatt’s snuck into this piece or maybe the content conversion rate back to the US was miscalculated, but I have to admit I didn’t really get where you were going and thought it was a little bit of an odd way to get there. It, to me, felt a little mashed and didn’t really track. I had to read it again, and still wasn’t sure I totally got the premise. It’s very well written, and points for reaching for a high bar concept-wise, but I’m not sure this did it for me. My two cents.
COREY: For my money, Corey, yours was the strongest of these three. It was clever, funny and ended up meaning something very cool, which I dug. I thought your writing style really tapped into a conversational tone, you didn’t try too hard, and it ended up really seeming like an easy piece to read, get behind, and like a great deal. Plus, you raised some very sharp points and did it without seeming like you were just fact-spouting. You put the content in context, and you did it quite nicely. Very well done, my friend.
And that’s that, people. If I’m turning in my scorecard for this round, I’ve got to score it:
1. Corey Nichols
2. Mack Perkins
3. Adam Horn
So only Corey and Mack will move on from this round. I hope we can still be friends, Adam. Everyone give him a round of applause as he rides off into the sunset. Please come again.