Clutch play in big game can bring a touch of immortality

jtipton@herald-leader.comDecember 26, 2012 

If the cosmic tumblers click into place, a game like Kentucky at Louisville on Saturday can bestow a form of immortality. A climactic moment intersects with fate on a grand stage at precisely the right time. A player is remembered.

Twenty-five years ago, this good fortune happened to Cedric Jenkins. His tip-in with one second left gave Kentucky a 76-75 victory over Louisville.

He's still taking bows.

Earlier this month, a fan connected onto Jenkins' Facebook page to wish him a "Happy Tip-in Day." The shot came on Dec 12, 1987.

"It still amazes me that the moment is still remembered as much as it is," he said Wednesday.

When asked how he responded to the Facebook message, Jenkins said he expressed his appreciation for the applause still resonating in cyberspace.

"Hopefully," he said he wrote to the fan, "those type of tip-ins won't be needed in the future."

A comfortable victory or decisive defeat may be easier on the nerves. But those games are more difficult to recall and savor anew.

The game Saturday in the KFC Yum Center bears a resemblance to the buildup to UK-U of L 25 years ago. The home team highly ranked — U of L is No. 4 now; UK was No. 1 then. The visiting team unranked.

Kentucky built a 45-32 halftime lead and looked like a No. 1 team. But Louisville rallied and three times took the lead in the final two and one-half minutes. The third Cardinals lead put UK in need of a game-winning shot in the final seconds.

The inbound pass went to guard Ed Davender in front of the UK bench. Davender, a calm and confident player throughout his college career, took the shot.

Jenkins, a complementary player from Dawson, Ga., most noted for the catchy nickname "Swoop," stood near the top of the key.

"I don't think anybody thought of me as an offensive threat," he said. "Thus, the lane opened up."

The repetition of countless practices kicked in. Jenkins, who averaged 2.5 points in his college career, moved toward the basket.

The basketball gods obliged.

"I mean, it was just open," Jenkins said of his path to lasting fame. "Straight line. No traffic. Straight to the basket."

A good teammate now as then, Jenkins noted Davender's help in making him a hero.

"To Ed's credit, it was a perfect miss," Jenkins said with a chuckle. "It came off soft. It sat there and waited on me."

U of L's front court, which boasted former Final Four Most Outstanding Player Pervis Ellison and future UK assistant Kenny Payne, seemed to disappear.

"I actually tipped it twice," Jenkins said. "The first time, it didn't fall. I got it the second time.

"After that, I remembered just weight on top of me."

Happy UK teammates piled on top of Jenkins, who had just scored his only basket of the game and the only basket he'd score against Louisville in four seasons. The winning shot came on his 11th rebound. Only two other times in his college career did he grab 10 or more rebounds.

Jenkins, who was 21 at the time, did not fully appreciate what he had done and what it would mean in Kentucky basketball lore. He doesn't remember how he and his teammates celebrated the victory.

After the UK season ended, he played in Japan, Italy, Belgium and France. He'd return to Lexington in the off-season. He went into banking. In the last four years, he's owned and operated a General Nutrition Center in Hamburg Place. He's also a licensed real estate agent with Rector Hayden.

He's a productive adult and father who can relive his moment as an athletic hero this time each year.

"It helps to keep you remembered," he said of the tip-in. "It's always nice to have that special footnote in UK basketball history."

That Louisville was the opponent played no small part in the story.

"That's exactly why it has lived as long as it has," Jenkins said. "If it's any other opponent, it will be in the back of people's minds, but they wouldn't know the who, when, where or what. There are a lot of last-minute wins. But it seems to have taken a life of its own."

This opportunity may await a player for Kentucky or Louisville on Saturday.

"It's such a huge rivalry," Jenkins said. "To be able to step in and do that, it's one of those precious memories that stays with you forever."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Email: jtipton@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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