A lot has happened to Landon Slone and Kentucky basketball since they parted ways after the 2008-09 season. With his return to Rupp Arena on Monday night, Slone wonders how UK fans will greet one of their former favorites.
"I'm more anxious to see how the crowd reacts to me coming back," Slone said last week. "I'm hoping they don't boo. I'm hoping they understand my situation."
Slone, one of former UK coach Billy Gillispie's many walk-ons, reluctantly looked elsewhere to continue his basketball career when the school hired John Calipari.
After a brief stop at Morehead State and a return to UK as a student-student (instead of a student-athlete), Slone transferred to Pike ville College last winter. "I missed basketball too much," he said.
After sitting out last season, Slone is grateful to resume his career playing for Pikeville at, of all places, Rupp Arena.
"I was real excited," he said of his reaction when he learned last February that Pikeville would play this exhibition game at UK. "The reason I was so excited was not so much to go down there to beat Kentucky. I know how good they are. It's exciting for me because, being a fan my whole life, I didn't think I'd get to play in there again."
Slone expects his parents and sister to attend the exhibition. So will his grandmother, Shelby Spradlin. "She's not been in Rupp Arena," he said of his grandmother, "so it'll be a treat for her."
Although Slone played sparingly for UK (1.5 ppg), Pikeville Coach Kelly Wells expects the Paintsville native to be "heavily involved" for his new team.
"The biggest thing is the effort and toughness he's brought the team," Wells said. "We have tough kids, but no one with his grit and determination."
Slone showed that determination in an effort to stay on the UK team even though Calipari made no secret of his intention not to retain walk-ons. Slone sought a meeting with the new UK coach and went so far as to express publicly his hope to talk to Calipari. It never happened. Finally, he took the hint and transferred.
"He had his reasons," Slone said. "... He's done great things there. When someone has had the kind of success like he had there, you can't argue with it. I was like any other Kentucky kid. I just wanted to play there. At the time, I felt I deserved the opportunity to talk to him because I had played there, and I gave it my all.
"At the same time, he brought in some of the best players in the nation. At the time, he didn't want walk-ons. I understood where he was coming from."
When a reporter noted the irony that Calipari now seeks walk-ons to fill out his shorthanded roster, Slone chuckled.
"That's just another day in my life, really," he said. "... If I stayed there, maybe it would have worked out. But I'm happy where I'm at. I love Coach Wells to death. He's been great to me. I'm not far from home (35 miles). It worked out for the best both ways."
UK's Darius Miller and Pikeville's Trevor Setty played together beginning as fourth-graders and ending as seniors for Mason County High.
"He's one of those guys who likes to talk junk," Miller said with a huge grin. "He can really shoot the ball. He's pretty good, in my opinion."
Wells said Setty, a 6-foot-9 redshirt sophomore, shot the three-pointer as accurately as anyone on the team.
The Pikeville coach confirmed Setty's good-natured trash talking. "Trevor's a good boy," Wells said. "He's very confident. I can promise you, he won't back down. Some of that is realistic. Some of it is not. But he won't back down much."
Three-year starter Justin Hicks is a 1,000-point scorer for Pikeville. The Hazard native made his debut at UK three years ago. Jodie Meeks scored 34 points in UK's 99-64 victory. ... Wells touted Chris Donald, a native of Boston, as a gifted wing. ... Pikeville, a Presbyterian-affiliated private school with an enrollment of 1,035, welcomes the chance to play marquee teams. With the help of school president (and former Kentucky governor) Paul Patton, Pikeville plays exhibitions at Mississippi State and Louisville next season.
Name Ht. Wt. Cl. Pos.
Enes Kanter 6-11 272 Fr. F
Darius Miller 6-7 230 Jr. G
Stacey Poole Jr. 6-4 203 Fr. G
Terrence Jones 6-8 250 Fr. F
Jon Hood 6-7 205 So. G
Jarrod Polson 6-2 180 Fr. G
Brandon Knight 6-3 195 Fr. G
Doron Lamb 6-4 210 Fr. G
Eloy Vargas 6-11 225 Jr. F
DeAndre Liggins 6-6 215 Jr. G
Josh Harrellson 6-9 275 Sr. F
Name Ht. Wt. Yr.
Chris Puckett 5-11 180 Jr.
Justin Hicks 5-11 185 Sr.
Vance Cooksey 6-1 182 Sr.
Dwayne Wheeler 6-1 175 So.
Landon Slone 6-3 205 So.
Josh Whitaker 6-1 170 Fr.
Andre Thornton 6-6 235 Sr.
Chris Donald 6-5 185 Sr.
Kyan Hines 6-1 187 Jr.
Quincy Hankins-Cole 6-8 245 Sr.
Trevor Setty 6-9 205 So.
Tyler Newsome 6-4 205 Fr.
Ryan Whitaker 6-3 190 Sr.
Carlos Woodard 6-6 240 Sr.
Derrick Lee 6-1 185 Jr.
Kane Belcher 6-7 190 Jr.