By LARRY VAUGHT
Normally going 0-for-6 from the field would not make for a game that any basketball player would consider memorable.
Yet there was nothing normal about Transylvania getting a chance to play Kentucky in an exhibition game and for Transy junior Spencer McKinney, a life-long UK fan from Danville. He missed all his shots, including four 3-pointers, in Kentucky’s 94-66 win but was smiling like he had won the lottery after the game just like his teammates were.
“It was amazing. I knew it would be awesome, but running out in front of that 20,000 (fans) or whatever was out there was crazy. I have always dreamed of playing in Rupp (Arena), so that was amazing,” said McKinney, who did have two rebounds and two steals in 20 minutes.
It was the same a year earlier when Kentucky coach John Calipari gave Centre College, another Division III team like Transylvania, a chance to play the Cats in an exhibition game. Centre coach Greg Mason even took a picture at midcourt with his wife and young daughter to remember the occasion.
McKinney had actually participated in Calipari’s Coaching Clinic last week when he took part in a 3-point shooting demonstration.
“That was kind of cool, too,” McKinney said.
His father, Ed, also played on the 1982 Laurel County team that won the state championship in Rupp when Paul Andrews hit a half-court shot in the title game. His father currently is the head basketball coach at Danville High School and was Spencer McKinney’s coach.
“That was a long, long time ago. He didn’t bring that (winning the state) up. He just told me to have fun, go out there and enjoy the experience and soak it all in,” the Transy junior said.
He did that.
“It was awesome. It’s a once in a lifetime chance for a kid from Danville. Having this opportunity was great,” McKinney said.
But what about not making a shot?
“Oh my goodness. What about that?” McKinney, a 34 percent 3-point shooter last season, laughed and said. “Those first two (3-pointers) I put up in the first half, I thought I was wide open and then all of a sudden you have 6-9 (defender) running at you with a hand in your face before you know it.
“It is crazy. They have guys that obviously will be lottery picks out there and they are massive. You get out there with them, and they are so big. They are really going to be a good team. They make it very hard to get an open look.”
The 6-4 McKinney often found himself matched against either P.J. Washington or EJ Montgomery. Both are taller, longer and heavier than the Transy junior.
“These guys are twice what I am used to. You try to block one of those guys out and you are in for a war,” McKinney admitted. “It was good to compete and see how you match up against guys that are going to be making millions of dollars next year.
“The scary thing is that they probably had their C or D game out there tonight and they were still good and still have athletes and length everywhere. Being a UK fan my whole life, I am looking forward to this year and seeing what they can do.”
He didn’t know but the SEC Network analysts talked about his golf prowess and how he won the Heartland College Athletic Conference championship thanks in part to a 6-under par 66 in the final found. The network analysts even suggested McKinney could be a Division III All-American.
“That is great. I didn’t know they would do that,” McKinney said. “They brought it all out. I guess they needed something good to say since I couldn’t make a shot.”
McKinney had plenty of family members at the game. He said his aunt purchased “15 or 20 tickets to get good representation from the family” at the game.
“Once again, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was pretty cool for everybody,” he said.
Now Transylvania returns to playing Division III competition. No future lottery players. No future basketball millionaires.
“I think playing in a game like this can only help. There is no negative side to it. You play against such a great team like this that anything after this is going to feel easier,” McKinney said. “Just playing against an elite team like that gets you ready for what is coming.”
McKinney can also go back to his familiar role as a Kentucky fan now and has an even bigger reason for hoping this season turns out special for the Wildcats.
“If they win a national championship, first of all I will be elated as a UK fan and then I will get to say, ‘Hey, we played against a national championship team.’ Not everybody can say that,” McKinney said.