By LARRY VAUGHT
Capri Brixey is a Kentucky native living in North Carolina, but that has not stopped her from continuing to be a Kentucky basketball fan. She plans to be in Atlanta Tuesday night when UK plays Duke in the Georgia Dome in the State Farm Champions Classic. She shared these thoughts on what the UK-Duke game will be like for her.
Question: As a Kentucky fan living in North Carolina, how excited are you for the UK-Duke game coming up in Atlanta?
Brixey: “Stoked, and anxious at the same time. Every Duke fan in North Carolina is foaming at the mouth for a young Kentucky team that is not ready. The easy response to ‘I’m a Kentucky fan’ while living in North Carolina is a comment about Calipari as a cheater and UK as a ‘one and done’ school. So, naturally, the fear for any Kentucky fan living among the arrogance of Duke and in general, ACC, fans would be a loss to Duke because our young team is still young.”
Question: What is the buzz about Duke basketball this year like?
Brixey: “There is no buzz. They’re still talking about the ‘phenomenal’ coaching from Coach K of the Olympic team. That’s all they have; they’re nervous, too. Even Dick Vitale can’t come up with much to say about Duke basketball this year. North Carolina State has a good chance of beating them several times this year, and they know it. Besides, from what I hear, most Duke fans live in New Jersey. It’s always sounds like there are more here in North Carolina than there actually are because they’re all so obnoxious.”
Question: Since all your friends know you are a big-time Kentucky fan, what will life be like for you if Kentucky does not win?
Brixey: “I am surrounded by UNC, NC State, and Duke fans. UNC fans are rooting for us in this matchup and they will have some sympathy if we do not win, but they, too, will use a loss to talk about Kentucky’s ‘one and done’ status as the season progresses (never mind the irony that both Duke and UNC had players leave early last year; they seem to forget that fact pretty quickly and when presented with it, they brush it off as though it were a fluke and would never happen again). Duke fans, on the other hand, will be relentless with their arrogance about their ‘quality’ program of ‘student-athletes.’ I, however, was there when Duke lost to Lehigh in Greensboro last year and the memory of that will bolster me. All of them, however, will capitalize on a loss to talk about the ‘obvious superiority’ of the ACC, which is the worst possible outcome.”
Question: Did you have any problems making arrangements to be able to attend the game?
Brixey: “No — it would take a lot to keep us from this game! We have friends coming in from Kentucky and Washington, D.C., to meet us at the game. This tournament was tons of fun to attend at Madison Square Garden last year in New York City and we wouldn’t miss it in Atlanta, especially considering the matchup. Can’t wait to represent with the rest of Big Blue Nation, who are sure to fill the arena!”
Question: What excites you the most about this year’s Kentucky team?
Brixey: “We have some amazing players this year and I am looking forward to watching them play as team. The individual players on our past teams were phenoms, to be sure, but no one could say that they didn’t love watching the dynamic of them playing together. I’m looking forward to seeing how this team develops, gels as a team and works together to learn and play off one another’s strengths. It’s extremely gratifying to watch a hugely talented team mature under good leadership; I just hope we come out of the gate prepared. What we saw in the exhibition game against Northwood and Transylvania is encouraging, to be sure, but the question, of course, will be how it shows on the court moving forward.”
Question: As a fan, what do you like best about coach John Calipari?
Brixey: “There are two primary things I admire about Calipari that speak to his caliber as a coach. The first is his unique ability to bring a group of insanely talented, yet obviously young players, together as a team. These are kids who have been told they are the best by everyone around them and thrown into the spotlight before graduating high school. They could easily have egos the size of (former Duke guard) Austin Rivers’, and perhaps they do, but Calipari manages to send the solid message that it needs to be set it aside on the court. That, in particular, is an ability one needs to respect in any coach.
“Secondly, Calipari never minces words during the games. If he thinks the team’s arrogance is getting the best of them, he says so, and he’s honest about why they lost or why they will. He doesn’t rely on blaming poor officiating (though there are plenty of times he could) to motivate the team to stay humble and play hard. Losing happens when you least expect it when you’re at the top, and he’s not shy about reminding them of that. In and of itself, his strategy is focused on changing the team’s actions as opposed to concentrating on any extenuating circumstance(s) that led to a loss. You won’t see him blaming a loss on poor officiating or even mentioning that it was a factor in a loss or a close game. He focuses on what the team can do better next time. Being a truly great team means being able to adapt to the environment you’re in, whether it’s at home or away, and one of his great skills is preparing the team for that, without the opportunity for excuses. Let’s hope he works on that lesson before we get to Atlanta!
“Lastly, though, I don’t think it makes him necessarily a better coach, but rather a skilled public figure. I love that he appreciates Big Blue Nation and recognizes that our enthusiasm is a key component to the total package that is the University of Kentucky basketball program. I’m looking forward to bringing my part of that to the Georgia Dome!”