What for? I wondered. I don’t even like basketball. Me? I’m a hockey guy.
This friend said, “Fake it. If you’re wearing UK stuff, you’ll always have a friend wherever you go in this state.”
It seemed like good advice. Everywhere I looked were those magic two letters.
I bought what I would call a ‘toque’ and what might in Kentucky, be called a toboggan hat. It worked. People who looked at me for my strange accent now struck up conversations. “Hey, how we gonna do this year?”
“I don’t know, pretty good maybe?”
I knew nothing about basketball. The same friend that gave me the advice (and he was from Maine, by the way) started inviting me over. I think he found out I could cook. Anyhow, we watched games, and he explained the game to me.
There was a problem... Billy Gillespie was still coaching the ‘Cats. It was agony, like watching paint dry.
It affirmed everything I believed about basketball. It was a boring game with no real point. I learned the names of some players, how to mock Gillespie and proceeded straight to the wing shop, where I had the bartender tune in a Tampa Bay Lightning game.
A few years later, this very same friend called me up and asked me over for basketball.
He kept talking up this new coach with a name like Kowabunga or something. Then there were a couple of new kids on the team, guys named John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.
Coach John Calipari and his wunderkindel made a believer out of me. Wall had an amazing shot and was so fast. Cousins? Well, he reminded me of a hockey player.
Suddenly, there was energy in Rupp Arena. Fans were having fun instead of sleeping.
That was my first NCAA Tournament. By then, Holly and I were dating, and I found a woman that would watch basketball with me. Life was good.
Or so I thought. Kentucky falls in the Elite Eight. Next year, our star was blocked by the NCAA. It was a conspiracy. That Harrellson kid looked like he was playing with oven mitts on his hands.
Then, the ‘Cats are in the Final Four. I realized Calipari was an elite coach, up there with the likes of Scottie Bowman, Tom Landry or Joe Torre. He took a marginal player and turned him into a starter. Now that’s cool!
Then last year? What did they do? Someone remind me...
Wildcat Fever is infectious. By the championship game, I was as big of a fan as a native son. My friend the Mainer, decked head to toe in Kentucky blue. Holly was right there with us, lucky shirt and all, and we were all part of the Big Blue Nation.
Especially with hockey on hiatus, and the Dallas Cowboys not worth a discussion this year, I am elated to see a new squad of Wildcats. Win or lose, it’s time for another Wildcat season of fun.