Before he was a Super Bowl MVP in New York, Phil Simms was a kid growing up in Kentucky. And that meant one thing: basketball.
“The craze for basketball down there is real, there’s no question,” said Simms, who didn’t play hoops in high school but said he was good in pickup games with his friends. Simms was a University of Louisville fan, because that’s the city where he grew up, but he added that most of his friends rooted for the University of Kentucky.
“And of course once you go across the state, get out of the Louisville region, it’s all Kentucky,” said Simms. “Kentucky basketball is just something you’re truly born into. It’s part of the culture.”
When you think of Lexington, Kentucky, you think of basketball – and the place to see the best basketball in Lexington is Rupp Arena – home of the Kentucky Wildcats and one of the most iconic basketball arenas in the country. This Sunday, it will be hosting Week 7 of the BIG3.
“When I saw the schedule and saw we were playing in Kentucky – and that we were playing in Rupp Arena – the first thing I thought about was, ‘Wow!’” said Rashard Lewis, player/captain for the 3-Headed Monsters. “Kentucky … this legendary basketball place …
"The BIG3 coming to Rupp Arena is going to be history.”
Surprisingly, there are no BIG3 players from the Bluegrass State. Four BIG3 players – Kenyon Martin and James White from Trilogy and DerMarr Johnson and Ruben Patterson from 3’s Company – played college ball at the university of Cincinnati, less than two hours from Lexington. The 3-Headed Monsters’ Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, back when he was at LSU and went by the name of Chris Jackson, last played at Rupp Arena in 1990. He scored 41 in a tough loss to Kentucky that day.
Being such a basketball crazy state, Kentucky has produced some all-time great basketball players.
Growing up in Louisville, Simms recalled his father taking him to a high school game when he was 9 or 10 years old.
“He said we were going because he wanted to see this big kid who was playing for Seneca High School,” said Simms. “We went there, the place was packed, overflowing with people. They were there to see a kid named Wes Unseld.”
Unseld went from there to the University of Louisville, to the Washington Wizards, where he won an NBA title, and then on to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
A few years after seeing Unseld in high school, Simms remembers another big prep star in town – Darrell Griffith, a.k.a. Dr. Dunkenstein.
“When Darrell Griffith was in high school, he was like a superstar in Kentucky,” said Simms. “No matter where he played, it was standing room only. When I was in college and came home during winter break, I’d go see him play. I saw him twice.”
Like Unseld, Griffith stayed at home and went to college at Louisville. But despite the Cardinals’ great tradition of success, Lexington remains the epicenter of Kentucky basketball.
Former Kentucky standouts Rex Chapman and Rajon Rondo are among the UK alumni expected to be in attendance for the BIG3 action at Rupp Arena. So is current Orlando Magic guard Shelvin Mack, who was born in Lexington.
Three members of the 2017 Wildcats – De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo -- were first-round picks in this year’s NBA draft. It’s too soon to say where they’ll end up on the list of greatest players in school history. Earlier this year, The Sporting News ranked the 10 best Kentucky Wildcats. Here’s their list:
- Dan Issel
- Ralph Beard
- Anthony Davis
- Cliff Hagan
- Jamal Mashburn
- Alex Groza
- Tony Delk
- Jack Givens
- Kevin Grevey
- Kenny Walker