As I stated at the close of last week, I support Cal’s efforts and philosophy. He will challenge for the national title nearly every year while at Kentucky. Let me also mention that his team had a very respectable grade point average last season. Don’t expect him to have many graduates, because most of his players are leaving early to multi-million-dollar contracts. The only negative seems to be that the players are gone before we really get to know them.
Let’s reminisce back to the old days, if we may. There was something about Kentucky basketball that was unchanging, familiar and comfortable. I go all the way back to the days of Adolph Rupp and then Joe B. Hall. First, when I started listening in the 1960s, Cawood Ledford was already an icon. “Hello everybody, this is Cawood Ledford. The ‘Cats will be moving from left to right on your radio dial to start the first half.” Cawood’s customary phrases and words were so dependable that they sort of helped you to relax and settle in the broadcast.
Then, there was the fact that there was only a handful of games on TV back in those days. It made for a super Saturday when the ‘Cats were on the game of the week on the SEC television network. Oh, the memories of announcer Joe Dean crooning, “String music in Lexington, Kentucky” after a Wildcat player swishing a long shot.
Even though the Saturday game of the week was exciting, it paled in comparison to the excitement around Gene Wright’s house when the Cats were on delay. Let me explain to all those under 40 out there. Kentucky would play a home game, and then Channel 6 in Paducah would televise the replay of the game at 10:30 p.m. The sports guy on Channel 6 would warn everyone to look away from the TV, and then he would display the score of the game on a poster or giant index card.
To make this work, our family had to do the following. First, we had to keep the radio off if the game was going to be showed on delay. Second, we had to answer the phone by saying, “HelloIamgoingtowatchUKon-
pleasedon’tsayanything-aboutit!” That’s right. I meant for those words to run together because that is how you had to say them. You couldn’t allow the other person to talk until you got that out.
The coolest part of watching the game on delay, however, was this. Dad had to turn the antennae toward Paducah so we could get a signal. He would step out the back door and twist the antennae with his hands while Mom and I would yell out how clear the station was. A few years later, we thought we were really big time when we got a rotor on our antennae. That meant that we could rotate the antennae from inside the house by using a little electronic box. Even with this new technology, we were still way behind our neighbor Jasper Thomas, who had the tallest antennae in town with some kind of super-duper rotor on it.
It sure made UK basketball seem special when you had to sacrifice and work to see their games. Let me see, nowadays I get about 700 channels on my Direct TV, and every UK game will probably be on one of them. I don’t even have to turn my antennae.
The last thing that used to make UK basketball so special was that you got a chance to watch the players grow up from freshmen to seniors. You had the opportunity to watch them fail, learn, grow, improve, be disciplined and then usually succeed. It was sort of like watching your own children grow up. By the time guys like Tom Parker, Ronny Lyons, Mike Pratt, Dan Issel, Kevin Greevey, Rick Robey, Kyle Macy, Jack Givens, James Lee, Sam Bowie and the like left UK, they felt like part of your family.
Senior Day at UK was, to me, one of the finest days in sports back then. There was nothing better than each senior coming onto the court to a thunderous ovation. Then the icing on the cake was Happy Chandler singing My Old Kentucky Home. It just didn’t get any better than that.
Senior Day at UK is different now. The only players left are those that aren’t talented enough to go to the NBA early. Kentucky basketball is different, but that doesn’t mean it is bad in any way. Kentucky basketball is still the most hallowed program in the land. As a matter of fact, my family still roots them on whole heartedly. The thing is, they just don’t seem so much like family anymore.
OT: Speaking of ‘Cats and family, both of my sons are the proud owners of two cats. Three of the four cats are named after UK basketball figures. Zack has one cat named Patterson after Patrick Patterson and another named Willie after Willie Cauley-Stein. Willie used to be Wiltjer (after Kyle Wiltjer) until he underwent a name change due to a transfer issue. Zeke has Callie (named after Calipari) and another whose name is unrelated to UK basketball.
Enthusiasm Makes the Difference
Mike Wright is the former head coach of boys basketball and cross country at Trigg County High School. Emails concerning Coach’s Corner can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.