LEXINGTON, Ky. - In a halftime ceremony at UK's game vs. Mississippi State on Wednesday, members of the team will be given school rings to commemorate the 1996 national championship. Of the 15 players on the team's roster, 11 - Derek Anderson, Jeff Sheppard, Tony Delk, Antoine Walker, Walter McCarty, Ron Mercer, Anthony Epps, Wayne Turner, Jared Prickett, Oliver Simmons and Jason Lathrem - plan to be in attendance. Mark Pope, Nazr Mohammed, Allen Edwards and Cameron Mills will receive their rings individually.
"It's showing what the program's giving back to us," Anderson said. "Usually you give so much to a program and they forget about you. When your program remembers you and gives you a blessing like this, it's just like winning. It's like actually coming home from winning a championship. It'll be like coming back to Rupp Arena when we won and seeing 24,000 people celebrating with us again."
On the night of the ring ceremony, the first 10,000 fans to arrive at Rupp will receive special posters commemorating the team. All members on the '96 team participating will be available to sign the posters and other memorabilia at the Kentucky Proud Market in the Lexington Center before the Mississippi State game.
The gesture is just the latest in a series of efforts made by the Kentucky program under John Calipari and Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart to reach out to those who were a part of its extraordinary history. Back in August, the '96 were in Lexington for a team reunion. It was there they were surprised to learn they would be receiving championship rings and their ring sizes were taken. Executive Associate Athletics Director DeWayne Peevy delivered the news along with an invitation to be a part of Coach Cal's Fantasy Experience and the UK Alumni Charity Game in September.
"It's the greatest thing ever," Anderson said. "You've given so much of your time and your life, everything to your program, and to have them give some of it back, you can't say enough about that. There's no price tag, there's no winning percentage, there's nothing you can cherish more than that."
Anderson, however, isn't done pouring himself into the UK program. A few weeks ago, he was on campus to speak to the team about the stories of perseverance he writes about in his book, "Stamina". Not long after, he made the six-hour drive from Atlanta upon learning of Nerlens Noel had suffered a torn ACL, the same injury that ended Anderson's senior season in 1997.
"What I was telling him and the players is coming from where I come from and the things that I've had to endure as a child, it never pushed me away from it," Anderson said. "It only brought me closer to success by not giving up."
In town to receive their long-awaited championship rings, Anderson and his teammates will no doubt spend any time they can with current Cats. They are all part of a unique fraternity, one that Anderson only appreciates more as the years go on. He'll be sure to pass that perspective on whenever he can.
"You won't get this opportunity to be amongst the best of the best in college and people and athletics and fans," Anderson said. "You won't get this opportunity again. So if you don't embrace this moment now, don't be upset when you never see it again. You have to find this moment and enjoy it."
Kentucky and Mississippi State will be televised by WKYT with Wildcat Warmup beginning at 7:30 p.m. Tipoff is scheduled for 8:00 p.m.