Multimillion-dollar contracts, NBA-styled “combines” and the other bottom-line centerpieces of Kentucky basketball faded from view on Friday. Fun was the order of the day as one set of kids (UK players) visited another (Picadome Elementary School students).
“We just came out here to have fun, you know, get away from basketball,” freshman De’Aaron Fox said. “You don’t have to take things too seriously. Just out here having fun.”
Fox said he hoped the students came away from the hourlong visit with smiles on their faces and happiness in their hearts. Judging from the cheers and full-of-beans excitement, that mission was accomplished.
“I just hope they get out of it that you don’t always have to be serious . . . ,” Fox said. “Sometimes you can just be a kid. I still have that kid inside of me.”
So do his UK teammates, senior Mychal Mulder said.
“When you get together as a group, you realize we’re all a bunch of big kids,” he said. “Like goofing around. We have a good time.”
A soft expression came over Mulder’s face as he spoke of how elementary-aged students might ask a UK player if he liked macaroni and cheese or what his favorite animal was.
“It’s never really about basketball at that age,” he said. “They know us as basketball players, but they don’t know how to ask us questions about basketball.”
The visit included a rendition of the C-A-T-S chant. That the teachers supplied the “S” seemed to thrill the students.
The possibility of a 40-0 record and national championship for UK got a mention. But there were smiles all around as the UK players “lost” a relay race to a team of first-graders.
Later, when the UK players playfully broke the rules of a relay race involving jumping from hoop to hoop, then jumping rope on the return, the students jokingly booed.
“It might have been the first time we got booed in Lexington,” Mulder said. “Hopefully, it’s the last. I’m not worried about it.”
Mulder and his UK teammates knew the students meant no harm.
“To them, we’re like superheroes, right?” Mulder said. “So it’s great to give them that kind of excitement and that little break from class.”
Beyond injecting fun and a lifelong memory into the school day, the visit had a practical purpose.
The players delivered packed lunches as part of the “Back Pack” community service program, a joint venture involving UK Athletics and God’s Pantry.
UK Athletics packs 150 bags each week (50 bags per school), and expects to deliver 5,100 lunches during the 2016-17 school year. The UK men’s basketball team packed and delivered lunches to Cassidy, Lansdowne and Picadome elementary schools on Friday.