Merlene Davis: Fans helped UK reach Final Four

Socks, hats, chair figured in big wins

Herald-Leader columnistMarch 29, 2011 

  • How are you helping the Cats win? Tell us about your game rituals at comments below or join the conversation at Facebook.com/kentuckycom.

After the University of Kentucky men's basketball team won Friday evening and Sunday afternoon, I heard pundits on TV pontificating about the coaching skills of John Calipari. They were saying it was one of the best coaching jobs they had ever seen Calipari perform, taking freshmen and previously underused upperclassmen and transforming them into a team that has defeated opponents who should have stomped them.

But I beg to differ.

Calipari might have done one or two things to get the players ready for the games, but it was me and several fans like me who were instrumental in those victories.

"We should stop paying Coach Cal," said Melanie Gabbard, laughing, "because we are winning it for him."

This is not a joke. This is serious business.

My boss, for example, wears a particular pair of UK socks during every game since the SEC tournament

I, on the other hand, change the channel or turn the TV off completely if the game gets too close. After viewing a kitchen transformation on HGTV, I turn back.

Sure enough, the Cats are winning by a wider margin. Works every time.

Gabbard said she doesn't start her quasi-coaching duties until post-season play. She and her husband, Jesse, have a laundry list of rituals.

"We don't buy any new UK gear after the regular season," Gabbard said. "Five or six years ago, I bought a SEC tournament shirt, and we lost the first game of the NCAA tournament. We stick with the gear we have."

Gabbard wears a blue UK shirt and black UK pants, which she adamantly declares are unfit for public view. Her husband has a particular undergarment that he wears only during the games, thankfully. He chooses not to wash the item until the Cats lose.

"That's the difference between men and women," Gabbard said. "I think that is absolutely disgusting."

But without a doubt, the secret weapon for the Cats' advancement during this postseason is Avery, the couple's 4-year-old daughter. They have had to fudge bedtimes a bit when the Cats play late night games so she can watch the games. Kentuckians can understand that.

"She is a little bit of a good-luck charm, and she loves Coach Cal," Gabbard said.

Brad Jeffries of Stanford hasn't shaved since the Cats won their first SEC game over Ole Miss on Mar. 11, even though his girlfriend hates facial hair.

"It started out as a joke, but they keep winning," he said His girlfriend grew to accept the beard after a while. "She laughs about it now."

There's more, Jeffries said.

"I'm a pretty clean person, but I wear the same shirt and the same (blue tennis) shoes. I take it off, but I don't wash the shirt," he said.

He has a photo of former UK basketball player Gimel Martinez on his Facebook profile, which, he said, he will not change. And he prefers to watch the games alone and not with his friends, which might be a wise move, considering that shirt. "It seems to work so far, so I'm not going to change it."

Last year, Jeffries listened to the same song — On to the Next One, by Jay-Z — after the Cats' games.

But Jeffries said he's not interested in claiming part of Coach Cal's paycheck for the UK wins. Instead, he'd like either some UK basketball tickets or simply the privilege of walking through the Craft Center one day. "That would be payment enough," Jeffries said. "I've always wanted to do that."

And then there are Fred and Linda Copeland.

If the game is close, Linda Copeland will switch to the wingback chair that her father once sat in to watch the Cats play. Most of the time it works.

She also will switch hats with her husband.

"We are very superstitious," she said. "I inherited it. My father would get up and leave a ball game (in Rupp Arena) because he couldn't stand the pressure."

Fred Copeland doesn't do much besides walking out of the room if the game gets too close or turning the TV off altogether.

"I haven't wanted to see the expressions on the boys' faces," he said. "They are such nice players. They treat us with good entertainment during the wintertime. This has wound up being my favorite team."

So much so, in fact, that Fred Copeland, 71, has agreed to fly to Houston with his wife for the Final Four game — or games. He hasn't flown since 1971, he said.

"That is a big sacrifice for him," Linda Copeland said. "We're real proud of these boys."

There you have it: proof the wins are not just about the players or Coach Cal. It is time the real coaches got credit for what we have done for this team.

Reach Merlene Davis at (859) 231-3218 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3218, or mdavis1@herald-leader.com.

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