My First Game — I'll take the blame for the Arkansas loss in ’92

by:Ryan Clark05/07/15


mashburn I was lucky. Like those stories you hear from old-timers who talk about being little kids and climbing the fence to see the Red Sox or sneaking inside the gate to see the Knicks, I also have a story about seeing my favorite team when I was young. Like I said, I was lucky. In the early 90s, when I was about 12 and my UK fandom was firmly taking hold, my aunt worked as a professional in the marketing office of the University of Kentucky's student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel. She'd help them with promotions. Back in the day, when people actually read newspapers, sometimes the student section at Rupp Arena would hold up their newspapers and pretend to read them as the opposing team's starting five was being introduced. It was a jab at them - like, 'Hey, we're not paying any attention to you.' And when the starting five had all been announced, the students would normally then wad up their papers and throw them in the direction of the court. It was all in good fun. Well, someone had to pass out those newspapers - thousands of them - one for every student. My aunt recruited me and my relatives to help. So, for my first-ever game in Rupp, we showed up hours before tip-off and we passed out those newspapers. All of them. And what did we get for our effort? Media passes for the game. We didn't necessarily have seats, but we were in the building. And if you were a little kid, you can easily get accepted into the student section, which at the time was in the nosebleed area of the arena. So I was there. I was in. And the game was actually a pretty big deal, which is why it called for the newspaper promotion. In 1991-92, Kentucky and the other league schools welcomed South Carolina and Arkansas into the Southeastern Conference. At the time, South Carolina was not an amazing basketball school, but Arkansas, led by fiery coach Nolan Richardson, had been talented for years. He was really building a program. It was winter, 1992, and UK hosted Arkansas for the first time in the new conference lineup. Kentucky, fresh off probation, had reclaimed a spot in the AP top 10, while the Razorbacks were ready to show everyone in America that they were the new power in the SEC. It was No. 8 Kentucky vs. No. 9 Arkansas: the old vs. the new. Of course, I wasn't necessarily aware of all that then. I knew it was a big game. I knew Arkansas was good. I knew I was lucky to be there. Still, with more than an hour before gametime, I had other things on my mind. Armed with a pen and a giant '3' sign (which we also distributed out on fans' seats) I used my media pass to roam the court as the teams participated in their pregame shootarounds. At times I was just feet away from some pretty legendary players. Richie Farmer. John Pelphrey. Jamal Mashburn. So, as they all came off the court, I got them to sign my poster. I was thrilled. Some stopped, while others walked by, hurrying into the lockerroom for Coach Rick Pitino's pregame speech. The minutes were dwindling and even I got the sense the players didn't want to be late for Pitino. But I really wanted Mashburn's autograph. Bad. He was the future NBA star. As he walked by me, I looked up. "Mr. Mashburn?" I called out, meekly. He didn't notice me, and kept walking down a hallway to the lockerroom. "Boy, you'd better hustle," an older man said to me. He was wearing a blue sportcoat and as he looked at the media credential around my neck, I could tell he knew I wasn't really any member of the media. "Go on now," he gestured to me. "Be quick." I nodded, now filled with moxie after the blue-coated man's encouragement. I ran up to Mash and made sure to get just in front of him before he entered the lockerroom - where media were not allowed to go. I asked him again if he would sign my poster, and - even though it may make him a few seconds late - he stopped to sign. As he did I peered in the lockerroom area to see Pitino scrawling some notes on a dry erase board. All the other players were there. "Where's Mash?" he asked to no one in particular. The coach then looked over and saw Mashburn handing back my pen and poster. I thanked him but got interrupted. "Get your ass in here right now!" Pitino screamed at the star, and Mash obeyed without showing any emotion. With that, he went inside, and some assistants shut the door, just like the last scene from The Godfather. I'm sure Mash got chewed out for a moment, but I was feeling pretty good about myself. I took my poster up to the student section, and they took care of me during the game. It was a great environment. However, it was not a great performance by the Wildcats. I still can't decide if I'm to blame. Mashburn would go on to score his career-low in points as a Wildcat - four. Led by Todd Day, Lee Mayberry and Oliver Miller, Arkansas came into Rupp that day and let the world know there was a new force to be reckoned with in the SEC. The Razorbacks won, 105-88. As I headed out to the car with my family that day I was a bit disappointed because of the loss. But I had my poster with its autographs, and it wouldn't be the last time I passed out papers for a free seat at Rupp Arena. But it would take more than 20 years for me to apologize. The Apology - 20 Years in the Making Flash forward to 2015. I’m at the Final Four FanFest in Indianapolis, where the NCAA has games and autographs and giveaways and such. I’d just watched the Wildcats in their public shootaround, then made my way over to the fans activities, which come highly recommended. After all these years I’m still an autograph guy, but I’d long ago lost that poster with all the UK signatures. You can imagine how happy I was when I saw that Mashburn was there for a public appearance and signing. I wanted to get another autograph from him — but I really wanted to tell him that I was sorry. After waiting in a line for only about 15 minutes, I walked up to Mash’s table. He looked a bit heftier than he did in his playing days, but otherwise, I think he could have still gone out and balled. And he still had that toothy grin. I approached and introduced myself — I quickly told him a version of the above story. And while he said he did not remember me making him a bit late for the pregame meeting, he did remember the game. I began my apology, and - much like the kid trying to tell Santa that he wants that BB gun in A Christmas Story - a large man started to usher me away. I barely got it out. “I’m sorry,” I said, sincerely. "Sorry!" By that point I was being sent away, and I couldn't tell if Mash heard me or not. But I'd tried. Dammit, I tried. And I did feel a lot better. Okay — maybe I didn’t really think I’d caused his bad performance. But if I did, I wanted to set it straight. Just to make sure things were right in the world. No matter what, Mash was cool. He will always be my favorite player. And that’s why — even though it was a bad loss — I will always fondly remember my first UK game. What's your "first game" story? So what are your memories from your first UK game? Did you meet anyone famous? Did you see something amazing happen? Did you single-handedly hold an All-American to his career-low in points? Yeah — me neither. Leave your stories below and let us know. Or email me at [email protected] or hit me up on Twitter: @rhinoKSR and maybe I’ll share them. Go Big Blue!

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