He’s 66, he goes by Uncle Charlie, and he is the envy of most Kentucky fans all over the world on this day.
Why is that, you may ask? Because he is at the front of a line consisting of 311 tents and tarps that comprises the queue that has formed in front of Lexington’s Memorial Coliseum, the UK basketball team’s practice venue. The line exists because on Saturday morning the University will give out tickets to Kentucky’s version of Midnight Madness, which as we all know is the day that schools are allowed to start having official, full-staffed practices. The line of tents snakes around the Coliseum and up approximately two city blocks — on both sides, mind you — and that tent-count of 311 was as of Thursday evening. I heard one estimate that it could more than double by Friday night. The local news is reporting that this will be the longest line-up in the history of any Kentucky basketball ticket distribution.
No, that’s correct, you read that right…this is all for the first practice of the season. Not a game. People were allowed to start camping out at 8am on Wednesday, September 30th for the Saturday, October 3rd ticket distribution. That’s three and half days of sleeping on the ground for the privilege of attending…a practice.
“Let me tell you something, there is absolutely nowhere I’d rather be than this place,” confirms Uncle Charlie, who quotes stats from legendary Kentucky players like “Wah Wah” Jones and Cotton Nash with the quickness and accuracy of someone talking about his own children’s athletic talents. “Look at this, there’s no actin’ up, no bad stuff happening, no police having to tend to this. This is just a bunch of people — young people, old people like me — who love Kentucky basketball.”
A few months ago, we were writing about how the Big Blue Nation was, to say the least, crestfallen about themselves and their situation. Kentucky fans were enduring a season with what they perceived to be an underachieving bunch, a listless group of players who seemed out-of-synch under the leadership of former coach Billy Gillispie, a man who Kentucky supporters (and evidently University bigwigs) felt was not only a reluctant front-man for the Kentucky program from a public-relations standpoint both locally and nationally — but also a coach who looked a little in over his head at this level. Of course, UK would end up in the NIT, a simply unacceptable result in the eyes of the Big Blue Nation; Gillispie was soon gone (but not, um, forgotten), and John Calipari hired. Now, there’s a line of tents well over a mile long.
“We don’t talk about the past couple of years that much any more; not because we’re ashamed, but because — well just look at this,” notes Bruce, a 35-year-old firefighter who drove 180 miles from Owensboro, Kentucky to camp out here for tickets. “The campers would have still been here no matter who the coach was or who was on our roster. The line might not have been as long, and the mood might not have been as good around here. But with Coach Cal and this freshman class, and guys like (sophomore guard) Darius Miller and (junior forward/center) Patrick Patterson coming back, I’d rather talk about the future.”