LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - It started as a simple idea last August. I asked the folks with UK Basketball if I could do a story on how head coach John Calipari runs his team’s practices at the Joe Craft Center. I know they often have visitors at practice (there’s even a balcony), but most of Big Blue Nation will never see a practice in person.
A member of the UK Basketball staff suggested something more ambitious. Why not go on the road with the team? I immediately liked the idea. It meant more opportunities for storytelling and getting interesting video. I had no idea what to expect. The fall season came and went. There was no word on when we would go on the road. November and December rolled past. Still no word.
I figured coach Calipari had his hands full developing a new team of young players. Then January arrived, and our WKYT team got a meeting with the UK Basketball staff (not the head coach), and I made my pitch.
“I want to give our viewers, the BBN, a first class ticket to a road trip with Kentucky Basketball. Can you imagine how many people would drop everything to have that opportunity?”
They agreed and told us the trip to Starkville to play Mississippi State might work. I was very excited. I asked for a detailed rundown on what typically happens on the road, what time, where and who is involved, from packing up the uniforms and shoes to when the team does their shootaround and eats their meals. Real basic information. I really knew nothing about their road routine. I mean, do you? That’s kind of the point. We wanted to share with you what happens behind closed doors, and go deep into their preparation leading up to the road game.
I also asked for an interview with Calipari in his office at the Joe Craft Center before we left for Starkville. Several things happened from that 30 minutes with the head coach. He gave us amazing insight on how he prepares his players mentally for building confidence and using a hostile road environment to showcase their skills, and his answer on whether he has any superstitions is priceless. Did you know there’s a food that he doesn’t want the players served at breakfast because he thinks they’ll lose if they eat it?
You will laugh and really enjoy his story on that. His interview, as you will see, is the foundation of our one-hour special. We really let him and the other people on the trip tell the story in their own words. I am there to simply act as a guide from one segment to the next.
For the trip to Starkville, we wanted to make sure we gave you a lot of different looks at what happens on the road, so this trip required more than one videographer to shoot all the different activities and travel details. Award-winning videographer and editor Barton Bill, WKYT sports director and anchor Brian Milam, and various UK Sports videographers would all capture the sights and sounds of our trip with the Cats. The trip itself was planned by the hour, but as you will see, there are some things you can't control. Plus, coach Calipari made a change in the shootaround in Starkville because of the early tip-off (noon Central Standard Time). Do you know what the players always do at the end of the road shootaround?
We also take a look at one of the closest people to Coach Calipari on the UK staff. They have a special bond, and it will surprise you! What’s it like to be in coach Calipari’s hotel room with the players the night before the game? It was a rare look at his message to the team that also included a history lesson.
On a personal note. I have been a UK Basketball fan for over 50 years. My late father, David Dick, grew up in Bourbon County. He graduated from UK, and I was born in Lexington. My father’s love for the state of Kentucky flowed through my body. I can remember in my teen years when we lived in Atlanta going outside to the car in our driveway, and tuning in WHAS AM radio to catch the game call of Cawood Ledford in the late 1960s. This was before every game was on TV, before ESPN and the internet. I loved listening to Cawood describe the game action and imagining the UK team playing. Later, I would attend the University of Georgia and continue to cheer on the Wildcats. 1978 was a great senior year for me when coach Joe B. Hall and “Goose Givens” won the national championship!
Later at WKYT, I would field anchor and report from every Final Four starting in the early ’90s. I have had the honor of being at the last three national championships for UK: 1996 with coach Rick Pitino in New Jersey, 1998 with coach Tubby Smith in San Antonio, and 2012 with coach Calipari in New Orleans. Talk about blessed and humbled.
Now I am on a new journey with the Wildcats.
I am honored to share with you, “Beyond the Bench: On the Road with Kentucky Basketball" at 7 p.m. Saturday, Mar. 9 on WKYT. Leading up to our special, I will preview the road trip at 6 p.m. on WKYT starting Wednesday. You can also listen to our Facebook Live discussion Wednesday around 3 p.m., and watch our live talk about the trip at 6:30 p.m. on CW Lexington. Plus, I have some moments with Coach Calipari and others that may surprise you starting Tuesday on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. I look forward to hearing what you think about the road trip. Please share your thoughts on Facebook with me. Go Cats!
If you don't get WKYT, there are several other television markets carrying the special.