Breaking down the mental health challenges UK athletes face

The Cats’ loss to Kansas State sparked frustration from fans who wanted to see the team make a run to the Final Four.
Published: Mar. 20, 2023 at 9:54 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - A crushing loss Sunday in the second round of the NCAA tournament has sent the Kentucky men’s basketball team back to Lexington empty-handed.

The Cats’ loss to Kansas State sparked frustration from fans who wanted to see the team make a run to the Final Four.

Social media and other criticism can be difficult for players to read or hear about.

Andre Riddick played for the Wildcats in the early 90s. He’s now a professional counselor in Lexington. he knows the pressure to deliver for a passionate fanbase. However, he says there is a difference now versus then with social media and seeing more of the opinions and frustrations from fans after a loss.

Kentucky basketball’s loss Sunday to Kansas State was a stinging feeling for the team and Big Blue Nation.

“I didn’t hit shots today. I wanted to be better, and I couldn’t be better for this team. That’s on me. I gotta live with it and just move forward,” said UK forward Jacob Toppin after the game.

A few months ago, Toppins opened up about the mental health side of the pressure to deliver on the court.

“I was messed up mentally. I wasn’t thinking right, even when I was on the court. I wasn’t fully on the court,” Toppin said.

Riddick knows the feeling the team woke up with Monday morning.

“I was realizing that was it for me. I think that carried over to today, but the next few months, just getting used to the fact that for, like, maybe Tshiebwe or Toppin, potentially, those guys have played their last game,” Riddick said.

It’s been 28 years since Riddick played for the Cats. Now, with social media, it’s a different environment now where players can read the aggravation fans are saying.

Lexington baker Brandi Romines shared a tweet on Sunday calling for negative posts to stop, reminding fans of the challenges these college kids have faced.

“Being supportive in the good times and the bad. I think that’s the important thing because I think, as fans, we are the people who support the team. We have been rooting for them this whole season. Even in defeat, we can continue to do so,” said Riddick.

Cheering on the team and players till the battle is won.

“These players that are playing now, they’re fighting battles I didn’t have to fight, and I do support them,” said Riddick.

Riddick says after games like this, players are often looking back at how they played and blame themselves for how it turned out. He says that’s when positive affirmation from fans really goes a long way.