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There’s No Crying In Basketball...Is There?

The broken heart of leaving it all on the floor and coming up short will do that to you.

NCAA Basketball: USA TODAY Sports-Archive Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The place was the SEC Basketball Tournament in March of 1984. The game is a punch counter punch event with the score tied at 49-49 inside Memorial Gymnasium in Music City.

Coach Joe B. Hall gathered the team during a timeout and drew up a play. He was confident it would work; he was also extremely confident in the player who would be taking the shot. As the team returned to the floor, the shoes squeaked on the hardwood, and the play unfolded. There was a pick, the Kentucky player came off the pick and caught the ball. The clocked ticked down to the two second mark. The shooter elevated and took, what admittedly by the player himself was a line drive. Not the prettiest shot in the world.

As everyone looked to the rim they heard a sickening Clunk – but watched as the ball then bounced up nearly two feet above the rim and as if it had a tracking beacon inside, swished back through the net. There was no time on the clock. The Wildcats had won the game.

The player who took the shot was Kenny “Sky” Walker a true University of Kentucky legend. Loved by fans, Walker is always willing to take pictures, sign autographs, and considers playing basketball in Kentucky as one of the most important and best decisions he has ever made in his life. Big Blue Nation loves him for it and Sky Walker loves them right back.

But that is not the reason we pass along this story. Go back to the game where Walker hit the game winner. Although it was an ugly shot, it was exactly what the Cats needed to defeat the Auburn Tigers.

In the moments after the shot went through the net, the excitement, the cheers, and the smiles…there was another moment captured by the camera. It was the image of Charles Barkley, yes – that Charles Barkley – the Round Mound of Rebound, sitting on the basketball court in tears.

The final score was 51-49 and Auburn was eliminated from the tournament. Barkley was never shy about showing his emotion as a player, but this was an unlikely display as he was heartbroken as his team came up short.

Had they won, it would have been a huge upset. Unranked Auburn was facing a team loaded with talent including Sam Bowie, Mel Turpin, Winston Bennet, Jim Master and of course Kenny Walker. In the flurry of memories, it is easy to forget that it started with a confident coach, who drew up the play for a confident player, who was willing to put it all on the line and make a bad shot work. In doing so, he made Charles Barkley cry. The broken heart of leaving it all on the floor and coming up short will do that to you. It did to Barkley. Many have experienced moments just like that.

The new season is young, and we are miles and many minutes away from tournament time. But this unique group of balanced Kentucky ball players has all the makings of a team that will break the will and break the hearts of their opponents.

Now, we don’t want to see the other teams in tears, but it would be just fine if they all left the arenas bitterly disappointed as the Wildcats find a way to win.