On a flight from Sacramento to San Diego, I was lucky enough to sit next to a gentleman by the name of Winston Clark. After some small talk, Mr. Clark and I both discovered that we were diehard hoops fans. I told him he absolutely had to be part of my interview series, so I opened my laptop and typed as fast as I could.
RTF: First, tell me how you became a Kentucky fan.
WC: I didn't become anything. I was born a fan. Christmas Day, 1932, born in Frankfort, Kentucky. I've been a fan almost 80 years, but I only remember about 75 of them.
RTF: The coach was Adolph Rupp, right? Or was that just before him?
WC: Sure enough. Coach Rupp was there when I was born, and he was there until I was nearly 40 years old. And he was the greatest coach that ever lived. He might have been a son of a bitch, he might have been mean, but he was a great coach. He was too stubborn for his own good.
RTF: Tell me about the ups and downs with Coach Rupp.
WC: I did things backwards. I went to college before I went into the military. And so I was a sophomore at UK when they had to cancel the whole damn season because of what those nitwits did. All of that nonsense happened while I was still in high school, but it was the men on my team who got punished, and us fans too. Missed a whole year of basketball. But we never lost in that next season, so I guess we got our own little payback.
RTF: So thinking back on all of those years, what is your favorite memory regarding Kentucky basketball? Is it possible to have just one.
WC: It was in Vietnam. 1966. Operation Rolling Stone they called it. Here I am a basketball fan and those men at Kentucky play their way into the National Championship game. And you know what year that was – 1966? That was Texas Western. All them white men from Kentucky playing all them black men from Texas Western. And I'm stuck halfway across the world building a damn road and trying not to get shot.
But my mother, boy she knew how to take care of me. Every scrap of news she could find she would cut out of the newspaper or magazines and mail it to me. I might have been a couple weeks behind on the season, but I got every game. Right there in my mind. I memorized everything she sent me and at night I would lay down and watch those games.
That's probably my favorite season of all time. That and when ole Pitino turned us back around and won a Championship.
RTF: Being a fan since the late 30s you've seen a lot of changes. Do you have a favorite era?
WC: Oh these men that are playing right now are the best. When they finally let the blacks play they really changed things, I tell you. The things that these men can do these days – the jumping, the shooting, all that strength. I tell you I get tired of people saying that young players don't have the fundamentals. I've been hearing that since 1966. Trust me, the men from when I was your age couldn't even get on the same court with today's teams. They do everything better now. And it sure is fun to watch.
And I've got friends who complain about the way these young men look – all the tatoos. The goofy shorts. And I tell them to just shut the hell up. They had their chance. Let the newcomers have theirs.
RTF: Alright – what about this season? How good is Kentucky going to be?
WC: I really like that young man from Portland, number 33 (Ed. note – Kyle Wiltjer). He's going to have a big year. A big year! And then all the new players just need to fit in around him.
I'll be 80 years old come Christmas Day. And I know I've gotten to see more than most. I shouldn't be so greedy, but it sure would be nice to see one more Championship. But I will be watching them every game either way. Every season is different. Every season is special.