Dale Barnstable, who turns 90 on Wednesday, was there at the beginning of Kentucky basketball. Of course, not the very beginning when the first UK team played its first game. But he played in the late 1940s when Kentucky basketball first became synonymous with an excellence that the current team may take to unprecedented heights.
"We really kind of started the ball rolling in terms of where they are today," he said last week.
From 1946-47 through 1949-50, the UK teams that Barnstable played for won 127 games and lost only 13. They won two national championships and lost only twice to Southeastern Conference opponents.
When asked if the players sensed the history they were making, Barnstable's answer showed that some things never change. Adolph Rupp's attitude about big-picture history-making during those seasons sounded a lot like John Calipari's just-get-better-every-day mantra.
"There was nothing on our minds other than playing basketball," Barnstable said. "Because Coach Rupp kept your mind there. He was always one to get your mind on what the hell you were doing."
Barnstable's on-court role was to defend the opposition's best perimeter scorer. He guarded such luminaries as Paul Arizin (Villanova) and Hall of Famer Bob Cousy (Holy Cross).
Of defending Cousy (the Magic Johnson of his day), Barnstable said, "That was the first exposure I had to the no-look pass. When he got the ball, you didn't know where the hell it was going."
Barnstable played in Kentucky's last game in Alumni Gym. As he recalled, UK trailed Vanderbilt by double digits at halftime.
"Rupp was livid," he said. "He didn't want to see the score sheet or nothing. Of course, he took off on a long speech. 'I built my record in a lifetime, and a bunch of bums like you tear it down in one night.' He told us, 'If we lose this game, I'm going to set fire to this place.'"
Even with factoring in coaching hyperbole, Barnstable recalled turning to teammate Jim Line and whispering, "I think he's gone. I think he's had it."
Rupp had not lost a game in Alumni Gym in seven seasons and never lost more than once in a season on that UK homecourt.
After Kentucky rallied in the second half and won 70-66, Rupp entered the locker room and said, "Boys, much obliged for that one." That was all.
"I thought he should be hugging everybody," Barnstable said, "and everybody jumping up and down and screaming."
An ever-demanding taskmaster, Rupp struck some as a tough guy. Not Barnstable.
"Someone asked, was he tough?" he said. "No. I served in World War II under Gen. George Patton. If you want to know a guy that's tough, Patton was really tough. George Patton was one of those guys (that believed) there was no such thing as standing still. You had to go forward."
Arguably, no UK player past or present has led a more interesting life than Barnstable.
He was in the 71st Infantry Division of the Patton-led U.S. Third Army. His World War II experiences included shaking hands with Gen. Dwight Eisenhower at a camp in Le Havre, France. The meeting came as Ike and Barnstable stood in line for rations. Barnstable noticed that they were not being served the usual beans, but something much better. If memory serves, steak was on the menu. It was good to be the supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force.
Barnstable was also among the Allied troops who liberated a holocaust camp in Lambach, Austria. His group opened the box cars to discover the dead and emaciated human beings spill out of the cars.
After Germany surrendered, Army leaders kept the soldiers busy with activities that included playing sports. One of Barnstable's teammates was Milt Ticco, who had played for UK in the early 1940s. Ticco recommended Kentucky.
"Where's that?" said Barnstable, who was from Illinois.
Against his mother's wishes (she didn't want her son away from home after the war), Barnstable followed Ticco's advice and came to UK to try out. He played well enough for Rupp to ask him to come to his office.
"The top of the door was only 6-foot-2," Barnstable said. "I bent down just a little bit to get in. And he noticed that."
Rupp ordered Barnstable to put his hands on the table. The hands were large enough for Rupp to then offer a scholarship.
Almost 70 years later, Barnstable lives in Florida and remains active. He lamented having to give up golf (he was good enough to win the State Senior Open twice and play in the British Senior Open). He still drives.
He still follows the Kentucky team. He finds the current Cats "very interesting to watch.
"They seem unselfish. That's the main thing."
Adam Patterson, 26, is a Ph.D. student at UK. He wrote new lyrics to what he hopes might be a theme song for this UK season.
Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song for BBN?
It is the music of a people
Who will soon be champs again!
Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with us?
Beyond the NC-double A
There is a world you long to see
So join in the fight
That will give you the right to be free!"
Patterson (his friends call him "Shoe") explained the origin of the lyrics.
"There is a very funny skit by Key and Peele on YouTube about the musical Les Mis," he wrote. "This made me recall the one song from the show — 'Do you hear the people sing' — that sounded a lot like the sing-a-long chants I got so used to hearing during English soccer club matches. I thought the tune was catchy, hard to forget and would be a fun song for us UK fans. So I took about 20 minutes last night and added some words to the lyrics here or there, took a few out and that was that.
"I'm not entirely sure why I send the song out to you ... but oddly enough I dreamed last night that the adaptation was sung at Rupp during games. I guess that it becoming a song for UK fans to actually chant is what I dreamed would happen."
Patterson made a confession.
"I'm sad to say that I have not been a lifelong UK fan," he wrote. "I previously attended graduate school in England and had a miserable time because I resisted every bit of English culture. Determined not to do that in graduate school in the states, when I got to UK I dove into the athletics tradition and have not looked back since."
According to the website numberfire.com, Kentucky has a 44.88-percent chance of finishing the regular season undefeated. The breakdown was a 75.46-percent chance to beat Arkansas, a 69.86-percent chance to win at Georgia and an 85.13-percent chance to beat Florida on Senior Day.
That seems incredibly precise. Chances of UK finishing the regular season undefeated are 44.88 percent, not 44.87 nor 44.89?!
Spokesman Zach Kempner tried to explain.
"Using our internal efficiency metrics, we calculate Kentucky's chances of winning every game in its remaining schedule thousands of times," he wrote in an email. "We multiply the chances of them winning every game together to determine that Kentucky will have a 44.88-percent chance of going undefeated. Our internal efficiency metrics factor in home vs. away, historical data and comparisons dating back to 2000, rate of play, player usage, etc."
The chances I understand these projections to the hundredth of a point: 0.00 percent.
Former UK player Ed Allin turns 91 on Tuesday.
Allin lettered for UK in 1946. After college, he taught and coached at Midway, Tates Creek and Bryan Station high schools. One of his players at Bryan Station was future UK star Melvin Turpin.
"He always talked about how tough (Adolph) Rupp could be," a nephew, Tom Allin, wrote in an email. "If you missed a free throw in a game, you had to make 10 in a row afterward before you could hit the showers."
A Henry Clay High School graduate, Allin is undergoing therapy for complications from Parkinson's, his nephew wrote.
'No shave till 9'
As Kentucky warmed up for its game at Tennessee, UK fan Mike Riley caught the attention of Dominique Hawkins. Noticing Riley's T-shirt, Hawkins tugged his beard.
Translation: Riley's shirt read, "No Shave Till 9." Meaning, a group of about 80 fans have vowed not to shave until Kentucky win its ninth national championship. Hawkins is a member.
Riley, 30, said the no-shave idea "started out as a joke."
For the Booker family, big games against Arkansas cover at least two generations. Devin Booker's father, Melvin Booker, was on a Missouri team that lost 120-68 at Arkansas on Dec. 3, 1993. That game marked "Dedication Day" for Arkansas' then-brand new Bud Walton Arena.
"He didn't say anything to me about it," the younger Booker said when asked about that game. " I'm sure he wouldn't want to mention that."
To Mark Bradley, a columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
An alumnus of UK and the Herald-Leader, Bradley has been named among this year's inductees to the United States Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame.
Bradley has been a fearless and exacting judge of coaches, players, referees (are you ears burning, Don Rutledge?) and fellow scribes.
Norman Chad ends his weekly syndicated column by answering reader questions. Last week included this question from Mike Soper of Washington:
During a typical 1-0 World Cup contest, has any announcer said it was just a "one-possession" game?
To Chuck Aleksinas. He turned 56 on Thursday. ... To Marquis Teague. He turned 22 on Saturday. ... To Tayshaun Prince. He turned 35 on Saturday. ... To former Louisville Coach Denny Crum. He turns 78 on Monday. ... To the Voice of the Cats, Tom Leach. He turns 54 on Tuesday.