by: Mirei Matsuda
("The Infamous J-Girl")
It was 1990.
I was a scared little nine-year-old girl, whom had just recently moved from downtown Tokyo to Prospect, KY. I had left everything I knew, including my older brother and all of my friends. The only person I could possibly think of as a friend here was my English tutor. My entire world had been turned upside down. I was miserable and I wanted to go home.
Not long after our arrival, my father came home from work one evening and asked me if I would like to go to a basketball game the following week. Some man that he knew from work had offered to take my dad and I to a game with him and his ten-year-old son. Having nothing better to do (and knowing that I probably didn't have a choice anyway) I agreed to go. I had no idea what effect this one little decision would have on my life. In the next few days, my dad and I attempted to do a little homework on college basketball. I had followed the NBA (Michael Jordan) some in Japan because my brother was a big fan, but I knew nothing about college basketball.
We were to meet our hosts at Bigg's in Middletown and they would drive us to the game. When we pulled into the parking lot, it was quite obvious which vehicle our hosts were driving. It was a big blue minivan with several blue flags with white K's on them flying from the windows. I was introduced to the man and his son and discovered that we attended the same school. During the trip, the man asked what we knew about UK basketball. We told him what we had learned and soon found out that we knew very little. He proceeded to describe the remarkable history and the (at the time) not so glorious present. He explain how the previous staff had gotten into trouble and that all of the best players had left, leaving behind a few Kentucky boys and some others that nobody wanted.
He continued by saying how the new staff had turned these guys into an exciting, respectable team that was a lot more successful than anyone had hoped they would be. I was beginning to like this team without even seeing them. Then he turned his attention to the opponent for the evening. He told us about the two monsters that were a full head taller than anyone UK had and twice as big. He also told us about this amazing little guy that no one seemed to be able to stop. I was really getting into his story and after he added a few derogatory comments about their coach, I decided that I did not like this team. By the time we arrived, I couldn't wait to get inside and witness this epic battle that he had laid out to us.
I had never seen such a place in my life. The arena was huge. I had been to a few baseball games at the Tokyo Dome, but that was baseball. This was a basketball arena? I remember thinking that everyone that lives in Kentucky could probably fit in this place. It was already about ¾ full and the teams were out on the court warming up. There was no need for anyone to point out, which team was which. If I couldn't tell by the colors, all I would have had to do was look at the size of the players. The other team looked like men and UK looked like a bunch of school kids. I remember thinking that this game might not be very exciting.
How wrong was I? I got chills listening to the starting lineups. I actually caught myself booing when the announcer said "Number 33, Shaquile O'Neal." But that quickly changed when I heard "Your University of Kentucky WWWildcats!" The whole place erupted and my ears ached with the volume of the crowd. It seemed like the noise got more intense with each player introduction. I was totally caught up in the moment and felt an instant bond with 23,000+ people that I didn't even know. When the game began, the action on the floor was amazing, nothing like watching on TV. The entire crowd cheered in unison with every UK basket. I remember hoping to get to yell, "Three" every time UK had the ball and screaming my little lungs out when the cheerleaders spelled out "C-A-T-S, Cats, Cats, Cats!" Even with English as a second language I knew what that meant. The game was hotly contested throughout as our Cats had no answer for Chris Jackson and LSU just couldn't seem to put us away. It was so exciting that even my usually stoic father was on his feet cheering and I swear (even though he still denies it) I heard him yelling a few choice words at a referee. By the end of the game, I had lost most of my voice and my hands were red and stinging from all of the clapping and high-fiving I was doing, but that didn't stop me from trying to make as much noise as possible. As I'm sure you know, when the final horn sounded, the scoreboard read UK 99 LSU 95, one of the biggest upsets in the history of Kentucky Basketball and certainly one of the most important.
This win announced to the world that UK was once again, a force to be reckoned with and would soon enjoy one of the most dominant runs in recent college basketball history.
As for me, I left the arena with a new friend (that I still hold dear to this day) and a new sense of hope that maybe I could enjoy my new home. Words can not begin to describe how much that means to a recently relocated child. I now had something in common with millions of others, an incredible passion for University of Kentucky Basketball.
Mirei Matsuda is Inside Kentucky's moderator, "j-girl," she will be sharing her thoughts and opinions from time to time throughout the year.