The Kentucky Wildcats men's basketball team enters the 2013-14 season as the No. 1 ranked team in the country and the prohibitive favorite to win the national title. While the Wildcats may be able to accomplish that feat based on talent alone, they now have someone to unite them and rally behind, as they'll play for a fan who was paralyzed at Rupp Arena last week.
According to Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports, 73-year-old Dick Gregory is a lifelong Kentucky basketball fan who has been attending games for many years. His wife, Mary Alice, had never accompanied him to a game before, but she went with him on Nov. 1 after Dick's son, Scott, gave them tickets.
While making the trek to their seats, Mary Alice slipped and nearly fell. Dick prevented her from falling, which caused him to fall instead. He tumbled down several rows, broke his neck in three places and is now tragically paralyzed from the chest down.
Despite the awful circumstances that Gregory has faced over the past week, his spirits rose significantly when Kentucky head coach John Calipari and several members of the Wildcats visited him in the hospital a few days after the accident.
Prior to the visit, Gregory was understandably in a pretty bad place, according to his son:
"His spirits were down," Scott Gregory says. "I came to visit him and asked how he was, and he said, 'Well, I'm kind of depressed. I'm feeling depressed and have a lot of anxiety, and doctors told me I'm probably not going to be able to move my arms ever again.'
"He had the weight of all that on him."
Gregory was noticeably uplifted when the team came to visit him, and although it was extremely difficult for him to speak, Calipari told Doyel that Gregory did everything he possibly could to converse with his visitors:
"He wanted them to take off the oxygen so he could speak," Calipari says, his voice starting to break. "I'm sorry, but he's got his neck and his head, and that's it. Literally makes me want to cry. So he made them move him around, take the mask off, and it made me cringe -- the thought of it; his neck's broken in three places -- because it had to be painful but he wanted to speak. And he said, 'It's not so bad. I can move my shoulders.'"
Calipari later tweeted about the visit, which has led to a great deal of support for Gregory from the Wildcat family:
According to Jerry Tipton of the Lexington Herald-Leader, the visit inspired Gregory to pass his "swallow test" the next day, which means he no longer needs a feeding tube.
Seeing Calipari and his players was clearly a huge thrill for Gregory, and his son believes the visit was a big reason for his father's improvement:
It's one of those things where you don't know how much something like that means to a fan. You don't know what that little bit of boost can do, but my dad's spirits after that visit -- after getting the horrible news that morning -- it was like talking to a different person. He was so down that morning, but later that evening, everything's positive. He was happy that the players and coach cared that much to come see him, and then he passed the swallow test. It got the food rolling. Today he's eating some pudding and smaller foods.
Even Gregory himself talked about how important the prayers of Calipari and the players have been, according to Tipton.
"(Calipari) told me he'd be taking Communion every day this week and mentioning my name," Gregory said. "It meant the world."
Unfortunately, there is nothing anybody can do to change what happened to Gregory, but the best way for Kentucky basketball to honor and support him is to compete hard in each and every game.
It's impossible for the players to not have an emotional attachment to Gregory, and there is little doubt they will do everything in their power to cheer him up in any way they can.
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