Without new NCAA Tournament games to watch in 2020, most folks have resulted to watching classic college basketball action. The only thing getting in-between me and a few classic Kentucky wins was a replay Lynn Bowden’s performance in the Belk Bowl on the SEC Network. During my time traversing the world of college basketball in the 80s and 90s, I discovered a few things about the game I love.
1. There’s No Scoreboard?!?!
How did you watch a game if you didn’t know the score? I can’t watch games now without a live stats feed, yet for years people tuned in without seeing the score or time on the clock for a majority of the action. I can’t even imagine what it was like trying to keep up from a sports bar when you were lucky just to get a score graphic after a made bucket.
When we did get graphics, they weren’t always accurate, like when the fledgling ESPN2 showed Tony Delk’s free throw stats as Anthony Epps stepped up to the free throw line in overtime for a pair of game-winning free throws in the 1995 SEC Championship Game.
The antiquated technology also meant the audience did not get to see modern marvels like ‘Jimmy’s Jet.’ Instead, we were forced to hear Dykes and Nessler, or Uncle Verne and Len Elmore, actually call the basketball game. There weren’t discussions about the Fab Five and the team’s long-term impact on college basketball. Broadcasters talked about the game they were watching, the way a game is supposed to be called.
2. Pressing was Fun
When people say, “Back in my day, the game used to be more fun to watch.” Maybe that’s because teams could still effectively press. The fullcourt press has unfortunately gone the way of the dinosaur. Who’s to blame? We’ll leave that discussion for another day (but let’s be honest, today’s elite athlete is too good for the press; interpret that however you’d like).
Sure, Pitino’s press gave up layups to great teams. But it produced a ton of points, forced him to deploy a deep bench and nine-point deficits with less than two minutes to play were not insurmountable. The practicians of Nolan Richardson’s 40 Minutes of Hell even succumbed to the pressure in the final two minutes of overtime to lose to UK in the Georgia Dome in 95.
3. So Much Swag
Great gracious, St. Athanasius!
Kentucky’s swagger was on a hundred thousand trillion throughout the 90s. Even Bill Keightley was fresh from head to toe.
Although, the stripes weren’t as flattering on Epps’ derrière.
Rick Pitino never liked to wear the same uniform for more than a year. It’s a trend he took with him to Louisville. It created some animated concoctions that will live in infamy. While I generally approve of keeping it fresh, there’s one exception: the 1992s. Even though they bring up bad memories, you can’t find a better Kentucky basketball uniform.
4. I Get “The Unforgettables”
Many of this website’s readers were too young or did not exist when The Greatest Game Ever Played ended with The Shot at The Spectrum in 1992. Even though it happened two days before I turned six months old, I’ve always hated Laettner, like every other self-respecting Kentucky fan. To really understand why, you have to understand why that Kentucky team was so beloved.
A few years ago I read Gene Wojciehowski’s excellent book that chronicled the lead up to the game and how the events unfolded. “The Last Great Game” provided proper context. To truly understand it, I had to watch the game myself.
Within minutes, I was complaining about the officials as they sent John Pelphrey to the bench. You could not only see the passion in the way he played, you could feel it. The way Sean Woods scrapped, the way Deron Feldhaus defended and the pride that beamed when Uncle Verne announced the ball would be inbounded “by the pride of Clay County, Richie Farmer.”
There was something special about that team. They had it. What exactly it is can be difficult to describe. That’s why they’re Unforgettable.