Wednesday, March 28, 2012

On, on, U of K ...

I was 16 months old and already a Kentucky fan.

You've heard me talk much about the Racers this basketball season. Unfortunately, they aren't playing anymore. But my other favorite team is.

Perhaps you've heard. Kentucky is playing Louisville in the first of the two Final Four games on Saturday night. Perhaps you've been living under a rock and you have no idea. But, if you care, I'll be wearing blue for the occasion. If you know me even a little, this isn't a surprise.

But there may be someone asking: But didn't she grow up near Louisville?

Why, yes, I did. Actually, I lived 16 years plus three summers just 26.9 miles from the University of Louisville. The Big Blue rival was a little farther {82.9 miles} to the east. But here's the thing: My parents both went to UK. Dad played football there from 1968-72 and Mom probably helped him with some of his classwork. They both graduated from there and shortly after secured season football tickets. Football, I know. But sometimes they did take me high into the rafters up Rupp Arena to watch basketball.

I know the UK fight song too.

In 1997, I enrolled in Murray State University. I was ready to move farther than 82.9 miles away, yet I did my parents a favor and stayed in the state. You know, tuition is enough as it is. UK was my back-up school. But I liked Murray State. And there was a journalism program at this school I was just learning about so far in western Kentucky that it's as closer to Tennessee, Illinois and Missouri's capitals than it is to Frankfort.

I adopted the Racers. Eh, maybe they adopted me.

But I never let go of the Wildcats. We even went to the Final Four last year to root on the blue and white.

Admittedly, this year was different for me, even as Wildcats stayed atop the national polls. I watched some games on TV. I knew the players, and even developed opinions about them like any good fan. I read stories and kept up with the team. But I was whole-heartedly invested in my Racers, who also only lost on regular-season game.

We have season Murray State basketball tickets. {Well, we have football too, but this is about basketball right now.} I have pictures of my young kids in Racers shirts, like me in my Wildcats one above. My daughter's crush on a player is shaping her love of basketball. And I have a son who thinks anything involving a ball is worth watching, although, yes, he'd rather be the one with the ball. We went to the OVC Tournament and followed the Racers to the Big Dance. And I really didn't want their season to end.

But basketball isn't over. {Hold on, baseball, I'm coming to you soon.} The Wildcats  -- the team I've watched my whole life -- are still playing. And they're playing a team whose arena is a mere 73.5 miles away in front of a charged national audience. It's not just their regular-season proximity. There also history and competition and stories that drive this rivalry.

And I have no hesitations for whom to cheer, even if I did just for a minute have some compassion for Rick Pitino after reading Rick Reilly's column. Forgive me. Reilly is a long-time favorite writer of mine. That's rooted in my childhood too. When my dad's copy of Sports Illustrated would come in the mail, I'd turn to the back first and read Rick Reilly. The way he tells stories drew me into sports and helped make me a fan.

I even already had a team. And that team is still playing basketball. Oooohhhh ... C-A-T-S! Cats! Cats! Cats!


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