UK2KPosted by jstevrtc on December 21st, 2009
On Monday night, the University of Kentucky will welcome the Drexel Dragons into Rupp Arena for a 7:00 PM ET tilt that — no disrespect to Drexel, here, we’re just playing the percentages — could give UK its 12th win of the season against no losses, and could further the record for best start at UK for a first-year coach. Previously held by (no surprises here) Adolph Rupp, who started the 1931 season with ten straight wins, John Calipari took that record for himself with the Wildcats’ win over Austin Peay on Saturday.
Just your typical Monday night, post-finals week, holiday season, non-conference game, eh?
Oh, yeah. There’s this other thing.
As you likely know by now, a win over the Dragons on Monday evening will mark win #2,000 for the Kentucky program. They’ll beat North Carolina to that finish line by eight wins, or about a month.
While acknowledging how impressive that number is and what it means to Kentucky fans, the players and coaches in Lexington are largely dismissing the occasion with a sort of wave of the hand, seeing it not so much as a finish line but a milepost on the way to another finish line located in Indianapolis in early April. That makes sense, when you figure that Calipari himself will only be responsible of 12 of those 2,000 wins, and that even the three current Kentucky seniors — Ramon Harris, Perry Stevenson, and Mark Krebs — can lay claim to only 74 of them, a mere 4%.
Any wearer of the Kentucky uniform, past or present, should certainly feel a part of this achievement. No doubt about that. Calipari said it best, though, in a recent AP story about reaching 2,000 wins when he simply said, “It’s important to the Commonwealth.”
True, that. Assuming Kentucky gets that landmark victory on Monday, every person (player, coach, etc) ever associated with the program — and yes, that includes a certain William Gillispie — should take pride in it, but the real celebrating should be done by Kentucky’s fans — or, as they are known, the Big Blue Nation. The vast majority of UK fans were fans before Rick Pitino got there and will be fans after John Calipari leaves, whether that’s in two years or twenty. UK fans have celebrated every big victory and mourned every tough loss no matter the coach or the players. The fans of a program, in almost every case, are the one consistency through a program’s existence. If you just take Kentucky’s last 20 seasons, you’re talking about 519 wins. And rest assured, whether they’re season ticket-holders at Rupp Arena or folks who still rely on radio broadcasts to listen to most of the games, there are countless Kentucky supporters who have been loyal, rabid fans for longer than those 20 years. You get the point.
Aside from recalling their own watershed moments among those 2,000 victories, the thoughts of many UK fans will turn to two revered fellows: Bill Keightley and Cawood Ledford. Keightley was the UK equipment manager from 1962 until his death in 2008, which means he served under every head coach from Rupp to Gillispie. Ledford was the radio announcer for UK basketball (and football) for 39 years. The man was famous not only for his marrow warming old-time voice (if you’ve never heard it, you simply must), but also his consummate professionalism. His last game was the Kentucky vs Duke Elite 8 game in 1992 — yes, the Christian Laettner shot. He died in 2001. And I have to say it here — there’s no way to summarize here what those two gentlemen meant to Wildcat fans. Between the two of them, they saw the majority of Kentucky’s 2,000 victories, and to say they were beloved among UK fans is the equivalent of saying that tidal waves are moist or that Albert Einstein was a bright guy.
So, assuming Drexel doesn’t get hot and pull an upset on Monday night, it’s a big one for the Big Blue Nation. You should enjoy this party, because you’ve earned the right to have yours first, and that’s definitely something. Honor your heroes — past, present, and departed. But don’t blame your current players and coaches if they forget the celebration soon afterward. They have other goals in mind, their own place in your lore that they wish to carve.
(Ed. note: If Drexel goes berserk, we’ll be re-running this article next week with another name in Drexel’s place.)