Parents of Kentucky players thrilled to watch it all come together

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMarch 30, 2014 

INDIANAPOLIS — It probably took longer for Kentucky's players to come together and become a team than it did their parents.

Sunday, they sat in a tight little group on the edge of their seats about 20 rows behind the Cats' bench at Lucas Oil Stadium.

As Aaron Harrison hit the game-winning three-pointer to secure Kentucky's trip to the Final Four, moms were crying, dads were high-fiving. Grandparents were hugging.

They've been celebrating and commiserating all season as a group, trying to offer support when things with UK's young team have gone well and when they've gone not so well.

"We're a select group that knows what the other is going through," said Brian Hood, father of Kentucky senior guard Jon Hood. "That helps to have someone around who knows what you're going through."

The parents are from different backgrounds and different places.

Some, like Willie Cauley-Stein's mom, drove 10 hours to be here. Others, like Julius Randle's mom, had to leave before the game ended so she could fly home and be at work on Monday.

It's a rare fraternity to which they belong.

"There's a group of us just out here, all just supporting and loving our kids," said Marlene Stein, sitting next to her parents, Val and Norma Stein, before the regional championship game against Michigan on Sunday.

Her parents drove eight hours to be there to see the Cats make their run to the Final Four.

Stein was happy to be surrounded by the other parents when her son went down with an injury in the Louisville game.

It's hard to watch your kid in pain and not be able to get to him.

"When Willie got hurt the other night, everybody tried to circle around and offer support," Hood said. "It's comforting in that way to have the others here."

They don't have any pre-game or in-game rituals. No secret rabbit feet in purses or lucky shirts, at least not any they'll admit to.

"We all probably have our own little things that we do, but we don't dare tell anybody because it's kind of embarrassing," Hood said laughing. "Nobody's smelling bad or anything."

Since the supernatural isn't called upon, sometimes a little extra love from a mom is.

Several of the players' moms, like Marian Harrison, said they make it a habit of calling or texting a few hours before games.

"Just to wish them luck," said the mother of Aaron and Andrew Harrison.

Makini Campbell, Dakari Johnson's mom, finds something special to help her son play well, and then she texts it his way.

"Motivational, inspirational things," she said. "I text him once a couple hours before the game and then I leave him alone."

She's calm and cool before games.

"I don't get nervous until the very last part," Campbell said, pausing for nearly a full minute to cheer as the team ran on the floor. "I just look forward to seeing the fruits of my labor."

One of the biggest joys for these parents has been seeing their sons come together as a team, as a group.

They saw them struggle through bad losses in Southeastern Conference play. In quiet phone calls home, they listened and tried to offer support.

Now there they were with cameras and phones in hand, capturing the moment when their sons raised their trophy and cut down their pieces of net.

They'll be there again as a group at AT&T Stadium this weekend.

"It's been kind of a frustrating season," said Joy Lanter, mother of walk-on guard Tod Lanter. "It's just taken time to come together as a bunch of individual players.

"We always knew they could do it, it's just a matter of when it was going to click."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader.

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