Former Kentucky assistant under four head coaches now cheers on Louisville

jtipton@herald-leader.comDecember 24, 2013 

Believe it or not, a person can root passionately for Kentucky to beat Louisville. Then at another time of life, the same person can root passionately for Louisville to beat Kentucky.

The mere thought of Louisville beating Kentucky once drove Marta McMackin, a long-time administrative assistant to UK coaches, to seek psychiatric help in dealing with the anxiety the game produced. Hypnotism helped her cope.

McMackin, now retired, does not plan to attend the Kentucky-Louisville game on Saturday. She frets that Louisville might lose to Kentucky.

"I must have lost my hypnotic suggestion," she said with a laugh. "I've come full circle.

"If you had told me 10 years ago I'd be wearing red, I would have said you're crazy. But, then, I didn't know Coach 'P' would be there either."

McMackin's regard for Rick Pitino, one of her former bosses at UK, transcends the Kentucky-Louisville divide. She once kept a kitsch on her UK desk year-round showing a ravenous Wildcat clutching a helpless Cardinal in his mouth. Then last March, she wore a Louisville sweatshirt to Rupp Arena to watch the Cards play in the NCAA Tournament.

This seems akin to someone participating in the Occupy Wall Street movement, then later joining the Tea Party. Or a fundamentalist Christian becoming an atheist.

"I have a lot more red in my closet than I ever did," she said. "It was mostly all blue. Now, it's mostly all red."

That most elemental of rooting impulses — that sense of belonging to something — moved McMackin, 68, to change sporting loyalties. She's remained friends with Pitino and his family while no longer feeling welcomed at UK.

"I feel a kinship with them now that I don't feel with Kentucky since I retired," she said. ". . . I sort of feel ostracized from (UK) because there's no warm and fuzzy feeling."

After McMackin retired in 2007, she remained friendly with the former UK coaches who were her bosses. She began working for Joe B. Hall, whose relationship to U of L and one-time nemesis Denny Crum underwent its own thawing. From 1976 until 2007, McMackin worked for Hall, Eddie Sutton, Pitino and Tubby Smith.

When Kentucky and Louisville played in the 2012 Final Four, McMackin checked with UK about buying tickets. She said she was told none were available. She then checked with Pitino, who called her back within 30 minutes with two tickets secured.

During U of L's run to the 2013 national championship, Pitino arranged for tickets for McMackin and her husband Ronnie to games in Lexington, Indianapolis and Atlanta.

"Coach Pitino has always been very, very good to me," McMackin said. "I feel a certain loyalty to him. He's afforded us that inner feeling with Louisville."

Loathing used to be the inner feeling McMackin had for Louisville. This began during the time that Crum agitated for a UK-U of L series in the 1970s and early 1980s. When the regular-season series began in 1983, she felt she couldn't even watch.

"Every year I'd have to go shopping or totally remove myself from the game because I was so anxious about Kentucky winning," she said.

If she walked into a store at the mall and found a TV tuned to the game, she immediately walked out. "No, I didn't even check the score," she said.

McMackin recalled how Pitino grew perturbed at the anxiety she and long-time equipment manager Bill Keightley felt. Keightley refused to enter the same room as former U of L color commentator Jock Sutherland.

Pitino was not happy " because of how hard we'd take this game," she said. "Bill could hardly stand it. He hated that game, too. Just hated it."

It's just a basketball game, Pitino told Keightley and McMackin.

"And we'd go, 'Uh-uh. It's Louisville,'" McMackin said.

Now, McMackin, who remains friendly with former UK players of her time at the school, finds herself rooting for Louisville.

Of Pitino's U of L program, she said, "I feel I fit over there better."

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

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