One would think former UK basketball star Jeff Sheppard has more than enough responsibilities taking up space on his metaphorical plate -- Let's see, he owns and operates 15inc, a very successful apparel company; he is vice president of business development for the ever-growing Wazoosports.com; and this summer he organized the "Jorts Tour," which promoted a line of Jorts (aka Josh Harrellson) clothing. He's married to one of the greatest woman basketball players in University of Kentucky history, the former Stacey Reed, and he has two young children to keep him busy. But evidently, that isn't enough.
The hard-charging and driven Sheppard is now organizing a series of basketball games between a group of former Wildcats, most of whom play in the NBA (if we ever have an NBA again), and five Kentucky NAIA schools: Pikeville University, Mid-Continent University (coached by former Wildcat Winston Bennett), Alice Lloyd College, Union College and Georgetown College. The games, to be played in high school gyms around the Commonwealth (with the exception of the Pikeville U game on October 8th, which will be held at the Eastern Kentucky Expo Center in Pikeville), are designed to bring financial gains to all the schools involved (as well as the V Foundation for cancer research), both the NAIA programs, as well as the high schools where the events will be held, with the exposure the NAIA schools will receive being priceless.
The cherry on top of the big blue basketball, though, is a game Sheppard is organizing pitting the Big Blue All-Stars versus "The Villains," a game to be held in Rupp Arena on October 24 at 7:30 pm.
Sheppard, who migrated north to Lexington from Peachtree City, Georgia in 1993, grew up a UK basketball fan. But after playing four years at Kentucky (plus a redshirt year), winning two national titles, and as a senior, being named the 1998 Final Four MVP, Shep still did not have a clear understanding of how powerful and wide-ranging the passion of UK basketball fans are. In an exclusive interview given to A Sea of Blue, Sheppard said, "It's really interesting; I quit playing basketball 10 years ago, and since then I've traveled the state visiting high schools, and middle schools, working with Wazoo.com, and I've discovered the love and passion for UK basketball isn't conceptualized, it isn't just in Lexington. It's everywhere, in every school, every town, it consumes people."
It's that passion, that love Kentuckians have for UK basketball which was the impetus behind Sheppard putting together the Big Blue All-Stars vs. The Villains event. Sheppard said, "It's a thrill to be a part of this event. It's a way to prove to the rival schools that there is nothing like Kentucky basketball." While Sheppard is diligently working to finalize the rosters for both teams, a list of possible Villains include Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina), Nolan Smith (Duke), Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer (Florida), Kenneth Faried (Morehead State), Shelvin Mack (Butler), Rudy Gay (UConn), and Terrence Williams (Louisville). The Big Blue All-Stars roster, once again, not official, will probably include Keith Bogans, Rajon Rondo, Tayshaun Prince, DeMarcus Cousins, and John Wall among others.
Of course the teams need a coach, and the Villains coach will be none other than biggest, most vile villain of them all, Duke's Christian Laettner, the man who hit "The Shot" in the 1992 Elite Eight which broke a million big blue hearts, sending the Unforgettables home with a loss. A shot Laettner probably should not have been able to take after his first half stomp on the chest of a prone Aminu Timberlake. Genius, I say, genius. The Big Blue All-Stars will be coached by the player Jeff Sheppard was most often compared to, UK's own King Rex Chapman.
About the (potential) Villain's lineup, Sheppard said, "This isn't a unique idea, these types of games are going on all around the country ... we wanted to put or own flavor into the game. It just makes sense that we wanted to have the best of the NBA to be involved, LeBron James, and so on, but Kentucky fans don't really care about the NBA in general, they love their Wildcats and hate everybody else." And about that mad man move of asking perhaps the most despised UK opponent in history to coach the Villains, Sheppard said, "I have people all the time tell me, 'when you guys beat Duke in 1998, it did something personal for me, it helped me heal' (the wound left by the 1992 loss to Duke), but Kentucky fans will never get over that loss. The Big Blue All-Stars, though, have a chance to stick it to Laettner, and give Kentucky fans some closure."
What an idea. What a game. Sheppard is to be commended and thanked for coming up with the idea of altering the existing Alumni vs. All-Star, or Alumni vs. Alumni games that are happening around the nation. Sheppard's Kentucky twist on the game, propelled by his own passion for UK and his appreciation for UK fans, has given basketball junkies around the Commonwealth an opportunity to boo, yell, and generally voice their displeasure at the sight of so many Big Blue opponents, who have caused so much pain to Wildcat fans over the years. Well done, Mr. Sheppard, well done.
There will be a 2:00 pm press conference today to officially announce both rosters. Tickets for the barnstorming tour can be purchased at the high schools where the games will be played -- For information on the dates and locations of the barnstorming tour, sponsored by State Farm, go to Big Blue All-Stars.com. Tickets for The Villains game at Rupp Arena can be purchased beginning October 10, with pre-sale tickets available Friday. For more information, stay tuned to A Sea of Blue.com. We'll have all the pertinent info as it becomes available.
For a "Where Are They Now" look at Sheppard, go here, to CoachCal.com, to read contributor David Jackson's excellent article on what the former UK star has been up to.
Thanks for reading and Go Big Blue All-Stars!