Dan Issel likes to tell the true story about a friend who rode in an elevator with some Kentucky fans. The fans were complaining about the coach not getting a bench warmer enough playing time in the just-concluded game.
Issel pauses for effect, then says that the elevator ride happened ... in St. Louis ... in 1978 ... less than an hour after Kentucky beat Duke in the national championship game.
"That sort of explains Kentucky basketball," Issel said in retelling the story a few years ago. "The people in Kentucky are so passionate. You could never satisfy everyone. I'm not sure you can satisfy the majority."
So, good luck to John Calipari, the new coach hoping to persuade fans to enjoy the upcoming season and — gasp — have fun.
During an appearance in Louisville last week, Calipari repeated his call for perspective. Shots will be missed. Turnovers committed. Games lost.
Calipari also used sarcasm to dampen expectations when he jokingly predicted a 40-0 record with an average margin of victory of 25 points.
Several of his predecessors battled the same demon. The gentlemanly Tubby Smith took on a harried look during particularly difficult seasons. Final Four appearances aren't given away, he noted.
Smith once snapped at a reporter whose fumbled attempt at a question came out as something like "Does the recruitment of three McDonald's All-Americans bring pressure to achieve something?" By then, Smith had won a national championship, returned to several regional finals and won five regular-season conference championships.
Rick Pitino dressed down a reporter who asked whether a loss at Mississippi served as a wake-up call. Give Ole Miss credit, Pitino said. The other teams are good. Blame doesn't have to be assigned after a loss.
Pitino's time as UK coach began with perhaps the most fun-filled season in the last 30 years. Fans cheered themselves hoarse as Pitino's Bombinos staged a nightly re-enactment of David versus Goliath.
In Pitino's last season, after he'd won a national championship and was in the process of guiding a third UK team to a Final Four, the fans booed the Cats during a 29-point victory over Mississippi State.
Perhaps "Wildcat" Wally Clark spoke for many fans when he predicted big success this coming season.
"I think we'll make the Final Four," he said last week. "If we don't, I hate to say it, but Calipari needs to hunt for a (new) job."
That seemed outlandish, even for a UK fan. A few minutes later, Clark re-defined his idea of success for Calipari's first Kentucky team.
"To me, it has to do with players playing like their hearts are really into it," he said. "Then there's no problem."
ESPN commentator Jimmy Dykes applauded Calipari's attempt to bring perspective. The Cats are learning a new system. The team lacks experience.
Kentucky has the potential to be a Final Four contender by March, he said. So fans should enjoy the ride and embrace the improvement that comes through a long season.
Let that define fun this UK season.
"After this year, the word 'fun' and Kentucky basketball will only be synonymous if fun equates to SEC championships and deep runs, if not Final Four runs, on a regular basis," Dykes said. "That's what Kentucky fans equate to fun. And no one knows that more than John Calipari.
"He knows his main job in year two, three, four, five and 10 is for Kentucky fans to be having fun. Fun for Kentucky fans is making travel plans for the Final Four, not travel plans for the SEC Tournament."
'We are back'
Commentator Jimmy Dykes looks forward to being part of ESPNU's coverage of Big Blue Madness on Friday night.
"The passion, the importance of it, everything, it's second to none," he said. "Especially when expectations will be as high as they will be this year for Kentucky. That's what that fan base knows. That's what they expect. That's what John Calipari was hired for: to be in the national picture, to be in the conversation for Final Fours and national championships.
"Deservingly or not, that's where they are right now. ... So I expect Rupp Arena to be at a fever pitch Friday night."
UK's inexperience with the system and a reliance on freshmen caused Dykes to caution against runaway expectations. Sounding like Calipari, he said Kentucky figures to be a much better team by the end of the season.
"This is not the year to have those expectations," Dykes said. "It may happen. But it's unfair to Calipari, and it's unfair to those players."
Still, outsized expectations — the normal order of things with UK basketball — make Dykes look forward to Big Blue Madness. He anticipates a charged atmosphere "fueled by hope," he said. "That will be a fan base energized with pride again.
"Bring on North Carolina. Bring on Kansas. Bring on Texas. Whoever. We're back.
"I think what I'll see Friday night is a Kentucky program stating to the nation, 'We are back.' "
Appeal to Cal
Pete Grigsby, a longtime basketball coach at M.C. Napier and McDowell high schools, called last week. He wanted to voice his support for former walk-on Landon Slone rejoining the UK team.
Slone, who grew up in Paintsville dreaming of playing for UK, was one of seven walk-ons former coach Billy Gillispie added to last season's team.
Gillispie's firing led to the arrival of John Calipari, who does not share his predecessor's fondness for walk-ons.
After failing to arrange a meeting with busy-bee Calipari, Slone transferred to Morehead State. But three days at Morehead State persuaded Slone to return to UK as a student. Now he's again hoping to meet with Calipari to see whether he can rejoin the team.
"I thought maybe a little push from Eastern Kentucky might help him," Grigsby said in explaining his call.
"He (Calipari) should look at Slone's story."
Gillispie's promise of a scholarship this season gives the story a touch of pathos.
"He's the victim of this whole story," Grigsby said. "He's having to pay a price because Gillispie messed up."
Grigsby saw no bad guy. He wants to see Slone and Calipari do well.
"I know he has some weaknesses," Grigsby said of Slone. "I know he's no Michael Jordan."
But, the former coach added, "I think if he had a chance, he'd be up there with Darius Miller."
Here are some leftovers from John Calipari's appearance at the UK Tip-Off Luncheon in Louisville:
■ Among those in attendance were Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, three state legislators, two UK trustees and former All-American Kenny Walker.
■ Not one but two versions of My Old Kentucky Home. The first came on a video showing the late Happy Chandler singing the Commonwealth anthem at a Senior Day ceremony. The second version immediately followed. Steve Buttleman played the Stephen Foster tune on the trumpet.
■ Calipari's stump speech usually includes a salute to one of his predecessors, Tubby Smith. He noted that he wanted the UK job two years ago, but fortunately the offer did not come until this spring.
"I'd have had to follow Tubby Smith" two years ago, Calipari said. "You all loved Tubby. Am I right?"
Polite applause followed an awkward pause.
"Two years later, you all need me," Calipari said to louder, more sustained applause.
■ When asked about team leaders, Calipari mentioned Patrick Patterson, Darius Miller and — surprise — DeAndre Liggins. The UK coach noted that the dribble-drive offense should create more room for Liggins to do what he does best: drive to the basket.
■ When asked about a Twin Towers look involving freshmen Daniel Orton and DeMarcus Cousins, Calipari quipped, "People asking me who am I going to start? I say, Richie!!"
Prayer of Shanks
Rich Shanks of Southeast Christian Church gave the invocation at last week's UK Tip-Off Luncheon sponsored by the Greater Louisville Alumni Club.
After asking for good health, good guidance and good luck for UK's team this coming season, Shanks said, "We pray this in Jesus' name. Go Big Blue."
'Wildcat' Wally Clark
We couldn't let a Big Blue Madness pass without an update on "Wildcat" Wally Clark, whose claim to fame is being at or near the front of the line for tickets each year.
Clark, who turns 59 in December, prefers the old days when fans lined up, then entered Memorial Coliseum for Madness. "That was the end of it," he said.
Now Clark sees an overly officious UK staff complicating the process with rules about when fans can line up, where fans can line up, plus distribution of vouchers, armbands and a sheet of rules covering interaction with players.
And Clark said UK was guilty of too much hype about the size of the crowd.
"More people showed up the first three or four years I was there," he said before acknowledging, "They showed up faster this year."
Clark continues to support former coach Billy Gillispie and his lawsuit seeking a $6 million buyout included in what served as his contract, the much-discussed memorandum of understanding.
"They should have given him another year," Clark said. "Another year wouldn't have made a difference."
Marquis Teague, one of the highest-rated players in the high school class of 2011, considered attending Kentucky's Big Blue Madness this weekend.
But because UK will stage its Madness on Friday, a day his father must work, Teague will not make it.
"It would be very difficult for me to get him there," said the player's father, Shawn Teague. "We were talking about doing it. But it doesn't work out."
Teague, whose older brother Jeff starred at Wake Forest, is generally rated among the top five players in the high school junior class. He plays for Pike High in Indianapolis.
He has narrowed his list to Indiana, Purdue, Ohio State, Cincinnati, Louisville, Wake Forest and Kentucky.
His father said Marquis hoped to attend games to watch those teams play this coming season before making a decision.
Among the prospects expected to attend UK's Big Blue Madness is Quincy Miller, according to the recruiting service Rivals.com. Miller is a 6-foot-7 forward from Winston-Salem, N.C.
Prospect Marquis Teague can get inside information on playing for Rick Pitino. His father, Shawn Teague, played for Pitino at Boston University.
When asked about that experience, the elder Teague said, "I had a wonderful time."
He noted how Pitino was beginning his career as the youngest head coach in Division I. "Without question, a ball of fire," Shawn Teague said. "He's a little soft these days compared to what we went through."
To former UCLA coach John Wooden. The Wizard of Westwood turns 99 on Wednesday.
Wooden was among those who sent congratulations to Joe Torre when the Los Angeles Dodgers clinched the National League West Division championship.