image credit: ukathletics
If you’ve ever told someone you’re from Kentucky, they’ll likely give you a look of shock because you can speak coherently. Others might engage you in a less condescending manner which, invariably, turns the topic of conversation towards what most outsiders know about the Commonwealth–bourbon, the Kentucky Derby and basketball. Those of us who’ve spent the majority of our lives in the bluegrass state know there’s so much more to explore and enjoy than that, and it can become a bit nauseating—almost like hearing that Elvis is the king or that the Beatles were the greatest rock and roll band of all time (what a novelty!) Well, sometimes clichés ring true. Maybe there’s a good reason our beautiful home – specifically the University of Kentucky – is known for basketball.
There are a handful of schools that are relevant in the college basketball landscape every year—Duke, North Carolina, maybe Kansas or Indiana. 70 miles northwest of Lexington is the University of Louisville, which is also a great basketball tradition, but they lack the hype that UK has. In fairness to the Cardinals, no other program grabs headlines and directs eyes quite like UK. Whether it’s good or bad press, whether we’re a national title contender or an NIT wonder, it really doesn’t matter. Kentucky points the needle, or, as John Calipari has emphatically stated to Kentucky’s insatiable fans, “we are the needle.” Perhaps there’s good reason for him to boast. What other program has had 5 different coaches win national titles since the 1930’s—proving that the greatness of the program extends far beyond one coach who strings together a few good years? Kentucky is a consistent winner; and people love that but plenty of others hate it, too.
I could write about how this all started but if you’re from here, it’s likely you’ve heard those stories. It’s amazing to me to listen to undergraduates at UK who can barely wake up for their noon classes at Alumni Hall, who didn’t breathe air until 1992, and are victims of a largely self-glamorizing culture talk about Adolph Rupp and Joe B. Hall as if they witnessed those teams of the past. And that’s exactly what makes Kentucky awesome. No disrespect to Duke fans but they believe basketball was invented in the late 80s’ when they emerged as a contender. Kentucky fans breathe this stuff. Past players become campus legends and former coaches are revered or (in Rick Pitino’s case) hated. Though, I’ll never fault Rick for returning to our amazing home.
“I was born a New Yorker but I want to die a Kentuckian” said Rick Pitino this year. Why not? If you’ve spent the majority of your life on the hardwood, why wouldn’t you fall in love with a state that breeds people who believe camping out for the first practice of the season is normal? Yes, we are overzealous, egotistical and completely ridiculous when it comes to civic pride, but those things make us great, too. It’s also common to criticize Kentucky fans as being a one-sport fanatics but I can’t stress how far this is from the truth. We love our football too but it’s an abusive relationship where we play the part of the battered housewife and we have to assure ourselves “they really do love me!” Maybe they’ll stop beating us senseless next year. Joking aside, I have just as many fond memories of Commonwealth Stadium as I do Rupp Arena…
To hear more about Drew’s basketball memories, tune in for part 2, tomorrow.
Drew Greene is a 29 year old Lexington native with an interest in many artistic endeavors, such as art and video editing. He’s also a self-taught musician and works full time at Galls Inc in north downtown Lexington. In his spare time, he enjoys exploring Kentucky with his girlfriend, Andrea.
Thanks, Drew, for sharing your story with us. If you or someone you know has something to say about what makes the bluegrass a special place, send us an email at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.