Jeff Ginnan stands 6-foot-8 and lives and works in Lexington, Ky. So, of course, he participates in the same conversation over and over.
Stranger: So, uh, did you play college basketball?
Ginnan: I did.
Stranger: Where at?
Never miss a local story.
Ginnan: Actually, I played at Kentucky.
At this point, Stranger usually does a double take that ends with a highly dubious look on the face.
Says Ginnan with a laugh: "I do see that look of disbelief a lot."
That's before Ginnan tells people he not only played for the Kentucky Wildcats, he once started for them.
Most University of Kentucky fans regard 1988-89 as the season from hell.
For Ginnan, it was pretty close to heaven on Earth.
Eddie Sutton's final season as UK head coach was spent with the Wildcats basketball program engulfed in a debilitating NCAA investigation.
The turmoil began the prior April when an overnight-mail envelope intended for the father of then-UK signee Chris Mills "popped open" in Los Angeles revealing $1,000 inside.
Eventually, academic fraud allegations were leveled against Kentucky regarding the standardized test score that had allowed another prized recruit, Eric Manuel, to become eligible to compete during the '87-88 year.
By the time the '88-89 season was set to begin, a variety of factors — the loss to graduation of five seniors from the year before; the decision of Rex Chapman to turn pro early; Manuel being in NCAA limbo; the academic ineligibility of incoming recruits Shawn Kemp and Sean Woods — left Sutton with a very short roster.
In October, the coach put out the call for a campus-wide tryout.
Among those who answered the summons was a skinny 6-8 senior from Beattyville, Ky.
Growing up in Lee County, Ginnan was like little boys all around the commonwealth. "Loved the Cats and had the dream of someday playing for Kentucky," he says.
By the time he was a high school senior, Ginnan averaged 14 points, 7.8 rebounds and was an honorable mention All-State selection for the Lee County Bobcats.
That didn't bring UK recruiters to Beattyville, but Transylvania's came. Ginnan played his first two years of college for Transy in the NAIA.
"I'm not sure I would say 'played,'" Ginnan said with a laugh. "I was there with the team."
After two years sitting on the Transylvania bench, Ginnan gave up basketball and transferred to UK to pursue a degree in finance.
By the time he showed up to try out for the Kentucky basketball team, he was working two jobs. He had a part-time position at the old First Security Bank and another at the SuperAmerica convenience store on Euclid Avenue.
Eventually, Sutton picked Ginnan, Anthony Mathis (Jeffersontown) and Chris Jones (Russell) from the walk-on pool for a place on the Kentucky squad.
Ginnan feared he would have to say no to his dream. He couldn't afford to stay in school without working.
His parents, Jerry and Norma, told him they would help him financially.
"My family stepped up and made it possible for me to live my dream," he said.
Sutton was under siege throughout the 1988-89 season.
Amid the NCAA investigation, the coach and his supporters fought to preserve his job. David Roselle, UK's reform-minded president, seemed just as intent on ensuring a clean start by forcing the coaching staff out.
With controversy constantly swirling, the Wildcats collapsed. At one point, the Cats lost six in a row. UK's 13-19 final record was its first losing season since 1926-27.
Yet Ginnan was living every Cat fan's fantasy. The guy who had turned down the television sound during UK games as a little boy to listen to Cawood Ledford's radio call got to meet Cawood.
"An unbelievable thrill," Ginnan says.
A person who knew enough about the history of Kentucky basketball to know that All-America players such as Dan Issel and Cotton Nash had worn No. 44 was assigned, can you believe it, No. 44 by the venerable UK equipment manager Bill Keightley.
Ginnan wasn't actually playing much. Going into the final home game of the season against Ole Miss, he had clocked a whopping four minutes of game action for the whole season.
Which made it all the more surprising when Sutton told him before a practice not to be surprised if reporters wanted to talk to him.
"He said he'd told the reporters I was a senior and I would be starting for Senior Day," Ginnan says.
When he was 14, a family friend, Rose Marie Gabbard, took Ginnan to Rupp Arena for the 1980 UK Senior Day. Being recognized that day were LaVon Williams, Jay Shidler and Kyle Macy.
"I can still remember where I sat, Section 215, Row S," Ginnan says. "Kyle was standing out there by himself and the crowd just cheered and cheered. It seemed like it went on for five minutes. I thought it was the coolest thing ever."
Nine years later, Ginnan lived the experience himself. He broke through the paper hoop with his picture on it. He stood on the Rupp Arena court with fellow senior Mike Scott as My Old Kentucky Home was performed.
Once the singing was over, Ginnan heard words that gave him chill bumps. "Starting at forward, a 6-8 senior from Beattyville, Ky., Jeff Ginnan."
Soon after the opening tip, Sutton sent normal starter LeRon Ellis to the scorer's table to check in for Ginnan.
Yet for what seemed the longest time, the referees made no call that stopped play. "The action just went on and on, it was great," Ginnan said.
The guy who had played four minutes all season logged five minutes before a whistle finally sounded and Ellis checked in for him.
Ginnan didn't score, didn't get a rebound, but will always be listed as a starter in a game in which Richie Farmer hit a last-second three-pointer to give UK a 70-69 win.
"It was like a dream" Ginnan says, "only better."
Today, Ginnan, 44, is married to his college sweetheart, the former Shaheen Radmanesh, and the father of two boys (Cole, 10, and Dylan, 6). He is an executive vice president at Lexington's Central Bank.
In his office, he keeps a picture of himself breaking through the Senior Day hoop. "It starts a lot of conversations," he says.
The most unlikely person ever to start a game for Kentucky in the Rupp Arena era ended his UK career having played in four games, for nine minutes, with two rebounds and one point.
He made one of two free throws in an 89-71 UK blowout of California in the third-place game of the Great Alaska Shootout.
"That's one more point than most people have scored as Kentucky basketball players," he says.
Even if strangers sometimes require a little convincing.