Mark Story

Walk-on fulfills mom's biggest wish on UK Senior Day

Mark Krebs was a jumble of emotions. As excited as he'd ever been to step on a basketball court. Yet using every ounce of discipline he had to hold back the tears.

University of Kentucky basketball Senior Day is always rich in sentiment. But it is unlikely that anyone who has ever bowed out as a Kentucky Wildcats player has experienced the churning feelings that Krebs lived through Sunday.

A guy whose UK basketball career was launched four years ago when he wrote Tubby Smith a letter asking for a chance to transfer from Thomas More and walk on for the Cats made his first and only college start in Rupp Arena in what became a 74-66 victory over Florida.

When the arena lights went out and the introduction music began throbbing, Krebs at long last heard the words in Rupp he had dreamed of since he was a little boy growing up in a basketball-mad family in Northern Kentucky.

"At guard, a 6-foot-5 senior from Newport, Kentucky ..."

"Indescribable," Krebs said afterward. "I had chills. They call your name out, it just doesn't seem right."

Yet as extraordinary as that moment was for a player with three field goals to show for his entire UK career so far, what will stick with Krebs longer was what happened before.

After Krebs' senior classmates Ramon Harris and Perry Stevenson as well as junior forward (and possible NBA draft entrant) Patrick Patterson broke through the traditional Senior Day hoops, they each eventually made their way over to woman in a wheelchair.

Terri Krebs, Mark's mother, first battled breast cancer nine years ago. Last summer, the doctors said her cancer had spread to her bones, lungs and liver.

"It's been going downhill the last couple of months," Mark Krebs said. "Her walking has decreased. She's not really mobile anymore. She's still fighting, but it's weighing on her a lot more than it has in the past."

Tuesday will be Terri's 49th birthday.

More than anything, the gift Terri wanted was to be in Rupp Sunday so she could be with her son on the day when, traditionally, Kentucky senior basketball players start their final home game.

So even though something as simple as going out to eat now saps all of Terri's strength, she made the trip Saturday evening to Lexington.

"I saw her last night," Mark Krebs said. "She doesn't have a lot of energy now, so I just told her, 'Hey, if you can't do this, it's alright. No one will be upset.'"

Still, when Mark burst through his hoop, Terri and the rest of the Krebs family were in the middle of the Rupp floor to meet him.

"I just hugged her and told her I loved her," Mark said. "I didn't really know what else to say."

As he stood there before and after the singing of My Old Kentucky Home, Krebs saw that Patterson, Stevenson and Harris made a point of bending down and hugging Terri Krebs.

"For them to take the opportunity to hug my mom, it was great," Mark Krebs said. "They know the fight she has been through."

Said Kentucky Coach John Calipari: "The one thing that was really hard was seeing Mark Krebs' mother. We pray for her every day. I got emotional just seeing that alone."

On the Rupp Arena court, sharing the moment of a lifetime with his mom, Mark Krebs was battling his emotions, too.

"I wanted to cry," he said. "But I couldn't cry, I couldn't just sit there and be by myself and think about my mom. Because I had to play."

Krebs and fellow starters Patterson, Stevenson, Harris and John Wall played as a unit for the game's first 5:23.

The Newport Catholic product really, really, really wanted to bury a shot. He got an opportunity quickly with an open three-pointer.

When Krebs let it fly, it looked perfectly on-line.

"I thought it was in," he said.

It bounded long.

That turned out to be his only shot attempt of the game.

When Calipari pulled the seniors, UK led 7-3.

"We were ahead when we came out," Krebs noted. "I'm proud of that."

Since a gritty Florida effort kept the outcome in doubt inside the game's final minute, Krebs never got another chance to get off the bench.

"To have my Mom here, with everything she's been through, I can't really describe how much it meant," said Krebs.

As much as he wanted to do well, for Mark Krebs, the day that gave him chills of excitement and had him near tears, too, will always be more about who was there to watch him play than how he played.