Kentucky fans love to add up the numbers:
Seven National Championships
1,985 Total Program Wins
43 SEC Championships
25 SEC Tournament Titles
50 NCAA Tournament Appearances
30 Elite Eights
13 Final Fours
98 NCAA Tournament Wins
57 All-American Selections
11 30-Win Seasons
21 Season-High Attendance Crowns
These stats combine to create the tale of the most storied program in collegiate basketball history, and the Big Blue Nation doesn't hesitate to let you know this the second that you walk onto their court.
The University of Kentucky men's basketball program rose to prominence under the oversight of legendary coach, Adolph Rupp. From 1930 to 1972, "The Baron of the Bluegrass" led UK to an astounding 876-190 record and four national championships.
This tradition has been carried on by Rupp's successors, who include Joe B. Hall, Eddie Sutton, Rick Pitino, and Tubby Smith, all of whom average above 70.5 percent in career win-loss ratio. Billy Gillispie, the current UK head coach, has tallied up a 65 percent win-loss ratio in the year and a half that he has spent in Lexington.
As you can see, it isn't surprising that the UK home crowd expects a win every single time that the Cats hit the hardwood.
Situated in the middle of downtown Lexington, the aptly-named Lexington Center is the home of Rupp Arena, where the Wildcats have posted an unbelievable 426-56 record since 1976. With recent developments, the current capacity of Rupp is 23,500.
Fans begin packing into the downtown area several hours before tip-off, often grabbing a nice cocktail at the Big Blue Martini, or catching a delicious dinner at DeSha's. The excitement is palpable long before the buses of the opposing ball club arrive.
You must plan ahead if you hope to watch a game within Rupp, as tickets to Kentucky home games are hard to come by (season tickets sell out within 15 minutes on the market). Usually, the only chance to find a seat is by contacting a friend of a friend, who has an uncle with court-side tickets.
As an undergraduate, the best way to view the action is by gaining admission to the court-side, standing-room-only student section (nicknamed the "eRUPPtion Zone"). Though the cost is a marginal $5, students must wait in line for hours to pack Memorial Coliseum (UK's previous gym) and hope that their section gets selected via lottery for the chance to purchase two tickets per person.
Pregame begins as the University of Kentucky Pep Band—the largest in the nation with over 100 members—files in, encapsulates the court, and passionately leads the audience in the one of the most recognizable fight songs, "On, On, U of K."
Soon after, they are joined by the 17-time UCA National Champion UK Cheerleading squad to help rally the home crowd even more.
The opposing team then comes onto the floor for their warm-up, often to deafening boos and taunts. The lights suddenly drop low, as the announcer begins to introduce "YOUR KENTUCKY WILDCATS," drawing huge cheers from the home audience. Fireworks fill the cavernous Rupp Arena, welcoming in the Pride of the Bluegrass.
At halftime, it is common for the achievements of alumni to be honored at mid-court. Some former guests include NBA Champions Tayshaun Prince, Nazr Mohammed, Antoine Walker, and Rajon Rondo. Coaches Pat Riley, Kyle Macy, John Pelphrey, Walter McCarty, and Sean Woods were also members of the UK Basketball legacy.
In addition, Kentucky also lists seven governors, two Nobel Prize winners, US Senators and Representatives, and several award-winning musicians and artists in its history. And as Pat Forde has pointed out ad nauseum—yes, Ashley Judd is a very proud Big Blue alum!
"The Battle for the Bluegrass"—the annual meeting of the Kentucky and Louisville basketball squads—began in 1913, and has been played every year since 1983. These two teams, who are located less than 90 miles from each other, combine to form one of the most heated rivalries in the United States.
In Kentucky state culture, it is very common for people to identify themselves as being either Red or Blue, though this bears no connection to the major political parties. Lines of hatred run deep between these two programs, who both have had winning traditions for the past several decades.
Though Kentucky currently leads the overall series 26-14, Louisville has won 11 of these meetings since 1983, only serving to further ignite the passion of each school's fanbase. Memorable games include the 2004 come-from-behind Cats victory, and Edgar Sosa's heartbreaking three-pointer in the last seconds of the 2009 matchup.
During SEC play, Kentucky fans tend to remember their losses from the football season. As such, Tennessee and Florida (who have both beaten the Cats in football for the past 20+ years) are currently two of the biggest rivals during conference play. The recent series of games between these clubs and UK have climbed to epic proportions.
Every time that you walk into Rupp Arena, your heart is pounding, but this night was special. The date was Feb. 10, 2007, and No. 18 Kentucky was playing host to the No. 1 Florida Gators.
A record crowd of 24,465 filled the gym to watch these two squads duke it out, hoping to see a reenactment of the 2003 meeting, where UK dethroned Florida just days after they had achieved the program's first No. 1 ranking.
ESPN's College GameDay had come to town, bringing legendary broadcasters Dick Vitale and Digger Phelps to the heart of the Bluegrass. The energy kept rising with each passing minute to tip-off.
With only 12 minutes left until this epic game began, I stood at center court with 15 of my closest friends, the acoUstiKats—UK's nationally recognized male a cappella ensemble. We commenced into our rendition of the National Anthem, and at its conclusion, the crowd noise was nearly unbearable.
Having experienced the raw passion of the Big Blue Nation first-hand, it is a wonder that any ball club can concentrate on dribbling down the court, much less on executing a game plan.
Although this game resulted in a loss, I will never forget the few times that I have had the privilege to walk on that floor. The experience of standing at mid-court and looking up to read the NCAA banners and rows of retired jerseys cannot be described with words.