By LARRY VAUGHT
During the last few years, Kentucky basketball fans have got to know ESPN reporter Shannon Spake very well and have embraced her to the point that they sometimes feel like she is part of the Big Blue Nation.
How does Spake feel about that?
“I love that. There is something unique about Kentucky fans,” said Spake. “Their passion, there is nothing like it. I understood that a little bit more this last season. Two years ago I was part of that incredible run (38-0 start). I was with the guys during the entire (NCAA) tourney. I saw how fans turned out for practices and games.
“This year Kentucky was not in the tournament long and you would see empty seats at venues. That’s when you realize the impact of Big Blue Nation.”
When she covers a game at Rupp Arena, her press row seat normally is directly in front of the E-Rupp-tion Zone where the UK students are.
“I love sitting there. Those kids are awesome and they are so great when I bring my kids with me to a game,” Spake said. “I love being accepted by Big Blue Nation and being part of it myself.”
Spake’s personality and professionalism often open doors for special story idea. One came when she watched the Cats work out during their early morning Breakfast Club last season. Originally I thought she was going to make players like Jamal Murray, Tyler Ulis and Isaiah Briscoe go through the type of workouts she does that got her ready for a 70.3-mile Ironman in Raleigh, N.C., last Sunday, that she finished in 6 hours, 43 minutes.
“I didn’t want an old lady to show up 19-year-old guys,” Spake laughed and said. “Seriously, I just happened to be in town for a piece I was doing with Isaac Humphries playing the piano and singing and that was such a powerful moment being in the room with him.
“I asked if I could be part of the Breakfast Club and they agreed. When you have a situation like Kentucky with so many new players and new dynamics ever season, every bit of time spent together without coaches has got to help with team chemistry.”
Spake says she “loves the best story” at games even if the underdog wins. However, she admits she was hoping Kentucky would complete a 40-0 season and win the national title in 2015 when it lost to Wisconsin.
“I was along for that great ride. I was totally invested and thought it would be a really cool story to see Kentucky win the championship,” she said. “I think I saw my kids three days that whole month of March.”
She had a special moment last season when UK played at Tennessee. She said UK Athletics photographer Chet White always “is so great” taking pictures of her twin sons when she has one of them with her at games.
“I don’t bring them when I do football, but when I do basketball games, the schools have been great. They find me babysitters and get tickets to the games,” she said. “During pregame I was talking to Tyler (Ulis) and my son just walked up with a ball. Chet got a great photo and I told my son one day I hope he grows up with the fight and tenacity that Tyler Ulis has.
“The previous season Willie (Cauley-Stein) was talking to my other son and Chet got a photo. Willie adored kids. He always was asking me about my kids. I went to a Charlotte Hornets game (this season) and saw Aaron Harrison (play) and felt like a proud momma.”