For myself and a lot of native Kentuckians, the most wonderful time of the year is nearly upon us. In a lot of places around the country, football is king. Here in the state of Kentucky, basketball is what we do best. From the dirt courts of rural Kentucky to the urban blacktop, the sound of a bouncing basketball could be considered the heartbeat of the Commonwealth.
I grew up in Louisville, KY. I was born and raised as a fan of the Louisville Cardinals. In my defense, my entire family was made of almost UofL grads. At any rate, I grew up during Denny Crum’s heyday. Between 1980-86, Crum led the Cards to two NCAA titles and two other Final Four appearances. It was a great time to be a Card fan. Both my older brothers were huge basketball fans and I remember going to Freedom Hall many nights to watch Louisville take on the Memphis Tigers, Cincinnati Bearcats and, yes, the Kentucky Wildcats.
For us, it was more than just rooting for the Cardinals, it was watching and appreciating the game of basketball. My brother, Kenneth, would point out the nuances of the game. At an early age, I was able to appreciate the beauty of the give and go. I learned about the fundamentals of the game. And I took those lessons to the basketball court. Whether playing with friends in the neighborhood or playing in an organized rec league, Kenneth and my dad would make sure that I worked on the basics of the game.
I was never the most talented basketball player. Not the fastest. Couldn’t jump the highest. Couldn’t dribble and my jump shot could be politely described as erratic at best. But I love basketball just the same. I love to play it and I love to watch it. There’s a beauty to basketball that can only be rivaled by soccer, yet it doesn’t require a large field. All you need is a ball and some friend and you can play a game or just shoot around. What I like most about basketball is that you don’t have to be the best player on your team to help your team win. This saying gets overused, but when you see basketball played “the right way,” it’s a special sight to behold.
In Kentucky, we’ve been fortunate to witness basketball greatness, particularly at the college level. Obviously, Kentucky and Louisville headline with the 11 combined NCAA titles, Hall of Fame coaches and dozens and dozens of All-Americans. However, the Cats and the Cards aren’t the only teams from the Bluegrass state to have success. Recently, Western Kentucky and Morehead State have had NCAA Tournament success. Bellarmine University in Louisville has won a national title at the Division II level. Georgetown College has won NAIA hardware. Kentucky Wesleyan and Northern Kentucky have had success as well. Across all levels, no state may have better college basketball than Kentucky.
With November upon us, it’s time to dig in and get ready for basketball season. And I can’t be more excited. I want to see UK head coach John Calipari take another young team and mold them, preparing them for another deep run. Will there be a team from the SEC to challenge the Wildcats? I want to see if Matthew Mitchell can get the UK Women over that hump and into the Final Four. To paraphrase the slogan the NBA used in the 80s, basketball is fantastic!