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By ASHLEY SCOBY
My favorite part about going to women’s clinics and other fan-oriented events for UK sports is seeing the passion that these participants exhibit, and I’ve never been disappointed by the fans yet. But I may have found one of my favorite UK fan stories ever at this year’s women’s clinic, which was held last Thursday.
As Coach Cal showed the ladies the video that he uses for recruiting trips, I struck up a conversation with the lady next to me, Janet Ray. Ray, an employee at one of the Lexington post offices, had plenty of stories to share.
She said that when Tubby Smith had vacated the UK coaching job, people would come into her post office branch and just say, “What do you think?”
“We all knew exactly what everyone was talking about,” she said. “Here in this town, we’re all on the same page. It’s all about Kentucky basketball.”
That it is. And everybody in Lexington, at some point or another, has to go to the post office, including Coach Cal’s wife, Ellen.
“One day Coach Cal’s wife came in, and my heart was beating, and I was just telling myself, ‘Act normal, act normal,’” Ray said. “We started talking, and she said she was happy to be here. I told her, ‘Honey, not as happy as we are to have you here.’”
Ray and I got onto the subject of going to the basketball games since Calipari has arrived at Kentucky (she is a Rupp Arena season ticket holder). She said that there were times when she had had to go to a few games by herself because of people having other plans, extenuating circumstances, etc.
“What does it matter if I’m going to the game alone?” she said. “I’m with 23,000 of my friends. We always find something to talk about.”
If you have read this far into my conversation with Ray, you probably haven’t seen anything that would make Ray much different from any other bleed-blue UK basketball fan. But the final story she told me may just be my favorite story that any UK fan has ever told me.
In 1997, UK was headed to the Final Four in Indianapolis, about a 3 to 3 and a 1/2-hour drive from Lexington. Ray was working her usual shift at the post office the day of the game, when a woman came in and mentioned something about the Cats. As usual, when it comes to Ray at work, the two got onto the subject of the game that night.
Needless to say, the conversation went from there.
“I met her in the lobby, and I just said, ‘Hey do you want to drive to Indianapolis with me tonight?’” Ray said. “So she came and picked me up from work and we drove all the way there. We scalped tickets on the street and we made it!”
Back up just a second. “Oh, so you had known this lady before, and you guys just met at the post office to leave for Indiana,” I said, thinking I had misunderstood Ray.
“Nope,” she said. “I’d never seen her before in my life, and I’ve never seen her again.”
Calipari constantly says “you people are crazy” when talking about UK fans. But jumping into a car with a stranger, just to go see the Cats play in the Final Four? That might just be a special kind of crazy.
But, it’s the kind of crazy that’s embraced here at UK, and what makes the Big Blue Nation such a special fanbase. Stories like this all come together at fan events like the women’s clinic, and I’m just thankful that I got the opportunity to hear this one.
And the lesson learned? A car ride with a stranger is much more enjoyable if you have something as big as the BBN in common.