I attended the University of Kentucky. I am a proud alum, with two degrees no less. I was born and raised and have lived my entire life in Kentucky. Of course, I am also a lifelong fan of UK basketball. Attending UK–even graduating–has nothing to do with that. There are 3 million people in Kentucky, most of whom did not attend UK. But, I’m willing to bet that the majority of those folks are also fans. We’re born into it. It doesn’t matter is you’ve never set foot on campus or even been to Lexington, you’re still a fan.
I don’t claim that we are unique. Alabama football, Indiana basketball and other sports teams have similar followings. Nevertheless, we have our lifestyle and our own way of viewing the world through a Big Blue prism.
We say our favorite time of year is the NCAA Tournament, though most of us approach each game with a mixture of excitement and fear. To win would be the greatest of all things, while losing is a dagger in the chest. The season ends.
We call ourselves part of Big Blue Nation. You may be a member. If not, you may encounter our people over the next few weeks at tournament venues, on message boards or just on the street. You’ve been warned.
THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE MISERABLE
Any UK fan worth his or her salt knows that “the Fellowship of the Miserable” was coined not in relation to basketball, but by Bill Curry, our wildly unsuccessful football coach in the 1990’s. This was his description of fans who complained to about our perpetually under-achieving football program. The Fellowship was actually founded by our basketball fans, of course.
The Fellowship is at work, home, church, everywhere you go. They speak of zones, defending the three, substitution patterns, timeouts, free throws, inbounds plays, recruiting. And they never forget. Here are sure-fire topics to stir the Fellowship at tournament time:
- 2013 NIT: We were the defending NCAA Champs and went to the NIT. And lost. In the first round. To Robert Morris.
- 1996 NCAA Champs: Why, oh why, did the Cats lose the SEC Tournament Championship game that year? Was Pitino flat out-coached or did he tank the game in an act of genius? Oh, and our uniforms were ugly.
- 1978 NCAA Champs: When Joe Hall benched the starters in the second half against Florida State, was he a master motivator or was it the act of a madman? By the way, he almost blew the lead in the finals.
- 1992 Duke game: For the love of God, why didn’t Pitino put a man on the freaking ball ? Regardless, Christian Laettner stomped on Aminu Timberlake!! He shouldn’t haven’t been in the game at the end anyway.
- 1975 NCAA Finals: John Wooden announced his retirement before the 1975 Championship game just to screw UK. Wooden, by the way, was just as big a cheater as any of our coaches.
- 1998 NCAA Champs: Tubby Smith won with Pitino’s players.
- 1966 NCAA Runners-up: UK may have had an all-white team in 1966, but so did DUKE, by God! Where is your outrage over THAT???
- Middle Tennessee and Alabama-Birmingham: Just ask any member of the Fellowship what is significant about those schools. You’ll get an earful.
- 1997 NCAA Runners-up: If Derek Anderson was well enough to shoot a couple of free throws, he should have played.
- 1984 Final Four: Say “Seattle” or “Georgetown” or “2nd half” and watch the life drain from the faces of the Fellowship.
- 1986 NCAA Tournament: By God, you can’t beat any team FOUR TIMES in one season!
This is but a sampling of hot buttons for the BBN. You can throw names out there, too: Denny Crum, Dale Brown, Coach K, Bobby Knight, Dean Smith, John Wooden, Billy Gillispie. The list is endless. One mention will dredge up memories best left suppressed, like tearing open an old incision.
WE CAN ALL COACH
I am a typical member of BBN. I never played basketball at any seriously competitive level. But, I’ve watched a lot of basketball. A lot. This makes me an expert, of sorts. If I were the coach….. You know the drill. Every fan is different, but here are a number of coaching pointers about which there is a general consensus in BBN:
- Full court press: Full court, all the time. We like this because it was effective under Rick Pitino, even though Pitino himself no longer employs it. Because we rarely watch any team other than UK, we don’t know this. We think Louisville presses all the time. We want to do that, too.
- Dribble Drive Motion: This is the offense of choice of our current coach, John Calipari. Few of us understand how it works. We scream at the TV for pick and rolls and screens when they aren’t even part of our offense. Here’s a link about the DDM which will confuse you to no end, making it only slightly less complex than string theory.
- One and Done: We hate the “One and Done” rule. It doesn’t work. We can’t win with freshmen. Until we do….
- Shoot the 3: Pitino’s first team at UK made us 3 crazy. We’ve never recovered. Many of us still hold to the idea that firing the ball from 20 feet makes more sense than a lay up.
- The Ball Line Defense: This was Tubby Smith’s defense. We think he invented it. It’s also known as “man-you-ball” defense. The basic principle is to position yourself between your man and the ball. It based on the oldest defensive principle: The hardest man to guard is the one with the ball, so keep the ball away from your man. It’s actually a good defense and was played well by Smith’s teams. We don’t care, because those teams didn’t win enough. We think it was a terrible defense.
- Play Richie: We know who should be playing and when. We know that many games would have been won if only the 10th or 11th player had logged some minutes.
- We Need More Kentucky Boys: Not everything about BBN is admirable. You will hear some fans say “we need more Kentucky boys.” This is usually offered as a pretense to contend that Kentucky boys will play harder. Sadly, this is often a thinly-veiled code for “white boys.” Don’t be fooled. When you hear this, that’s often what it means.
THE SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE
Kentucky belongs to the SEC or, as we prefer to put it, the SEC belongs to Kentucky. The SEC hates Kentucky, but not as much as the BBN hates the SEC. The other SEC schools waste their efforts on football or–in Vanderbilt’s case–academics. We’re all basketball all the time. A quick overview of our take on the rest of the conference:
- Alabama: A football school pretending to play basketball and doing a poor job of it.
- Auburn: See Alabama. Plus, we made Charles Barkley cry. Tigers, War Eagles of Plainsmen? No self-respecting school can be that confused on its mascot choice.
- Arkansas: Okay, they won a title. Big deal. Their coach also said he would crawl to Kentucky for the UK job. He didn’t, but he did kind of crawl out of town when he got fired.
- Florida: They won back to back titles. Pure luck. Any school that had both Dwayne Schintzius and Joakim Noah is worthy of nothing but contempt.
- Georgia: Their coach also abandoned them to come to Kentucky. Otherwise, we don’t know much about them, other than we regularly beat them.
- LSU: Cats came back from 31 down AT LSU on Fat Tuesday. HAHAHAHA!
- Mississippi: We get them confused with Mississippi State.
- Mississippi State: See Mississippi. They used to be called the “Maroons.” WTH? Somehow, they get credit for “crossing the color line” by participating in the integrated NCAA Tournament in 1963, twenty freakin’ years after UK started going to the tournament!
- Missouri: They have to be known for something, but what I have no idea what.
- South Carolina: They’re called the Gamecocks. Nuff said.
- Tennessee: One time Ernie Grunfeld shot free throws when Bernard King got fouled. They are cheaters. Plus, their women’s team could beat them most years.
- Texas A&M: Another football school but without any particular football success. Like UK, Bear Bryant quit them, too. Their school concentrates on agricultural and mechanical stuff which seems kind of limited to me.
- Vanderbilt: Eggheads with a disproportionate number of white players. They play in a dump with the benches at the end of the court.
We hate Louisville, the University, that is. The city actually has more UK fans in it than anywhere else in the state. HAHAHAHA!!
Oswald acted alone. Marilyn Monroe overdosed. Obama was born in Hawaii. Those statements sum up my view of conspiracies. I don’t believe it is possible for two people to keep a secret, much less dozens; however, as a member of BBN, I do recognize the following undeniable conspiracies:
- The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee is designed primarily to give UK an impossible draw every year. That’s why they don’t have cameras in the room.
- The NCAA Infractions Committee has conspired against UK many times to impose unjust sanctions. They have gone so far as to enlist the media, FedEx and the American College Testing system.
- The print media conspires against UK by failing to acknowledge our superiority. They also engage in yellow journalism by unjustly criticizing the Cats.
- Broadcasters conspire against UK to offer undue criticism of the Cats and unwarranted praise of our opponents. Only Dick Vitale does not belong to the conspiracy and that’s only because he’s so annoying they won’t invite him to their secret meetings.
- Referees since the days of Paul Galvan have conspired against UK every season. We know that they meet before each season to discuss how to hold back UK. They demand that games be kept close for TV ratings and to boost up the rest of the sorry SEC. This is the only thing that keeps the Cats from regularly winning by 75 points.
Like any good fan base, BBN lacks perspective. I myself have smashed an ashtray (1992); broken a baseball bat (1993); ripped a pair of blue jeans in half (1995); and kicked a hole in the wall (1994). These were just reactions to NCAA tournament losses. There have been countless of other instances of temporary insanity, property damage and self-inflicted physical injury caused by a bitter defeat.
We are the same fan base from which a caller told Coach Smith that he hadn’t “given up” on the Cats, even though they were 22-3 at the time. People who camp out for weeks to attend a practice. We hate Christian Laettner for doing what anyone would expect him to do–make a shot to win the game for his team. We don’t care. He beat the Cats, and we hate him. Coach Calipari won the title in 2012, and two years later we were ready to brand him a complete failure, then he took his team to another Final Four. He was a genius again.
Two kinds of seasons end with a win: Wildly successful (NCAA Champs!) or soul-crushing failure (no tournament, NIT champs, probation). This means that we are despondent at the end of almost every season. We won’t read the newspaper or watch the news, lest there be a report on our humiliating loss. We are lesser people, and we know it. We have no hope…until NEXT YEAR!!