The Kentucky men’s basketball team woke up prepared to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide late Tuesday evening with a chance to take over sole position of the Southeastern Conference. After rolling over in bed and checking their phones for the first time this morning, though, the team was tasked with a new, unexpected challenge. A tragic one.
The team was met with the news of the passing of a former teammate in Ben Jordan, a UK baseball player who joined the basketball team as a walk-on during the 2019-20 season.
As one could expect, a day meant to be filled with excitement and anxiousness quickly transitioned into an emotional, challenging one.
“It was a rough day today. It was an emotional day today,” UK head coach John Calipari said after the team’s 85-65 home loss to Alabama. “We’ve got four or five that will go to the viewing tomorrow that were friends and knew they could count on Ben.”
“I learned as soon as I woke up. It’s been emotional for the guys that were around Ben last year,” redshirt freshman guard Dontaie Allen added. “The (other) players at first didn’t really know since they didn’t know him, but since then, it’s been pretty emotional. Everyone has been trying to get through it together and just trying to uplift everybody.”
Jordan originally joined the 2019-20 team as a practice player, helping an injury-ridden group of Wildcats with scrimmage bodies and drill reps. Calipari added that he was particularly helpful in Nick Richards’ development, providing physicality and size in a thin frontcourt.
Above all else, the Olive Hill, KY native just wanted to help the team he grew up rooting for any way he could.
“Ben was one of the nicest… He came in with one thing, “I need you to help Nick (Richards), I need you to be physical,”‘ Calipari said. “When I went to put him in games, he begged the coaches not to put him in. He’d say, “Coach, don’t put me in.” He was only here to help the team. He had a great smile and a great way about him. He was a little bit of a prankster. It’s just sad and it affected the guys. The guys that didn’t know him could see that the other five were emotional. It was an emotional morning, it was emotional for me hearing it. I didn’t know it until the morning.”
At the end of the day, it’s not about any loss or basketball game in general, it’s about Jordan’s family getting through this horrific time.
“I just feel for his parents, I feel for his sister. It’s just a bad deal all the way around,” Calipari said. “I’m not worried about it having an effect on my team today, this is a basketball game. That family, man…”
We miss you, Ben.
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— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) January 13, 2021