• Leigh Roach

I love UK Basketball - Confessions of a UK Fan.


There are few things I love more than Kentucky basketball. Naturally, I love my family and friends (well, at least most of them) and I love my fat cat Baxter, as well as a great cup of coffee, all forms of chocolate, a big bowl of pasta and red or white wine. I do not discriminate. What's more, I love a good book, reality TV, a beautiful sunny day, the sunrise at the beach, a bouquet of flowers, and strangely enough, my job. Yes, I really am a weirdo like that. But, I will say, Kentucky basketball is in a league of its own.

It all started when I was a little girl. Since I can remember, I grew up in a household bleeding blue. I have fond memories of the family getting together to watch UK sports. It was at these gatherings I learned the fundamentals of basketball as well as a few...okay, a lot of cuss words. My family was the "loud and obnoxious" type. You know the ones... cheering and yelling at the TV as if the refs, coaches and players could hear every word. I just couldn't help but become enamored; the atmosphere was always so intense and electric. You see, when we were young, households didn't have five TV's or 200 channels, cell phones or video games, so we did what the parents did and that was tune into every broadcasted UK basketball game available. I grew up on Jack Givens, Sam Bowie, Melvin Turpin and my favorite, Kyle Macy. I adored every minute of it. Still do.

I loved the family comradery and joining together for a single purpose. Heck, it was one of the few times we all saw eye to eye on things. Aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins all took turns hosting game days. Barbecued burgers, chips and dip, booze and more booze while everyone was draped in their fav Wildcat attire rooting the best college program in the nation to a hopeful victory. Man, there was nothing better than that. And even though most years we didn't win, it was never all about the NCAA championship game. It was about the rivalries like IU and the unified hatred of Coach Bobby Knight, or the introduction and excitement of the three-point shot bringing elevated status to a new type of player or the anticipation of Midnight Madness when it actually took place at midnight. It was about recruiting, SEC standings, fighting back in impossible situations and, of course, the players. The best part of every season is always the players.

Which leads me to why I decided to write this article. UK basketball is so much bigger than the game itself. Every year, we look forward to a new start, a new team, and a new chance to take the title. I've never known so many people to focus on players two and three years before they sign, all participating in the buzz about the top-ranked and their likelihood of coming to UK. By the time these kids reach Kentucky we know their high school stats, their All-American status, their family life, their pet's name, their blood type, their Social Security number...

just kidding.

Kinda.

But in all seriousness, we take this sport, well, very seriously and we love learning about these kids as if we were adopting them into our own family. And this season was no different. The 2017-18, eight Freshman, four Sophomore, two Junior team started off like many of our recent seasons: inexperienced but full of hope. We're getting used to being the youngest team in the nation, the squad of "one and done-ers", and while the majority of fans don't like it, we love and trust Coach Cal to do his magic. I was ready like most to win, win, win. (I am sorta greedy like that, just saying).

So ironically, when we had our first loss against Kansas, I wasn't mad. Had it been Duke, it would have been a different story (which btw, we can never lose to - ever) but frankly, I thought we played well and held our own. I was optimistic. But then we lost to UCLA and c'mon let's face it, that is another team you just don't want to lose to, regardless if the Ball family has moved on, and I wasn't too pleased. Next, we get to SEC season where we normally dominate and OMG, we lose to TN, SC, FL, MS, A&M, AU - and just like that, the panic begins. BBN fans start to split. The pessimists forecast defeat while the optimists promote positivity. I'm not gonna lie... I was in the pessimist group or what I otherwise call, realism. I just didn't see the spark, the hustle, the drive, the cohesiveness that I had seen in prior teams. In addition, I had a difficult time developing a connection to the players like years past. I always have favs and I just wasn't feeling it this season. I did coin the phrase, "Knox, Knox... who's there?" because Knox was making a great impression on me earlier in the season but the "Knox, Knox" jokes became fewer and farther between as the season progressed and the competition stiffened.

So I decided to become more focused, more ingrained. I engaged in ritualistic behavior every game, wearing my fav Wildcat hat, shirt, necklace, bracelet, etc...and rewiring myself to spread positive cheer. If you follow my personal Twitter account, you will see what I mean. And it started to pay off. We went on a 7-8 run. Yippeee!! Now, I must say, I do not think for one minute my garb had anything to do with it, but I was challenging my pessimistic side to work harder on showing more team spirit while at the same time hopefully encouraging #bbn family members to do the same because goodness knows, there is enough negativity in the world. Also, I myself am not a person motivated by negative feedback. Our players needed us. They needed our encouragement and faith.

So as each game passed, my attitude started to turn. I still didn't think we would win the SEC or come close to taking home the March Madness trophy, but I loved seeing the players evolve and be happy. All of them started to improve with PJ and Shai moving up the ranks to my Knox, Knox fav. And when we won the SEC, against TN no less, it was with the help of the whole team (gotta love Wenyen). I have to say, I was completely and utterly thrilled. They had exceeded my expectations. Thank you Cats! That was such a great week!

When the brackets were released, and the moaning and groaning began, I wasn't having it because in my mind, if you want to be the best of the best, you must be able to beat the best of the best. Now I will confess that I was super excited when Arizona and UVA lost, but it didn't change my mindset. Being a champ should not be easy. In fact, it should be hard as hell.

I am not going to spend time or energy on our loss to Kansas State. In my opinion, they simply out-played us and I will leave it at that. However, I was also not angry when we lost because I never expected them to make it to Sweet 16 nor did I really think we had a shot at the overall title. Honestly, I wasn't even really sad like I have been in previous seasons. I think it's because my expectations were low. I also believe that most of our players will be back and for the first time in a long time we will see several of our Freshmen become Sophomores. Most of the family will stay intact. At least, I hope. That makes me happy.

This season in no way, shape or form, compares to my most painful year, the 2014-2015 season, where everyone expected us to go all the way and in record-breaking status, do it undefeated. It was by far, my most bittersweet season. I loved, loved, loved that season and all of its players, straight down to the controversial platoon system. But it also made me the saddest. In fact, I wrote the following facebook post the day after the tragic loss to WI when my daughter asked why I was balling my eyes out... for like three hours...

Last night during the UK/Wis game...

I laughed... I cheered... I cussed... I threw things... I jumped... I screamed...

I clapped....

I rejoiced...

I hugged...

I high-fived... I left the room... I paced... I closed my eyes... I prayed.... I held my breath...

I cried...

In fact, I sobbed...

and when my daughter asked what was wrong... I told her "That's just what CAT fans do!"

True story.

But here is the thing... I did not do that last Thursday. Well at least, not all of them. I am sad the season is over, but I am proud of these guys. They won the SEC title and went to Sweet 16. There are 347 Divisions 1 teams in the NCAA. Less than 5% can say the same thing. Not too shabby my friends, and from a group of guys who aren't even old enough to buy a beer.

So I will leave you with this final thought...

Knox, Knox...

who's there?

The 2017-18 Cats

The 2017-18 Cats who?

The ones who exceeded my expectations and made me proud to be a #BBN fan. The ones who belong to the the best damn college basketball program in the nation. The ones whose blood will bleed bleed forever...

Just like mine... Just like yours...

I love you all... can't wait until next year.

#UK #basketball #SEC #201718Cats