UK Men's Basketball

Meet the Cats: Sam Malone discovers even a UK walk-on has global appeal

Kentucky guard Sam Malone looked for an opening against Mississippi State.  Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Kentucky guard Sam Malone looked for an opening against Mississippi State. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but here goes: Sam Malone was on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Miami last summer ...

"I was walking to the bathroom," he said, "and she was standing there."

The flight attendant noticed Malone's Kentucky shirt.

"I think I looked up or something," Malone said, "and she was, like, 'You're not Sam Malone, are you?'"

Let that sink in. A walk-on who plays sparingly gets recognized on a flight originating out of Brazil. What does that say about the exposure Kentucky basketball affords its players?

"She was a huge Kentucky fan," Malone said. "I couldn't believe it."

Malone introduced himself.

"Then we got into a huge conversation," he said.

As Malone recalled, the flight attendant was originally from Kentucky, but now lived elsewhere in the United States.

The two chatted about Lexington, about Kentucky and, of course, about UK basketball.

Malone sidestepped a question about whether, like the typical UK fan, the flight attendant critiqued the players, Coach John Calipari's job performance and the likelihood of success this coming season.

"It was a long conversation," he said before adding, "she probably said something like that."

Malone called his 10-day trip to Brazil a belated high school graduation present. An uncle who works for Warner Brothers has lived in Brazil for many years and speaks Portuguese. Malone and a cousin spent time in Sao Paulo and Rio.

"No topless beaches," Malone said of the itinerary, "but we visited the big statue in Rio."

That would be the statue of Christ the Redeemer. Or, as the Brazilians say, Cristo Redentor.

Presumably in ascending order of importance, Malone said he and a cousin "did some unbelievable things. Ate some unbelievable food. Saw some gorgeous women."

Of the lifestyle he saw in Brazil, Malone said, "There is extreme, extreme poverty there. But there's also nice parts. I was very impressed with the country itself and how nice everyone was. Everyone I came across was in a very good mood. They are a very hard-working people. It was good to see a different part of the world."

Malone continues to expand his UK basketball horizons. He's a junior now.

"It feels weird," he said. "I can't believe I'm already a junior. The past two years have absolutely flown by. I'm just happy to be back for a new chapter."

Malone described himself as wiser as well as older. Having overcome four major knee surgeries, he sounded ready to benefit from whatever happens this coming season.

"Just learned how it is when you're on top of college basketball success and your team is doing great," he said of the lessons imparted the past two seasons. "And you learn when your team isn't so high up. And I think they're both invaluable lessons."

Sam Malone

Uniform number: 13

Height, weight: 5-11, 185

Position: Guard

Class: Junior

Hometown: Scituate, Mass.

High school: Scituate

Twitter: @SamMaloneuk13