What was meant to be a much-needed blowout for the Kentucky Wildcats against a “no-name” opponent quickly turned into a dazzling effort on Virginia Military Institute’s side of things.
And it’s all thanks to one individual: VMI guard Bubba Parham.
The Cats eventually pulled through for a ten-point victory to move to 3-1 on the year, with Reid Travis, PJ Washington, and Quade Green each finishing with 17 or more points. But instead of “veteran leaders push Kentucky to win” headlines and narratives following the win, it was Parham who stole all of the attention.
Parham, a 5-foot-11 sophomore guard out of Snellville, Ga., finished the day with 35 points on 11-20 shooting overall and a ridiculous 10-16 from three. With a hand in his face or none, double-teamed or left alone, Parham was a living, breathing version of an NBA Jam character, flames and all.
It didn’t matter where he shot ball from or the perceived difficulty, Parham knew it was going in.
“I saw a few go early and my teammates kept feeding me the ball in the right spots and I just kept knocking them down,” Parham said.
While some players shy away from the spotlight or crumble under pressure, Parham managed to thrive in it. For him, it was a dream come true to play in a high-profile facility like Rupp Arena.
“We all dream of playing in big arenas like this,” he said. “I’m just blessed to be able to have the opportunity and my coach have faith in me to shoot the ball. It’s a blessing.”
Kentucky head coach John Calipari couldn’t help but tip his hat to Parham and the shooting clinic he put on with the world watching.
“He made some crazy ones,” Calipari said. “The kid was feeling it. I tell you what, hats off to him. He made 10-16, I haven’t seen that.”
At one point, Parham heaved a highly-contested shot several feet beyond the three-point arc at the top of the key, falling to the ground in the process. Kentucky guard Quade Green, the on-ball defender at the time, quickly whispered to the VMI guard that he guaranteed a miss.
“When I released it, he said there was no way that was going in,” said Parham. “It felt good coming off my hands, so I tried to draw the foul at the same time. I didn’t get it, but (the shot) fell.”
When the ball fell through the net, Green couldn’t help but shake his head and tap Parham on the behind while the Keydet guard gave his best Michael Jordan shrug.
“I was really mad, really,” Green said. “But I had no choice but to laugh at it. He was just on fire today.”
By the end of the game, Kentucky fans were cheering on Parnham’s ridiculous performance and each shot that fell. It was the second-most points allowed at Rupp Arena in the Calipari era, behind only Texas A&M’s Elston Turner, who dropped 40 points on the Cats back in 2013.
“I was in a groove and I am a rhythm shooter so once I hit a couple, see them go in, everything was good from there,” he said.
Parham’s biggest fan in attendance? His mother, Cynthia, who was easily the most passionate fan in the Rupp Arena crowd from start to finish. She said her son came into the game prepared for the high-pressure environment with zero fear. In fact, he was excited for the opportunity to put on a show with the spotlight at its brightest.
“It was amazing, he knew this was a big stage,” Cynthia Parham said. “He was going to give it all he had. His high school came to watch him, he was thrilled.”
Cynthia says her son’s career-high to that point was 26 points, but he has never been on fire the way he was tonight. And even if it left the Big Blue Nation in shambles, she was cheering on her son to help pull off the historic upset.
“I needed an upset, oh heck yeah,” she said. “I was praying for it. Everyone said we’d lose by 40, so I’m glad we got it to ten.”
Make no mistake about it, Parham’s mother played a big part in his career shooting night. For each shot he hit to quiet down the Rupp Arena crowd, Cynthia was the first to break the silence to let the world know she was proud of him.
“I didn’t see where she was sitting, but I definitely heard her,” Parham said with a bright smile.
John Calipari put it best: this will be a game Bubba Parham will remember for the rest of his life.
“Believe me,” he said. “His grandchildren will be watching that video in Rupp Arena.”