When the Kentucky Wildcats won the 2012 NCAA men’s basketball championship, UK students and fans flooded the streets of Lexington — screaming, celebrating and burning stuff. But no college hoops observer needed such a revelruos display to know that Wildcats fans are among the most obsessive in sports.
Recently, writers/UK fans Ryan Clark and Joe Cox wrote 100 Things Wildcats Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. The writers say the book promises to be informative to both new fans of Kentucky basketball and the longtime diehards.
Update: Clark and Cox will sign copies of the book at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Barnes & Noble at 801 S. Hurstbourne Parkway and at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the Barnes & Noble in the Summit shopping center.
They took a few moments to answer some questions about the book, the Wildcats and the team’s fans.
What led you guys to write this book?
Ryan Clark: I had written a previous UK book, and some of my contacts called and said they had a new series they were working on — “100 Things . . . ” They had done some pro teams but this was going to be their first college basketball team. They asked if I wanted to do it. About a second later I said yes. But I also have a marketing job at NKU, I teach two classes, I’m getting my Ph.D. at UK and I have a 3-year-old daughter. I needed help. I knew there was only one person who could do it. Joe was the man. I asked and he said yes.
Joe Cox: Big Blue Nation is so all-encompassing that we perceived a challenge. We wanted to write a book that was broad enough to give a good overview to young fans and new fans, but focused enough to surprise even the hardcore fan. In order to hit that kind of scope, we had to talk about all of the familiar touchstones — but also about a few people, places, and moments that had slipped under the radar. We wanted to be accessible, but also accurate — and to include all the pivotal history without being dry or bland. Hopefully, we succeeded.
You say this book will be revealing to even fans who think they know everything about UK basketball. Can you tell me about some of the more interesting, less-known facts about the Wildcats?
RC: Mike Pratt helped lure John Calipari to UK. Derek Anderson is still mad Pitino held him out of the national championship in 1997. Kevin Grevey blames John Wooden for UK not winning a title in 1975. Jamal Mashburn originally wanted to go to Syracuse. Ralph Beard was on the cover of the first issue of a magazine called Sports Illustrated — but not the magazine you’re thinking of. And Beard also hit the game-winning free throws in UK’s first ever national championship — the NIT in 1946. The list goes on …
JC: In virtually every chapter, there will be some fact or detail that has been forgotten or unexamined. For instance, all-time leading scorer Dan Issel was UK’s third choice among a group of recruits. Legendary announcer Cawood Ledford hailed from a place called Booger Hollow. Some of the surprises are bigger– one of my favorite chapters debunks a myth that Bear Bryant liked to tell about UK, and how the university favored Adolph Rupp over him when they were both at UK. We had a lot of fun with off-court topics that may not be surprises, but are a fun reminder of the depth of UK fandom and haven’t necessarily been written about much — for instance, the pharmacy in Lexington where Coach Cal and Coach Hall still have breakfast with the local old-timers who want to tell Cal how to coach, or Ted Arlinghaus, who built a mini Rupp Arena at his house and invites people to come and play there.
On that note, what are some of the bigger misconceptions fans may have about UK hoops?
CJ: Frankly, I found few true misconceptions. There were a few exaggerations that people don’t understand in their proper context — for instance, while media tend to vilify Rupp’s all-white Runts team that lost to Texas Western in the 1966 NCAA title game, most have forgotten that UK beat an all-white Duke team in the semi-final. Had Rupp been a lesser coach, maybe Duke would bear the stigma of southern racism. I tried to point out some of the interesting unanswered questions in regard to NCAA issues, like the late ’40s point shaving scandal or the issues in the 1980s under Eddie Sutton.
In writing this book, we didn’t set out to revise history. There is certainly some fire where there is smoke in the darker corners of UK basketball’s history. That’s all a part of the program, just the same as the great victories and legendary players and coaches. We did set out to clarify and contextualize some of those problems, but then we did things like include Billy Gillispie in his own chapter, and talk about how the point shaving scandal ruined the promising career of Bill Spivey. Because both of us love this program, we felt obligated to show the warts too — maybe try to explain them, but not to ignore them.
RC: Bob Knight spreads a lot of lies, which we shoot down. The biggest ones involve current UK players not going to class or doing poorly in class — both not true. Or that Calipari put programs on probation — that also did not occur. (While previous programs forfeited games neither was put on probation). While other programs over the past year, including UConn, Duke and North Carolina, have run into NCAA problems, UK has been squeaky clean.
What sorts of discussions did you have about those more controversial parts of the program’s history — Rupp’s race relations, Sutton’s NCAA infractions?
RC: We discussed it all in a fair way, I think. We show a lot of the warts – it’s a part of UK history. We discuss the Emery package scandal and the downfall of Eddie Sutton. We discuss Rupp’s reportedly racist nature, and we have people defending him as a great man, too. We have to talk about all of these things to get a better idea of the entire program and its history.
Stepping back a bit, why do you think UK has such a loyal fanbase?
JC: Part of UK basketball’s success lies in Kentucky’s lack of a pro sports franchise. Regardless of educational background, a great deal of Kentuckians perceive UK as Kentucky’s pro team. Because of that, the success of other in-state programs aside, UK has become and remained Kentucky’s benchmark for excellence. Kentucky ranks too low or too high in a lot of statistical categories, and I think there’s a tangible sense of pride in identifying with UK basketball for many Kentuckians — even if they didn’t attend there or have never seen a game in person. That identity has stuck even with people who have moved off — we’ve signed books for exiled UK fans in Montana or Florida or the U.S. military. Wherever life has taken them, they’re still a part of Big Blue Nation.
RC: Simple. The state of Kentucky does not fare well in many things, whether it is academic pursuits or even national statistics on obesity or teen pregnancy. In this state we embrace the things we can say we are truly best at. With no other major pro sports teams around, we naturally gravitate to he universities. And since the days of Rupp, people followed the team and passed that love down through families. Men bonded with their fathers during these games growing up, and then passed down the love to their own children.
How did you guys become UK fans, anyway?
JC: Neither of my parents hailed from Kentucky or were sports fans. When I was a boy, my next-door neighbor and her husband helped me catch on. It was, and still is, very entwined with my identity as a Kentuckian. From there, I’ve been lucky enough to always have folks around who not only tolerated my obsession, but shared it. I thanked a few of them in the book’s acknowledgments, but there are tons more, and I appreciate every one of them.
RC: My Granddad (featured in the book as the man who penned Hoosiers Roasting On An Open Fire) told me he got to me before any other UofL fans could.