Vaught’s note: Chris Cruz is one of those participating in the John Calipari Fantasy Camp. He’s also one of those involved in Big Blue Nation Cares, a group that helps provide tickets to UK football and basketball games to fans who might otherwise not be able to attend the games. He put together these notes Wednesday night about what led him to this point that he’s so excited about coming to Calipari’s camp — and it also helps explain why he’s so willing to help others. Enjoy his story because it illustrates what being a Kentucky fan is all about.
By CHRIS CRUZ
Dec. 6, 1941 – My father is 11 years old. He is in Guam enjoying a beautiful, sunny day. He is fishing and picking fruit for his family’s next meal.
Dec. 7, 1941 – Japan bombs/captures Guam on Pearl Harbor Day
July 21, 1944 – The US recaptures Guam from Japan. Subsequently, a Baptist missionary on Guam helps my father (a native islander who had never even heard of Kentucky) gain admission to Berea College. My father graduates from Berea and then from UK with a degree in Civil Engineering.
August 18, 1954 – My father, a UK graduate, marries my mother, a UofL graduate. I forgive her – she really didn’t know what she was doing in terms of her college choice.
October 1959. I was born in a hospital in Shelbyville, KY. My parents tell me that the loudest voice in the delivery room was that of Adolph Rupp being interviewed on the radio about the upcoming basketball season. Kentucky Blue was forever implanted in my blood.
September, 1962 – My parents had taken me back to Guam where “the plan” was to live permanently. Then the worst typhoon in the history of Guam hit. Wind gusts in the 180-210 MPH range. Much of the island was decimated. We move to Newport News, Virginia (I was almost 3 years old) to try to build a new life from scratch.
1962-1977– I spent many evenings with my father in the family car driving around the neighborhood trying to find just the right angle to hear Cawood Ledford call UK games on WHAS. We listen to every second of every game we could receive. I kept a spiral notebook and pencil in the car at all times so I could keep stats of the games while we listened. During this time I kept a transistor AM radio and a set of earphones hidden in my bed that I would use to listen to Cawood if, for some reason, we couldn’t take family car in search of a WHAS radio signal. I remember praying to God on numerous occasions that he would allow me to see one UK game in person in Rupp Arena before I died. I graduated from high school in 1977.
1977-early 1990’s. Until Al Gore invented the internet (LOL) in the early 1990’s, I continued our family tradition of driving endless hours in search of AM radio signals in an effort to listen to UK games. A rare exception was the 1978 title game. I was a freshman at Wake Forest University. We had no TV in our dorm room. I watched the championship game against Duke in the building’s TV room with 200 other students and I was the ONLY one in the room wearing UK gear. Everyone else in the room as rooting for Duke and the ACC. It was a surreal feeling watching The Goose drop 41 points on Duke to help Coach Joe B Hall lead UK to the national title. The advent of ESPN during this time period helped a little, but there was still nothing like listening to Cawood call a UK game on the radio. I was blessed to be able to attend the UK-UofL game in November 1984 and watch Sam Bowie, Melvin Turpin, et al destroy the Cardinals – God has answered my prayer of being able to attend a UK game in Rupp Arena. I married the most wonderful woman in the world in January 1988 – she is still trying to fully understand my Big Blue Nation fever. During this time period my first son was born. His first 3 words consisted of “DaDa”, “Tucky”, and “Mama” – in that order.
1990’s-June 2012. Between the internet and Cable TV, I was able to revel in the glory of all things (Big) Blue. Not just basketball, but football, baseball, soccer, tennis, etc. Even though I lived over 600 miles away, I feel much more a part of the Big Blue Nation with easier access to games, online bulletin boards, and access UK-related online journalism. During this time period, my other two sons were born. The middle son is a freshman at UK. The youngest one is a high school sophomore and is leaning in the UK direction.
June 2012. Coach Cal announces the first annual UK Fantasy Basketball Camp. A chance to meet him and his staff. A chance to meet a number of former UK players, many of which I had watched time and time again over the years as I rooted to ‘Cats to one victory after another. A chance to play at Memorial Coliseum – where my father sat 60 years ago watching Coach Rupp roam the sidelines. A chance to step on the floor at Rupp Arena – the site of so many thrilling UK games for the past (almost) 40 years. It was a dream. Untouchable. Unreachable. Too good to be true. Certainly no 52-year old could deserve something so fun, so cool, so selfish as to hang out with Coach Cal, his staff, and a group of former UK players for 3 days. Then, that wonderful lady whom I’d married almost 25 years ago gave me a once-in-a-lifetime Fathers Day present – a chance to go to Lexington for the September 13-15 camp. No way. It really couldn’t happen to me. All those years of being a fan. The memories with my father and other family members. The countless nights listening to Cawood in the 1970 Ford Country Squire station wagon. Living in southeastern Virginia where I could watch UK only once-a-year on TV (the annual tape-delayed New Years Eve game against Notre Dame) . Even in 1975, when UK beat Indiana (92-90) in the Regional Final, the game was not on live TV where I lived . And there was no radio reception since it was an afternoon game. I had to follow the score on the ticker on the bottom of the network TV screen. The same UK where I was accepted for two different degree programs over a 15-yr period, but chose to stay in Virginia for school for family and work reasons.
September 12, 2012, 3:00PM. I am sitting in the Charlotte airport in a flight delay. Next stop, hopefully, is Lexington, KY. Tomorrow is the start of Coach Cal’s fantasy camp. I am beside myself with anticipation. I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve – seriously. I have no clue what to expect. I won’t know what to say. I just don’t want to make a fool of myself. Thirty-five years ago I ran the basketball courts at Wake Forest U with players from their basketball team (including a couple of All-Americans) who sometimes were looking for players to fill a 5-on-5 game. Today, my goal is to walk off the court on my own strength. (LOL) Time sure changes a lot.
September 12, 2012, 11:35PM. I’m worn out and camp hasn’t even started yet. I’ve been up since 3AM this morning. Couldn’t sleep. Too much nervous energy and I didn’t want to miss my flights. I got to Lexington and took my son to Tony Roma’s for ribs, broccoli, mac-n-cheese w/bacon, and a brownie ice cream sundae with raspberry sauce – the pre-game meal of champions !!!! Then a little Calculus homework session (he is majoring in Mathematical Economics at UK). Less than an hour ago I saw Coach Cal in the hotel lobby. He had come to meet the other coaches to go over tomorrow’s camp plans. Many other coaches might have simply lent their name to a camp like this. Not Coach Cal. It’s like everything he seems to do. He wants to be in the middle of it to make sure it’s done right. And my guess is that he’s already been “in the middle of it” for at least 15 hours already today. Time to crash and get some rest. Big day tomorrow – a chance to walk in the shoes of the hundreds of players that have worn the UK basketball jersey over the years that were my basketball heroes – Dan Issel, Ronnie Lyons, Jack Givens, Kyle Macy, Kenny “Sky” Walker, Rex Chapman, Derrick Hord, Charles Hurt, Roger “the man who ate Baton Rouge” Harden, the Unforgettables, Travis Ford, Jamal Mashburn, Wayne Turner, Antoine Walker, Anthony Epps, Ron Mercer, Walter McCarty, Jeff Sheppard, Cameron Mills, Scott Padgett, Tony Delk, Jodie Meeks, Jared Prickett, Boogie Cousins, Darius Miller, MKG, Anthony Davis, Patrick Patterson, John Wall, Doron Lamb – the list goes on and on and on – those are just a few from the top of my head.