Barnstormin'

Yesterday, my dad and I drove to the tiny Knott County High School gym to watch an afternoon of magic.

Rajon Rando chats with Coach Sheppard's son.
Now, Daddy and I wouldn't have traveled twenty miles into a neighboring county to see a magician.  But, we were as excited as little kids going to the circus for what we did see: The Big Blue All-Stars team, a squad of former UK Wildcats (and a couple of non-Wildcats whom we wish we'd signed) who now play professionally.  It' was an old-fashioned barnstorming tour, courtesy of the NBA Lockout.

In Eastern Kentucky, few things mean more to us than basketball and family.  For most of us, members of the University of Kentucky's basketball team are family. We often recall our players by the way their respective seasons intersected with our own lives: All-Stars Coach Jeff Sheppard, for example, is my contemporary.  He was on Kentucky's two National Champion teams, which just so happen to coincide with my own matriculation in Lexington.  We remember them fondly long after they leave the basketball program --  DeMarcus Cousins, who only played one season at Kentucky (but what a season it was!) drew multiple standing ovations during the exhibition game.  I laughed to my father that I'd be willing to bet that anyone in the audience would gladly invite DeMarcus home for dinner if given the opportunity.

As a die-hard basketball fan with deep Eastern Kentucky roots, I found the All-Stars game to be a surreal juxtaposition.  Kentucky basketball legends -- many of whom now command multi-million dollar contracts in the NBA -- playing ball in the same tiny high school gymnasium where I once stood as a cheerleader.  These superstars were playing against a local college team -- the same school for which my daddy played college ball, on whose campus my granddaddy quite literally grew up, and whose original buildings were designed by my great-great-uncle.  I was cheering for an alumnus of a recent NBA Champion team while running into grade school classmates.  And yet, it all boiled down to one simple word: Love.
Sheppard coaches Cousins and Faried.

As fans, we were there because we love the game.  Both the All-Stars and the Alice Lloyd Eagles were there because they love the game.  We were there to express our appreciation for all the hours of entertainment the players had provided. As Josh "Jorts" Harrellson clowned for the crowd, we cheered for the remarkable lessons in perseverance and dedication that his career at Kentucky taught us all.  As Morehead State's Kenneth Faried (my little brother's college classmate) executed dunk after dunk, we were cheering more for the man who took down Louisville in the first round of the NCAA tournament than for each impressive shot.  

But, mainly, we were cheering as 6'8 Faried -- the 22nd pick in the 2011 draft and future Denver Nuggets superstar-- spent a sunny October Sunday rolling the basketball to an adorably tiny toddler during the shootaround.  As Faried lifted the pretty pink-clad child up for a photo op, it was easy to imagine that he and his All-Star Teammates consider us family as well.