When Tru first approached me to become a front page author here at A Sea of Blue, I didn't hesitate. I've never told him this, but I had been waiting ... and waiting ... ever so patiently for him to ask me just that question -- "Would you like to join me on the front page?"
Well, Sunday April 12th, was the one-year anniversary of my first front page post here, at what I consider, the ultimate UK fan-based web-site: But boy, did I ever NOT know what I was getting into, or how much I would enjoy doing what I do. Nor did I realize the multitude of events that would transpire over my first year, eliciting opinions, analysis, and commentary over a range of topics that even the most seasoned, experienced, professional sports journalist would be envious of writing about.
My year began with:
- Kentucky guard Derrick Jasper transferring to UNLV despite the best efforts of Billy Gillispie to retain his top "lead" guard prospect for the 2008-2009 season. At first fans were led to believe by some media members that Jasper felt unappreciated by the UK fan base, but of course that turned out to be false. He was seeking asylum ... so to speak. But the negativity surrounding his departure was quickly replaced by ...
- Billy Gillispie's recruiting prowess ... which earned several front page posts early in my tenure: I wrote about Nicola Kecman, Bobby Maze, Vinny Zollo, Matthew Avery, Matt Pilgrim, Kevin Galloway and Josh Harrellson in the summer of '08. Gillispie it seemed, would stop at nothing to secure what he thought was the top talent available, regardless of geography, or more pointedly, the recruits date of birth, which led to ...
- "Forward thinking recruiting" became a hot topic of discussion among the Big Blue faithful, as well as sports writers, and those charged with maintaining ethics in recruiting. Gillispie and UK were lambasted in the national press for offering scholarships to players not yet in high school. The NABC even chimed in with a "we don't approve" edict. But of course, Dick Vitale offered up congratulations and praise to Florida's Golden Boy, Billy Donovan, for snagging a commitment from high school freshman Austin Rivers. Aah, I just had to write about the hypocrisy.
- What is still one of my favorite stories of last year -- Tennessee guard, and Maysville native Chris Lofton, revealing that he played his entire senior year after being diagnosed and treated for cancer -- Fans of UT, as well as UK, were busy theorizing why Lofton didn't quite seem himself. Some thought the loss of Dane Bradshaw somehow made Lofton's job tougher, because defenses could concentrate on Lofton. Wrong; the kid battled through chemotherapy, and the hell that goes with it, alone. He persevered, played, and in the end taught us all a lesson in what it means to have desire, heart, and will. * I think my column on Lofton is still my father's favorite post, so here it is pops, you can read it again.
- After the transfer of Jasper, the question on the minds of 'Cat fans from Katmandu to Catlanta was --"Who is going to be UK's "lead" guard? Big Blue Nation's concern was to be validated in a most unpleasant fashion, and in the end may have cost a head coach his job.
- Kelvin Sampson and his serial breaking of NCAA regulations next hit the headlines. While I'm not an IU hater, I couldn't resist writing that Indiana AD Rick Greenspan got exactly what he deserved: A major headache, and an evisceration at the hands of Hoosier fans everywhere.
- Next in line was Brigid DeVries and the KHSAA -- I was the lone, and lonely voice of caution concerning the Dakota Euton/Chad Jackson transfer from Rose Hill Academy in Ashland, to Scott County High School -- My knowledge of rampant, and long-standing cheating by high schools around the Commonwealth was enough to throw up a red flag in this particular case -- But, KHSAA commissioner DeVries was unable to back-up her contention with evidence that the players should be ineligible, so in the end (and rightfully so) the two athletes were deemed eligible for competition for the Cardinals.
- Changing the culture of UK football followed on the front pages -- With UK coming off two consecutive bowl game victories, the 2008 season stood to be a hallmark in the long and sad history of UK's pigskin struggles. Would "old Kentucky" rear it's ugly head yet again and produce a losing season, or would head coach Rich Brooks put together a third straight bowl-worthy season, topped by a bowl game win? Three consecutive bowl game appearances ... it hadn't happened since 1951 when Bear Bryant was calling the plays in Lexington. And UK, in 117 years of football, had never won three straight bowl games. The talk of breaking that notorious embarrassment was fairly positive, until ...
- UK's presumed starting quarterback, Curtis Pulley, was kicked off the team. The "Ghosts in the House" were haunting the Kentucky football faithful once again.
- But, a dominating 27-2 victory in the opening game versus the ranked and hated Louisville Cardinals, in their house no less (capped by a rumbling, stumbling 72 yard scamper by UK D-lineman Myron Pryor), buoyed optimism among 'Cat fans -- "Now, if Kentucky can only get an offense" was a theme that was to be repeated to a nauseating degree.
- After six games UK's football team, standing at 4-2, and coming off two straight losses (Alabama, and South Carolina - Will UK ever beat Spurrier?) was staring demoralizing loss number three-in-a-row squarely in the face. When, versus Arkansas (down 20-7 with five minutes remaining), "new Kentucky" proved with ferocity that these 'Cats were indeed in possession of multiple lives, and at least five good minutes -- A forced fumble led to a Michael Hartline 32 yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb, making the score 20-14 with 4:15 remaining; On Arkansas' next possession UK's defense held the Razorbacks to a four-and-out, UK capitalized with a Hartline 21 yard touchdown pass to Cobb, giving UK the lead at 21-20 with 2:21 remaining; And finally, with 1:07 left on the clock UK's Marcus McClinton intercepted a Casey Dick pass to complete the improbable comeback. The game epitomized grabbing victory from the brutal jaws of defeat -- Unfortunately, a series of SEC losses would follow, leaving a once promising Kentucky football team grasping for one last victory to gain bowl eligibility.
- While Wildcat football fans are surely loyal to a fault, the Nations attention turns to the hardwood when November rolls around. But, a little three-point-happy team arrived at Rupp with arms cocked and victory on their minds, carrying with them the first sign of the trouble that awaited the loyal lovers of the Blue and White: It could be heard from Pike County to the Jackson Purchase ... "VMI, not again!!"
- After losses to VMI, North Carolina,and at home to Miami, the frustration of Patrick Patterson not getting enough touches epitomizes my thoughts on the early season 'Cats.
- It was around Christmas that many UK fans, including myself, began to realize that Billy Gillispie was most definitely NOT the type of basketball coach the we here in the Commonwealth have grown accustomed to watching -- His peculiar methods, highlighted by head-scratching substitution patterns, in-game decision-making, and media style, while not an indictment of his abilities, were certainly causing an inordinate amount of angst among many fans.
- The New Year, though, began with a couple of events which heightened the spirits of UK supporters everywhere ...
- Although I didn't write a post-Liberty Bowl victory piece, I reveled in the victory none-the-less. The 25-19 win over East Carolina ended the season just as it began: With a lineman, this time Ventrell Jenkins, scurrying into the end zone on a 56-yard fumble return to secure victory. A 7-6 season, and third straight bowl victory, despite all the team's injuries, made the UK win over ECU as sweet as any in recent memory.
- My elation with the UK football bowl win was quickly followed by, at first heartbreak, and then a feeling of promise, after UK's close road basketball loss (73-70) to the Louisville Cardinals. The hard-court 'Cats, coming off a string of blowout wins over lesser opponents, seemed to be "coming together" as the SEC slate neared. And taking the highly ranked Cards to the brink of defeat only added to the optimism most UK fans felt.
- But, who knew that only nine days later the 'Cats would reach the apex of their season behind an extraordinary 54-point performance by Jodie Meeks, resulting in a blowout win on the court of the Tennessee Vols. Meeks' unbelievable display of shooting was simply the best one-man, one-game accomplishment that I have ever witnessed at the high school or collegiate level of competition. But, oh, the end was near ...
- In my view, the beginning of the end of the 'Cat's season began with UK's trip to Oxford, Mississippi to take on the Ole Miss Rebels. Shorthanded, because of a string of decimating injuries to three starters, including their All-SEC caliber point guard Chris Warren, Andy Kennedy's club played like they wanted the win. Sadly, Kentucky responded with an incomplete performance; something we would all become much to familiar with.
- Following the Ole Miss loss, UK would lose consecutive games at home to South Carolina and Mississippi State which "propelled" the 'Cats to a 3-8 finish in the SEC. The nadir of the season took place in UK's own hallowed Rupp Arena: A 90-85 loss to the SEC's worst team, the Georgia Bulldogs.
- I didn't know it at the time, but the Georgia loss, coupled with some unfortunate comments by coach Billy Gillispie, probably sealed the fate of UK's head honcho. There was to come a symphony of "should he stay, or should he go" commentary from the keyboards of bloggers, and sports writers around the nation. And with UK's NIT quarterfinal loss to Notre Dame, Mitch Barnhart and Lee Todd began the task of saving their own jobs with ...
- An at-bat that could only result in a four-bagger ... or the consequences would be grave.
- But, we fans now enter into a new era. An era filled with optimism and hope for the future: The hiring of John Calipari has lifted the spirits of the Kentucky faithful to heights unmatched in a decade. So with the future bright, we continue the march ...
Along the way I have had the great pleasure of interviewing some of the greatest players to ever don the Blue and White: Louie Dampier, Cotton Nash, Bob Burrow, Mike Pratt, Jeff Sheppard, and Dicky Lyons, Jr.. The late, great Kentucky Wildcat Mike Casey, while in a hospital bed undergoing tests and treatement, spent an-hour-and-fifteen-minutes out of his day to talk to me about his memories of his days playing for the 'Cats. It is a conversation that I will treasure until the day I meet my Maker.
For all of this I have one man to thank, and that is our fearless leader, Truzenzuzex. The opportunity to share my thoughts with you on UK, and all things Kentucky-related is due to the incredible generosity of Tru -- The fact that he deemed me worthy to share front page space with him on A Sea of Blue; the fact that he has been a sounding-board for ideas; the fact that he has always, without fail, given me solid advice and encouraging words leaves me indebted to him in a way that I will never be able to repay.
Finally, I must emphasize: I truly enjoy the discourse, debate, and discussion we partake in here at ASoB, and for that I must thank the readers and contributors. While we may not always agree with each other, we have been able to maintain quality conversations and dialog, which only enriches the "fan" experience. So, thank you readers. Without you, Tru, I, and BIgSky would be writing to the beat of sage brush blowing through the "Sea."
With all sincerety, and as always,
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!