Often times in the summer, when fewer things are going on, I like to give the fans a chance to tell their favorite UK stories. Because that is as much a part of being a UK fan as the wins and losses. It is the random encounters with players and coaches at the ice cream shop. Or the time you got into a fender bender with Joe B. Hall. Whatever the story may be, it’s those experiences that only enhance the passion of this fanbase. If you have a story you’d like me to share on KSR, please send it to me at [email protected] If there is a picture associated, that would be great too but not required. Below is a story I got sent to me this week that I thought was awesome. Hope you enjoy:
Save for a handful of people that know, I have sat on this story for 25 years, but I suppose now the Statute of Limitations has expired and I can share it in full detail. Over the 48 years that Mr. Wildcat, Bill Keightley served as equipment manager for Kentucky Basketball, he learned a thing or two. You do not work with the likes of Rupp, Hall, Pitino, Smith, etc. without knowing the ins and outs of the best college basketball program of all time. Mr. Keightley was notorious for protecting the University of Kentucky basketball brand, which included players, coaches, alumni and that included Kentucky uniforms. One of the things he had learned over the years was taking Kentucky uniforms to dry cleaners was not the best of ideas. Uniforms would get damaged, torn, washed with a red sock and often stolen.
During the SEC and NCAA Tournaments, and other stops, where the team would not come back to Lexington between games, Mr. Keightley would find a friend or booster of the program and would go to their house to wash uniforms. This way, he had full visibility and trust that the uniforms would come back clean and ready for play. Mr. Keightley knew everyone and everyone knew Mr. Wildcat. No matter where UK would play, he had a friend or booster that would wash uniforms. Maui Classic, check. Great Alaskan Shootout, check. Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, check. So too, did he have friends in Birmingham, Alabama site of the 1995 Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight.
Let’s be honest. The 1995 uniforms were the ugliest gear in the history of basketball. James Naismith turned over in his grave when Kentucky marched those out that season. Say what you will about the checkerboards, but those look like a James Bond tuxedo as opposed to the 1995 Cat Scratch Fever ones Kentucky wore that season. Why anyone would try and steal those things were beyond me. But Mr. Keightley knew best and he chose some friends from Birmingham that he had known for quite some time. For the sake of anonymity, let’s call them Mr. and Mrs. B.
Mr. and Mrs. B were natives of Kentucky and lifelong University of Kentucky fans. They both graduated from UK and had two sons that also went to the University. They were very involved as alumni and went to as many games as they could even living in Alabama. They were regulars at SEC and NCAA Tournaments, as well as Kentucky Football Bowl games. So, when Mr. Keightley called Mr. and Mrs. B for assistance with the uniforms, they gladly accepted.
My friends and I, one who was the son of Mr. and Mrs. B, headed out to Birmingham following work on Thursday, March 23, 1995. As recent UK graduates, we were fortunate to have watched the Pitino area from the beginning and coming off a Final Four appearance in 1993 and an exciting, yet young team in 1995, hopes were high. That Kentucky team surprised many by finishing the regular season with a record of 22 – 4, winning the SEC regular season and SEC Tournament championships and were on a 10 – game winning streak heading into the Sweet Sixteen game against Arizona State as the #1 seed. Unfortunately, as recent graduates, our vacation days hadn’t accumulated so we had to stop at an Outback in Nashville to watch the Cats beat up on ASU, 97 – 73. That win would set up an all – time matchup with North Carolina on Saturday for a chance to go to the Final Four.
Arriving late to the home of Mr. and Mrs. B (We were fresh out of college. Free place to stay!), we exchange our pleasantries and went to bed. Friday would be a day of golf, storytelling and finding the hot spots of Birmingham for some late night fun. As young and hungry Kentucky fans, we woke to the smell of fried bacon, eggs, sausage and crescent rolls cooked by Mrs. B. Home cooking was something we had yet mastered so it was nice to enjoy a hot breakfast as opposed to a sausage biscuit from McDonald’s. We shared the plans for the day, and said our goodbyes to Mr. and Mrs. B. who looked forward to seeing us again that evening.
The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama has some of the best golf in the South. As we played another RTJ masterpiece that afternoon, it was great to see other fans wearing their UK polos and hats supporting the Cats, while on the links. Basketball was the topic of the day, but so was golf and we certainly enjoyed ourselves. The golf itself was something left to be desired, but the beverages were flowing and the laughter constant. Little did we know that the best story of UK fandom would come our way in just a few moments.
Following golf, we drove back to the house to shower and get dressed for a night on the town in Birmingham. As we drove up the long driveway at Mr. and Mrs. B’s house we were met by their dog, appropriately named Blue (their other dog, Cawood had died a few months earlier). Exiting the car, we noticed Mr. B. smiling with a sheepish grin on his face. To know Mr. B., you knew you were in the company of greatness. He was the life of the party, quick with a smile, a hearty handshake and certainly a beverage of your choice, so his smile was just another pleasant greeting from a wonderful man and huge Cat fan. “Boys,” he said in his Southern drawl, ” I got something to show you.”
As Mr. B. led us through his basement to his laundry room, it opened to two tables complete with 13 white jerseys and shorts brazened with the word, Kentucky written on them. Ugly as they were, it was beautiful in our sight. Kentucky Jerseys just lying there. No, THE KENTUCKY JERSEYS. As in the ones, we would see them wear the next day. Yes, those!
My friends and I had lived through the years of probation and no TV. We had lived through the scholarship reductions and NCAA tournament ban. We are on cusp of greatness. We knew it. Mr. and Mrs. B. knew it and so did sportswriters and College Basketball fans across the country. Kentucky was back. Like every self-respecting Kentucky fan, like every kid who had ever wanted to wear the Blue and White, sitting right before us, in all its glory, were the Kentucky jerseys.
Faced with a number of choices we could have made, what would we do? What would you have done? You would have done what every other Kentucky fan would have done. You would have tried on the jerseys, exactly as we did. It was your dream; it was our dream and for about 20 minutes of laughter, pictures and dunking on a fake goal, we lost ourselves in what it meant to wear a Kentucky Uniform. And for those 20 minutes, we were not Paul, or Charlie or Blake, Morris or Hancock. We were simply Anthony, Walter, Rodrick, Double O Tony and Antoine.
Unfortunately, the next day, North Carolina beat Kentucky 74 – 61. Rasheed Wallace should have been ejected from the game for throwing an elbow and trying to fight Andre Riddick, but that’s a story for another day. Perhaps the buckets didn’t fall because the uniforms were cursed. Or maybe the genes of unathletic young men brushed off onto the UK players, who knows, but what I do know is this. One of the best stories of UK fandom ever in the rich history of UK Athletics occurred with the help of Mr. Keightley, Mr. and Mrs. B and drycleaners across the country that would steal uniforms. And what a story it is.