LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Hundreds welcomed the Wildcats at Rupp Arena but some of the most fascinating stories about the team’s return were from fans, sitting on the side of the road as the Cat's caravan came through.
Smiling faces and ‘Welcome Home’ signs lined the hospital sidewalk as patients and staff eagerly awaited their Wildcats so they could wave them on as they passed by.
But little did the fans know -- they were in for a big surprise.
“I was shocked at first. I was surprised that they stopped and it was really exciting,” Kelley continued.
After fighting their way to the finals, the UK men’s basketball team chose to show their support for folks facing a different kind of fight.
One by one, the entire basketball team unloaded onto the sidewalk ready to shake hands, sign autographs and simply spend some quality time with fans.
“It’s almost like they were cheering our patients on as well. We cheered them on at first and so they stopped and they cheered our patients on,” said Sally Kozee, an employee at Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital.
The pictures taken at the meet and greet clearly show that both sides, the players and the patients, were equally inspired by one another.
“It made a big difference in my life to be able to see them and it was great shaking hands with them. I was able to shake all of their hands which was really neat for me,” Kelley told WKYT on Wednesday.
Tommy Kelley’s rehabilitation in the spinal cord unit has been anything but easy but he says Tuesday’s meet and greet was the best motivator he could've asked for.
“I was all pumped up and I felt like I could take the world on that time. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.”
It certainly seems that both players and patients made a lasting impression on one another's lives in a matter of minutes.
“It made my day, it made my life, and it’s something I’ll never forget.”