University of Kentucky sophomore Hayden Hooper tries to stay out of the spotlight, but the spotlight found him Thursday night.
Cheering on the Wildcats in their NCAA Tournament opening-round game against Davidson, Hooper was amid the student band, being the “hype man” he so often tries to be.
Sophomore Sacha Killeya-Jones had a crucial ally-oop dunk during the second half of Thursday’s game, and the camera quickly panned to Hooper, broadcasting his wild celebration to the CBS audience.
Hooper screamed at Killeya-Jones and exclaimed “Let’s go, Sacha” several times. He then flexed, and as he saw himself on the arena’s jumbotron, he dabbed for good measure.
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Within minutes, Hooper’s phone was blowing up — first from family and friends. News of his enthusiasm soon skyrocketed on Twitter, where he was being tweeted at and mentioned at a staggering rate.
“My phone wouldn’t stop vibrating in my pocket,” Hooper said Friday. “When Davidson started coming back, I was kind of distracted. It hasn’t stopped since the second half of the game until now.”
Hooper said he had to apologize to his waiter “like 50 times” at dinner after the game because of the constant vibration of his phone.
The sophomore journalism and pre-communication double major has long been a fan of Kentucky basketball, but his fandom began to heighten following the hiring of John Calipari in 2009.
Hooper has been devoted to the team; he says he fell out of a chair when Aaron Harrison hit a game-winning three-pointer against Wisconsin in the Final Four in 2014.
Now a viral celebrity, Hooper is one of the new poster boys for Big Blue Nation.
“I just cheer on my team my way. It doesn’t matter if I’m in the front row of March Madness or at home watching the game on TV. I’m the same way,” he said.
Hooper will remain in Boise for Kentucky’s second round game against Buffalo Saturday. With appearances on Kentucky Sports Radio for the baritonist, he’s soaking up his very own One Shining Moment.
“(My friends) think it’s hilarious. They know me the most and they know that that’s me every day no matter who the opponent is or what environment we’re in,” he said. “I’ll always cheer on the Cats. I’ve been trying to be a sports journalist my whole life. I know I only have a couple more years to cheer on my team like I want to before I have to go in to a field where I have to be very neutral. I’m trying to do as much as I can.”
Others are banking on fans wanting to be like Hayden. Throwboy Tees, the apparel company owned by former UK quarterback Jared Lorenzen, is selling a shirt on its website with the now well-known image of Hooper cheering. The royal blue shirt is $25.