By LARRY VAUGHT
Sometimes I just totally forget just what an impact University of Kentucky athletes can have on children. I should know better, but at my age sometimes I need a reminder like the one I got from 9-year-old Braxton Riley of Crothersville, Ind.
His father, John, says the family has always been huge UK fans. John’s grandparents moved from eastern Kentucky to southern Indiana for work but he says about 50 percent of the southern Indiana community is Kentucky fans.
“There is a large group of us, including my family, that traditionally camp out this week in Lexington for Big Blue Madness tickets. My family looks forward to this tradition,” he said.
That helps explain when Braxton was at John Calipari’s Father-Son Camp over Father’s Day weekend.
“He really didn’t have a favorite player on the team going into the camp. He liked all the players equally,” John Riley said.
That changed once the camp started and freshman guard Tyler Herro of Wisconsin started showing him some extra attention. Like most young boys would, Braxton immediately thought the UK player was his best buddy.
“Herro had created his biggest life-long fan just by going out of his way to show extra attention towards an 8-year-old boy. We then watched all of the Bahamas exhibition games on TV and Braxton realized that his best buddy Tyler was not only a great kid, but an amazing player as well. This just made Braxton even more sold on Herro being his favorite player.”
That set up why Braxton had a cake at his recent 9th birthday party that included a picture of Tyler Herro. John Riley says his wife, Mendy, came up with the idea — even though she grew up an Indiana fan.
“After we got married I was able to convert her over to the BBN. Mendy did a great job with the cake, as she baked it and designed it,” he said.
She had a tradition of creating a birthday cake annually for each of her four children and she obviously knew a cake with Herro’s picture would be a big hit with her son.
However, the birthday story gets better. John Riley tagged Herro in a Twitter message with a picture of Braxton holding his cake.
“He was so excited by the idea that Herro might see his birthday cake that he was so proud of,” Braxton’s father said.
It didn’t take long for Herro not only to see the tweet but to retweet it with a Happy Birthday message to Braxton that made it the best birthday ever for the southern Indiana youngster.
“It once again solidified that Herro was not only Brax’s favorite UK player on the team, but that he had now taken over all-time favorite status from De’Aaron Fox,” John Riley said.
Now the Riley family just has to wait for basketball season to get here because they are anticipating a special season just like every other UK basketball fan. John Riley says the work ethic this team seems to have combined with the talent he has seen should make for a memorable year.
“The NCAA Tournament is often random, such as the 2011 and 2014 teams making the Final Four and yet the 2010 and 2017 teams did not. You can’t just pencil them in to be a Final Four team this year, but we really like their chances,” the UK fan said. “We were blessed enough to meet the players at the Father-Son Camp and this group treated the kids really well. They are great kids who really seem to care about being great people just as much as being great players.”
He hopes to not only attend Big Blue Madness Oct. 12 but also the Blue-White Game Oct. 21. The family of six also has managed to attend a couple of games each year in Rupp Arena.
“We’ve taken advantage of the E-Rupp-tion Zone ticket opportunities in the past when the students go home for the holidays. That is an amazing deal and a chance for the family to watch a game from an amazing arena,” Riley said.
Especially this year when 9-year-old Braxton Riley’s new best buddy Tyler Herro figures to be one of the stars for a potential national championship team.