SEC Basketball Vibes: Memories From The Road To Rupp Arena

Take a look at what we’re vibing on in SEC basketball, including remembering those long drives to Rupp Arena in a Kentucky fanatic family.

The SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament is taking place right now in Nashville, which means that the Tennessee capital is hoping that Kentucky keeps winning until Sunday or the town might be dead other than other fans snapping up cheap tickets.

Yes, I follow some basketball. As well I should, considering I’m a native of Kentucky and the product of a family of huge Wildcats fans. Rupp Arena? Been there and done that so many times growing up that I can still remember the long drives back to my hometown in the upper reaches of northeastern Kentucky after a 9 p.m. tipoff.

This week, I’m taking a break from giving my latest thoughts on our beloved football and switching to basketball. It’s March and we should support our respective schools in this – and every other sport that it fields – as much as we do the pigskin. Let’s do this: for one week and one week only, I present SEC Basketball Vibes.

As stated before, trips with my family to Rupp Arena were a major thing back in the 80s and 90s during my youth. I’ve seen my dad cry after Kentucky wins (the 1998 victory over Duke in the Elite 8 springs to mind) and saw some great teams (the 1996 and 1998 national champions) play more often than I remember. The one thing that still sticks with me? The call-in radio shows afterward.

Oh, this was before Paul Finebaum was famous. This was strictly the radio announcers such as Dave Baker, who I now proudly call a friend, taking calls from Earl in Hazard and Jim Bob in Greenup. (Note: my great uncle’s name was Jim Bob, and he lived in my hometown of Greenup, and I’m sure he’s the type of person that would call in.)

These callers made Phyllis in Mulga and Tammy in Clanton seem like level-headed individuals.

Kentucky only wins by 11 over a weak Ole Miss team at home? You knew Rick Pitino was going to get blasted by Don from Pikeville.

A rare loss to South Carolina? Pitino needed to play local boy Cameron Mills more often, according to Hank in Paducah.

I don’t even want to mention the calls when Pitino left and Tubby Smith took over. You would have thought Saul Smith, Tubby’s son, had called for the banning of bourbon in the commonwealth.

Through all these trips, I never caught the Big Blue Bug that bites the majority of Kentuckians. Once Auburn entered my heart, I think my parents knew there was no chance of turning me back.

Yet, I still went to games. Back then, it was a two-hour trip both ways, and those drives to and from the game were some of the greatest memories of my childhood.

A certain drive I remember almost 20 years later took place after Kentucky beat an undefeated No. 6-ranked Auburn. I was certain that Chris Porter, Doc Robinson, Mamadou N’Diaye and company would take down the evil Kentucky machine that had just won two national titles in three years. That would not be the case.

My sister, attending Kentucky at the time, was sure to bring me on the floor and take a picture with the scoreboard in the background. Even my dad, whom I had never seen be braggadocios in my life, was hooting and hollering after the game as we met back in the stands.

That car ride home was rough. I tried to ignore the postgame show being played at an extra decibel, I’m sure on purpose, by my dad. I tried to put away the thoughts of all of my classmates in high school ribbing me the next day. I’m sure I wasn’t exactly the happiest camper to be around the next few … well … weeks.

But those are memories that I now cherish. No, I’m still not a Kentucky fan, but I’ve finally reached a point where, if they win, I’m happy for my family.

And, in some cases, I wish I would have been infected with the Big Blue Bug, just so I could share the memories with my family.

Sure, the time my dad texted me during the 2013 Iron Bowl after Auburn had tied the game with the message, “Are you okay?” is great. For the record, I texted back, “I can’t handle this anymore.” Little did I know what would happen next.

And yes, my mom sending a “War Eagle” anytime Auburn does something great on the field means a lot. I’m not sure she knows how much.

My sister and brother, worried about my blood pressure, make sure that I’m still alive after a close Tigers victory.

But it would be great to have that connection that goes back to the days of Rex Chapman, Kenny Walker, Travis Ford, Jeff Sheppard, Tony Delk, and the rest of the great players that would soon come.

Maybe it would be nice to chant “C-A-T-S CATS CATS CATS” with my sister.

It would be great to give my brother a high five after Malik Monk does something out of this world.

A different school got my heart, though.

Still, beneath the burnt orange and navy, there is a spot in me that remembers those car rides. Those long, nothing-to-see on the side of the road trips along I-64. That is what I remember the most, and I only wish that everyone could have the same wonderful experiences that I had with my parents and family.

Now, if you don’t mind, caller Mike from Somerset wants to explain why Calipari would be better off playing a zone.

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