There are times when the UK fanbase's unparalleled passion for college hoops is its best calling card. During the SEC tournament in Atlanta or Nashville, a sea of blue (ahem) overwhelms those little islands of red or auburn or orange.
But there are, increasingly, times when Big Blue Nation provides grist for the media mill. Today was apparently one of those times.
Late in Saturday's game against the Hoosiers, senior Bobby Perry suffered a scratch above his left eye and had to leave the game and later receive stitches. His replacement, much to the chagrin of many UK fans watching in Rupp Arena and at home, was fellow senior Sheray Thomas.
But what happened next reflected the growing issue of fanship and class, or the lack thereof. According to eyewitnesses and media accounts, a louder-than-smattering of boos cascaded down from the bleachers.
The reaction from Thomas' teammates, according to Matt May's nice piece at Cats Pause (preium link) was a mixture of disappointment in the fans' reaction and praise for their brother-in-arms.
"The fans have been tough on him," Perry said. "I hoped maybe they'd show some appreciation. ... You've got to blame someone for something." (again, props to TCP)
I noted briefly in my game post-mortem that this sort of fan behaviour was unbecoming the followers of the winningest hoops team in the country. There is little doubt in my mind that the people willing to boo a UK player is small, and I also feel that more than a few were booing the decision to put Thomas into the game more than the player himself. But as someone who has been extremely critical of Thomas' performance on this forum, I absolutely stand on record as saying booing your own players at any time in a college game is a travesty, even moreso at home.
For all their rhetoric about what being Kentucky basketball is all about, the small contingent of fans willing to boo a college kid who is not getting paid and who has battled through injury and exams and two-a-days has embarassed itself and its school, as well as sent a spike through the heart of the core arguments surrounding the "Fire Tubby" movement.
No fan worth his or her salt would stoop so low, and anyone justifying such behavior as a First Amendment right or some sort of "I paid my money to get in" right is an apologist. I can't imagine why you'd want to defend such behavior, and in this case, if you're for booing UK's players, then I'm against you.
The simple fact is, however much you scream at the screen at home or at the sports bar when Thomas walks up the court, taking the next step and booing him or the coach's decision to put him in on national television and in front of recruits -- the entire Oak Hill team was present, as well as a slew of football prospects -- puts you into a rare category of jerks.
I don't love Thomas' game, but he's a Cat and he deserves the respect afforded all of them, from the All-American to the scrubby walk-on and everyone in between.