Senior night is upon us tomorrow. That means Preston Knowles will be playing his last home game as a University of Louisville Cardinal. This is going to be a sad day for all of us and especially hard for me.
I am from Clark County (read: Winchester), Kentucky. That sounds strange when I've been out in the world introducing myself to people. When people ask where I'm from I often automatically say 'Clark County, Kentucky'. I've gathered this is something unique to people from the thousands of small places in the staggering 120 counties of The Commonwealth. But it's one of those odd yet interesting things about being from Kentucky-sans Louisville, Lexington, Northern Kentucky, and Bowling Green (?).
I came to be a UofL graduate and fan in a round about way. Growing up in Clark County you don't really have much wiggle room in terms of who you are and what you are like. Here's a graphic reminder.
Need I say more? I whittled my college choices down to UofL and UK. I ultimately chose UofL for lots of reasons. My decision didn't go over very well with my high school buddies. Let's just say that real attitudes and beliefs surfaced (you can only imagine). This only reaffirmed that it was definitely time to move on and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
However, I had a pretty good childhood growing up in Clark County. I lived on a small farm out in the country just a stones throw from the Kentucky River. I have a lot of great memories down in the river valley. I also have a lot of great memories of high school basketball. We have some nice basketball tradition on Clark County (locally known as George Rogers Clark High School or GRC. If you call it one of those two things it means you are from not far away). We've been to the state tournament a number of times. I'm not sure how many because the KHSAA website might be the worst sports website ever, but here's a bit of what I was able to put together:
- 1923 Runners Up (Coach Basil Hayden) to duPont Manual (Clark County High School)
- 1925 Runner Up to duPont Manual (Winchester High School)
- 1950 Runner up to Lafayette (Legendary Coach Letcher Norton whom our gymnasium is named in honor of)
- 1951 Champs beat Cuba (Coach Norton got it done)
- 1986-details escape me.
- 1989 lost in Round of 8 to eventual champs PRP (Damn you Andy Penick!)
- 1990 lost in semis to runner-up Covington Holmes (Brutal heart breaker. I was a few row back on the baseline at Freedom Hall for that one.)
I graduated from GRC in 1991 so those last two were out of control fun for us kids from Clark County. There's nothing quite like the Kentucky Sweet Sixteen when your team goes while you are in school. But then there was a drought. A seventeen year drought to be exact. Tough times for the GRC faithful. Then, in the '06-'07 season this kid
lead us to the Promised Land again. That's right. Preston ! Knowles. I'm pretty sure that's his middle name anyway. He scored 33 points over Mason County their field house to lead GRC to the 10th Region title (the fact that Mason County has essentially hosted every 10th Region tournament since the beginning of time is ludicrous. That's one of the reasons we probably didn't win it last year though were the best team. That's why we might not win it this year even though we are the best team in the region, but I digress). And then another miraculous thing happens. Preston gets recruited by Coach Pitino and takes a scholarship to play basketball to the University of Louisville.
Now there was a time when Louisville regularly recruited kids from all over the state and it wasn't a big deal. Coach Hickman did it routinely. But then then animosity between the two schools grew and grew (too many reasons to even try to completely understand) and next thing you know it was considered a bad thing to for kids from outside the metro area to play ball at UofL (see Jeff Hall, Tick Rogers, Brian Kiser, Alvin Simms, !, Elisha Justice, etc.). It's one thing for a kid like me who is just going attend school there, but it's a whole different ball of wax when you want to play ball at UofL.
But Preston came. I didn't know much about the kid at the time, but I was just happy that a student-athlete from Clark County was heading to Louisville. I can't really describe any better than what has already been said on this blog the last few years about his contribution to the school and the basketball program. But I will say this: We as humans attach meaning to things that may in reality be meaningless. That's what makes us human. So when on national television an announcer says,'That was Preston Knowles, a senior out of Winchester, Kentucky!' it's really hard to describe the feeling I get. Or when I open the Sunday New York Times Sports Section and there is a photo of Preston on the front page, it's just unreal. Now, I don't know Preston, I've never met him and I don't know any of his friends or family from Clark County. But dude is from Clark County and attended/played ball at Louisville. I'm from Clark County and went to Louisville and that's all we humans need to make us feel connected to someone. It's a beautiful thing.
Things in Clark County have changed a bit over the years. There used to be just a couple kids here and there every year who decided to attend the University of Louisville. It happens a bit more these days. And as others have said about their small hometowns in Kentucky you can find UofL gear at lots of places these days in Winchester (I found a sweet winter skull cap for $4.99 at the Walgreen's on the 'bypass'-why is it called a bypass when it doesn't bypass a damn thing?). Nearly all UofL games not on national TV are on locally and you can hear every game and Rick Pitino Show on local FM radio these days. All these things were unheard of when I was growing up. SoLouisville isn't as dirty a word as it used to be.
I have to believe that Preston Knowles playing basketball at the University of Louisville for the last four years has had something to do with these changes. And then when I drive through Winchester and look inside a window of a building on Maple Street and it's wall to wall Preston and Louisville gear and then drive a little further and see a UofL billboard with Preston Knowles on it I know he has something to do with the changes.
So for all that and more I thank you Preston Knowles. You are truly a hometown/county hero. Have a great last home game and good luck to you in the future.
Go Cards. Beat Friars.
(shedding tears, fade to black)