Out of Bounds: Hoops, the heartbeat of Bluegrass

Almost two years ago to the day, Michael Wilbon, cohost of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, came on The Dan Patrick Show on ESPN Radio as Dan’s first guest at 1:20 p.m.’

At the top of the discussion was the resignation of Tubby Smith from the University of Kentucky, and his possible replacement, Florida coach Billy Donovan.

When asked if Billy should take the Kentucky job, Wilbon responded that fans in the commonwealth were ‘not basketball fans, they’re Kentucky fans.”

I took huge exception to this and voiced my opinion to Dan at 3:00. It was the only time I have called in to a radio talk show since I was 12, and we spoke for about three minutes while I explained ‘- among several things ‘- that fans in this state are among the smartest and savviest basketball fans you’ll find anywhere in the country.’

It is a state that is rich in basketball history that extends beyond Louisville’s Cardinals and pride of the bluegrass, the Kentucky Wildcats.’

One of my favorite times of the year is that first weekend of May.’ It’s the one time during the entire year where my state is on display for the world to see.’ If we’re lucky enough to have Derby Day be on a beautifully sunny one, the crisp green and white architecture of Churchill Downs cuts in to the bright blue Kentucky sky.’ The vibrant red of the roses against the vivacious green of the grass and the rich brown of the dirt while the playing of ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ amplifies through the city of Louisville and into the hearts of Kentuckians everywhere.

But it might be this time of year where our state proves its valor shows its heartbeat.’ It’s tournament time.’ ‘

It is during this time of year when the state, as a whole, shows why it is considered the cradle of basketball excellence.’ To call out the Wildcat’s seven national championships and Louisville’s two is relatively easy.’ What people outside of this state, Michael Wilbon included, may not know are names of other institutions that represent the commonwealth on a variety of national stages.

And they represent it well.’

The Panthers of Kentucky Wesleyan in Owensboro tout eight national championships including six Division II title game appearances from 1998-2003.’ Western Kentucky, who shocked everyone with their ride to the sweet sixteen a couple years ago, was a Final Four team in 1971.’ Happy Osborne down at Georgetown hangs a 1998 National Championship banner and Nancy Winstel now has two of her own in the Bank of Kentucky Center, while her men counterparts in Highland Heights have reached two championship games in Division II.’ ‘

What is even more impressive is the thousands of basketball fans from across the state filed into the cathedral of basketball in the bluegrass, Rupp Arena, to watch Holmes High School claim the high school boys basketball championship.

No divisions, no classes; just seeds and pure basketball.

Although the pageantry doesn’t compare to The Kentucky Derby in my eyes, the adrenaline pumping excitement that pulsated throughout our great state did.’