United States Rep. Matt Jones, D-Ky.
(We'll pause to let that continue to sink in.)
Early last week, the host and founder of Kentucky Sports Radio acknowledged being approached by Democratic campaign operatives about running against Republican incumbent Andy Barr for Kentucky's Sixth Congressional District seat next year. He said he would decide whether to challenge Barr before the Kentucky basketball team begins the 2015-16 season.
Speculation about a UK broadcaster venturing into politics is nothing new. In 1988, Ralph Hacker considered challenging a freshman senator named Mitch McConnell in the 1990 Republican primary. "I would be a better representative of the state," he said at the time.
Hacker, the color analyst on UK football and basketball broadcasts, ultimately decided not to make the run. He flew to Washington, D.C., to tell McConnell personally before announcing the decision.
After retiring from UK's broadcast team, Hacker twice considered running for the congressional seat now held by Barr. Both times he again chose not to run for public office, yielding to Alice Forgy Kerr in 2004 and Barr in 2012.
"It stokes your ego, that's what it amounts to," Hacker said last week of political operatives asking a public figure like Jones to run for office.
Hacker seemed a good person to ask about a hypothetical Jones candidacy. First question: Why would the Democrats approach Jones?
Neither major party wants to leave any race uncontested, Hacker said. So the operatives look for someone with name recognition or lots of money. Ideally, both. Jones overflows with name recognition. His profile continued to grow earlier this summer when he served as emcee on Kentucky's most visible grassroots political stage, the Fancy Farm picnic.
A Jones candidacy would lead operatives to think, "Here are millions we wouldn't have to spend to get him known because he's already well-known," Hacker said. "And I think that does count for something."
From first-hand observation, I can attest to how wildly popular Jones is with UK fans. He accompanied Kentucky on its 2010 trip to play in the Maui Invitational. Fans reacted to him as if he were a Kardashian. One grandmotherly woman proudly told me that she woke up each morning wanting to check on how Jones was doing before seeing if her husband was OK.
In the 2012 "trophy tour" stop in Ashland, Jones bounded off the UK bus and drew as much buzz from the crowd as John Calipari. Each shook hands and posed for pictures.
Dale Emmons, a political consultant based in Richmond, is a fan.
"Certainly, Matt is an engaging personality," he said. "As a UK basketball fan, I'm a huge fan of Matt Jones. Because he is unapologetically all things Blue."
That prompts another question: How well would Jones' popularity with UK fans translate into votes? Even Barr is a fan of Jones'. But as the congressman's spokesman, Rick VanMeter, told the Herald-Leader's Sam Youngman, "KSR listeners are passionate about University of Kentucky athletics, not politics."
Hacker suggested a race against Barr would cut deeply into Jones' popularity. "He'd probably tick off 46 percent of his audience by saying he's going to run," Hacker said.
Emmons noted that a celebrity candidate hasn't won a major race in Kentucky since 1979, when John Y. Brown was elected governor. Of course, his then wife, former Miss America Phyllis George Brown, gave the ticket double-barrel star power.
Jim Bunning, a former major league pitcher, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1998. Ex-UK basketball player Richie Farmer was voted in as state agriculture commissioner in 2003.
Then there's the recent example of actress and UK fan Ashley Judd, who proved to be a political dud. Emmons called her a shooting star that blazed across the Kentucky's political sky before quickly fading away. Speculation had her running against McConnell last year. "That didn't go too far," Emmons said. She dropped out before even entering the starting gate.
McConnell's opponent last year was Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who had Emmons as an advisor. In hopes of gaining momentum against McConnell, Emmons encouraged her to appear on Jones' radio show. "Our motivation was simply he had a good audience," Emmons said.
Emmons assessed Jones, the would-be politician, as seemingly well-versed on public policy matters. But a Jones candidacy faces two big questions: Can he raise the money required to run a campaign? Can he buck long odds and beat an incumbent? In 2012, Bloomberg reported that incumbent congressmen are re-elected 90 percent of the time. Barr won re-election last year by 20 points over Elisabeth Jensen.
Jones' fans might note that he's no Elisabeth Jensen. He's, well, Matt Jones.
"Matt's earned that celebrity the hard way," Emmons said. "That's the interesting thing about Matt Jones. He took nothing and made something out of it. He just took his passion for Kentucky basketball and made himself into a sports announcer."
But would Jones want to risk that status as hero for UK fans by running against Barr?
Federal Communications Commission rules would require the UK network or KSR to give Barr equal time as Jones. Of course, in practical terms, that means Jones would have to leave KSR and the UK network while running for Congress.
"Throwing away what you've built to go for the pipe dream of being a congressman," Hacker called it.
Play-by-play man Cawood Ledford, the iconic UK broadcaster, was approached many times to either run for office or endorse a candidate. He never did either.
"Because he felt he was representing all Kentucky fans," said Jim Host, a Ledford friend and business partner. "He regarded his position as something where there was no way for anybody to use him for political gain."
Of course, reputation meant something then. Now, the concern is with brand.
Meanwhile, we wait to see if Jones throws his UK cap into the political ring.
The smart money says Jones will milk the public relations value out of a possible run for congress. Then, rather than be subjected to the Barr team's opposition research, he will return to the embrace of the Big Blue Nation.
"If he'd ask me for any advice," Hacker said, "that's exactly what I'd say."
In more ways than one, Darryl Dawkins stood out. As a dunker who brought down baskets. As a fun-loving wit who brought smiles to faces. Dawkins once playfully claimed to be an alien from the planet Lovetron, where he spent off-seasons practicing "interplanetary funkmanship" and where his girlfriend Juicy Lucy lived.
So, of course, he named his dunks. The "Yo-Mama" and "Glass-Breaker-I-Am-Jam" among the nicknames.
Former UK Coach Joe B. Hall called him "Awesome Dawkins."
Of watching Dawkins the high school recruiting prospect, Hall said, "He was like an oak tree among a bunch of firs."
In this case, the oak tree stood 6-11 and weighed more than 250 pounds.
Kentucky came oh so close to signing Dawkins, who died of a heart attack on Thursday at age 58. "He told us he would come to Kentucky if he didn't go pro," Hall recalled on Friday. "But he may have told Florida State the same thing."
Dawkins, an Orlando native, was the fifth pick of the 1975 NBA Draft. He played 15 pro seasons.
When asked how effective Dawkins could have been as a college player (remember players actually stayed in college four seasons then), Hall said, "He would have been a dominant player on the national scene. You couldn't stop him in the low post. Gosh, he was just dominant. In our offense and our low post, we would have loved him."
Although Dawkins never played for Kentucky, Hall fondly recalled the recruiting effort.
"Of all the kids I recruited, I enjoyed going and visiting with him as much or more than any of them," Hall said.
Ones that got away
Darryl Dawkins wasn't the only high-profile prospect that eluded Kentucky's grasp in the 1970s. He wasn't even the only high school star that turned pro in 1975 after seeming UK-bound.
The other was Bill "Poodles" Willoughby, who entered the 1975 NBA Draft rather than go to UK. He was the 19th pick of the 1975 Draft, or one pick after UK All-American Kevin Grevey.
"We actually had him signed," then-UK Coach Joe B. Hall said Friday. "But those things happen."
Of course, the biggest one that got away was Ralph Sampson. UK fans of a certain age still dream of what a tandem of Sam Bowie and Sampson could have accomplished.
"We had him until that morning," Hall said of Sampson's announcement of a college choice. "I don't know what happened."
UK made an all-out effort to land Sampson, who was from Harrisonburg, Va.
"We were living in his hometown," Hall said of himself and assistant Leonard Hamilton. "He told us, 'You all are upsetting my mother.' She wanted him to go to Virginia. But he said, 'I guarantee you I'm coming to Kentucky. You all go on back home, and I promise you I'll (go) with Kentucky.'"
With some reluctance and trepidation, Hall and Hamilton returned to Lexington.
"I told Leonard, 'Let's not go home,'" Hall said. "But we did, and we got aced out."
Sampson announced for Virginia ... sort of. He seemed to start to say Kentucky was his choice. Then he said Virginia was his choice "for now."
"Like it really wasn't his final word," Hall said with a chuckle.
There were unfounded rumors of impending NCAA penalties levied against UK. That never happened, but the NCAA policy of not commenting, yeah or nay, on investigations did UK no favors.
"I don't think that swayed him," Hall said.
Ultimately, his family may have been the deciding factor. Charlottesville is only an hour's drive from Harrisonburg.
As Hall noted, those things happen.
To UK Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart. He turned 56 on Thursday. ... To Bob Guyette. He turned 62 on Saturday. ... To Jim Andrews. He turns 64 on Tuesday. ... To Steve Masiello. He turns 38 on Wednesday. ... To Lukasz Obrzut. He turns 33 on Monday. ... To Morakinyo "Mike" Williams. He turned 27 on Saturday. ... To John Thompson. The former Georgetown coach turns 74 on Wednesday.