When former All-American Frank Ramsey received a letter from the University of Kentucky advising him about the higher ticket prices this coming basketball season, he could not believe what he read.
"Is this a misprint or what?" he said when he saw that the K Fund donation required to reserve his second-row seats would leap from $1,350 to $5,000 per ticket.
Of course, it was no misprint.
After thinking it over, Ramsey decided not to renew his tickets near the floor. He'll keep his other seats higher up in the lower deck of Rupp Arena.
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"I agree the university has the right to price their tickets," he said. "I'm sure they've done a lot of research on it before raising the prices 300 percent."
Actually, the increase in required K Fund donation for the first four rows represents a 370 percent markup. Ramsey, one of only six people with UK ties to be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, considered that too high a price to pay.
"(Paying) $10,000 just for the right to buy two tickets in Lexington, Ky., with this economy the way it is statewide — just seems they would have to have something to back it up," Ramsey said about UK's ticket pricing decisions.
When told that UK supplied reporters and Athletic Association Board members with data that showed the ticket pricing is similar to what other top-level college basketball programs charge, Ramsey said, "It's not what everybody else has done. It's what Kentucky is doing."
As longtime president of the Dixon Bank in his hometown of Madisonville, Ramsey has had a front-row seat on how the depressed economy affects Kentuckians. It hasn't been a pretty picture.
"With the way the economy is, I just feel for people," he said. "And I watch it every day.
"Unfortunately, I can't see it getting any better in the next three to five years based mostly on foreclosures on houses."
The decision not to renew his second-row seats took Ramsey, now 79, back to when Rupp Arena first opened in 1976. Then he was a member of UK's Board of Trustees and its Athletic Association Board of Directors.
His former UK teammate, Cliff Hagan, was the school's athletics director. Ramsey voiced concerns about the move from Memorial Coliseum's 11,000 seats to Rupp Arena's 23,000-seat expanse.
"I told Cliff, 'You'll never sell all those tickets,' " Ramsey said. "He said, 'Oh, no. I'll sell them.' He said, 'I'm going to have some, you've got to pay to buy them.'
"I said, 'You're kidding.'
"Then I bought them."
Thanks to the SEC and the Big East, Kentucky will play Notre Dame in Louisville this coming season. The game promises to be a night full of sweet nostalgia. From 1960-61 through 1981-82, the schools played an annual game in Freedom Hall.
This history is not lost on Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey, who noted that he's heard from fans who relish Digger Phelps' stall that made UK sweat out a 34-28 victory in 1981.
"The way we played at the end of the year (last season), we may have a flashback of that," Brey quipped before saying of the once-flourishing rivalry, "I appreciate it. I respect it. John and I have talked about it.
"I think our fans are energized because it's kind of a flashback to those days. It should be a great night of basketball."
He spoke with UK Coach John Calipari during the Final Four earlier this year about renewing the series, said Brey, who added that Calipari called him soon after taking the UK job. "John's been after me harder than I've been after him on it."
Scheduling conflicts make it unlikely to happen for a few years. The Big East's expansion of league games from 16 to 18 makes adding an elite opponent like Kentucky more problematic. Plus in the next few seasons, the Irish are locked into a home-and-home with Gonzaga and what's known as a "Crosstown Rivalry" in Indianapolis involving Indiana, Purdue and Butler. There are also scheduled games against Maryland in the Washington, D.C., area and another event in Kansas City.
"It'll come back around," Brey said of a Kentucky-Notre Dame series. "I know there's so much history there."
Meanwhile, Brey is not comforted by another game in Freedom Hall, which lately has been a house of heartbreak for the Irish. Notre Dame's last four games against Louisville in the historic arena were all losses, two in overtime and a third in double-overtime last season.
"I thought that'd be the last time I'd see Freedom Hall," Brey said. Then the SEC and Big East intervened. "Maybe the law of averages says we'll finally get one."
Lauren Erena, an eighth-grade teacher at Lexington Christian Academy, got a dog in June. It's a Bichon Frise and poodle mix.
Her first big doggie decision was to give him a name.
"I thought about so many names," she said. "Nothing seemed right."
Then Lauren hit on the perfect pet name for her pooch: Rupp Erena.
When asked how people react to her dog's name, Erena said, "Most people just laugh and smile knowingly. Anywhere else, it would seem kind of crazy. In Kentucky, it makes sense."
Erena's eighth-graders have been calling their teacher Rupp Erena. They encouraged her to dye her dog blue. She declined.
Erena saw one more benefit in naming her dog Rupp. "I didn't name my child Rupp Erena," she said.
Easy act to follow
Analyst Brick Oettinger of Prep Stars has been following recruiting for decades. He, too, is astounded by what John Calipari has done as UK coach.
"You're hard pressed to go back in history and find somebody with the best recruiting class two years in a row," he said. "Kentucky's going to make it three in a row, probably. ... No one's ever done that."
Of course, No. 1-rated classes historically stayed in college more than a year, which made it all but impossible to recruit the top players in back-to-back years. Little available playing time. In the age of one-and-done players, a coach can sell immediate playing time annually.
To review: Calipari's first Kentucky class included John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton. All departed after one season and became part of UK's unprecedented five first-round draft picks.
UK's haul in the high school class of 2010 includes three players projected by NBADraft.net as first-round picks next year: No. 3 choice Enes Kanter, No. 11 Brandon Knight and No. 12 Terrence Jones. By the way, DraftExpress has only one UK player taken in the first round: Kanter at No. 12.
The class of 2011 has three players projected by NBADraft.net among the top 12 picks in the NBA Draft of 2012: Michael Gilchrist at No. 3, Anthony Davis at No. 5 and Marquis Teague at No. 12.
When asked which class he considered the best, Oettinger chuckled and said, "They're all pretty good."
Good friends John Calipari and Rick Barnes have had preliminary discussions about starting a Kentucky-Texas series. Such a matchup would give UK another top-level non-conference opponent to draw national attention. Kentucky-Texas would also seem to fit Calipari's wish to stage big games at neutral sites (St. Louis? Houston?).
But first, Texas must finish its current contract with Arkansas, which ends with a game this coming season.
In his 12th season in Austin, Barnes is the winningest coach in Texas basketball history with a record of 294-115 (.719 winning percentage).
Barnes will carry a streak of 15 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances into the 2010-11 season. That is tied with Duke's Mike Krzyzewski for the longest current streak by an active NCAA Division I coach. Barnes' streak covers his last three years at Clemson (1996-98) and each of his first 12 seasons at Texas (1999-2010).
Texas is one of six schools to play in each of the last 12 NCAA Tournaments. The others are Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State and Wisconsin.
If that's not enough to stamp the Longhorns as a quality basketball opponent, Texas is the only program that can claim two different National Player of the Year winners in the last eight years (T.J. Ford in 2003 and Kevin Durant in 2007).
After his team lost to Kentucky in an exhibition game in Canada, a reporter asked Windsor Coach Chris Oliver what he thought of UK's talent.
"I'll take it," Oliver said. "I'll coach it every day. It's pretty good talent."
West Coast Cats fan Chris Thompson checked for tickets on the Maui Invitational Web site last week. He got the Internet's version of a busy signal: the volume of inquiries crashed the site.
"We're still working to get the site back up," the site said in a message. "We apologize for this inconvenience, but thank you for your patience."
A few minutes later, Thompson got this message: "Because of the volume of ticket orders, the site is experiencing technical difficulties. It'll be back up in no time."
As of Friday, only UConn, Wichita State and Chaminade still had tickets. Brace yourself: the tickets are $100 per game.
Windsor Coach Chris Oliver saw benefits in his team's lopsided exhibition losses to UK.
"The biggest thing is it gives us film," he said. "Against a quality, quality opponent, it's going to show the players right away (what to do and not to do)."
The games also made more people aware of the basketball played by Windsor and Western Ontario.
"I know Coach Calipari talked about it being an infomercial for Kentucky," Oliver said. "It's the same thing for us."
Oliver said he got e-mail messages from coaches and prospects from the United States.
"Because they saw us on Fox Sports," he said. "Kind of a neat thing."
The Makenna Foundation will hold its 10th annual fund-raiser to benefit the Kentucky Children's Hospital on Sept. 10.
An auction will include items autographed by UK Coach John Calipari, Jim Brown, the late John Wooden and NASCAR icon Richard Petty.
Other items up for auction include tickets to the Late Show With David Letterman, the 2011 Sweet Sixteen, a NASCAR race and Cincinnati Reds and Bengals games.
The fund-raiser, which begins at 6 p.m., will be held at RE/MAX Creative Realty (at the corner of Man o' War Boulevard and Palumbo Drive). Tickets are $60 in advance and $70 at the door.
Ticket orders or donations can be made by calling Sheila David at (859) 422-2010 or by e-mail at Info@MakennaFoundation.org.
Since 2001, the Makenna Foundation has raised more than $1.2 million for the hospital.
To Van Florence. The longtime Man Friday for UK basketball turned 64 on Thursday.
Florence, who did things small (escorting the coach to the post-game radio show) and large (helping the fund-raising effort that built the Craft Center) for UK basketball, continues to be a walking tribute to modern medicine. He said he's spent the majority of his retirement in and out of hospitals. That included a recent stretch of 50 straight days of daily five-hour IV treatment for an infection.
Since last fall, Florence said he underwent eight procedures for a back ailment. During that time, former UK coach Tubby Smith came to Lexington more than once to visit Florence.