But maybe not for Preston Lemaster. When Lemaster was a kid in Bourbon County, he always dreamed of the day that he would step on the court at Rupp Arena and help the Wildcats win through his heroics. The player with basketball in his blood had part of his dream fulfilled when his stellar high school career was rewarded with a chance to walk with the Wildcats. Lemaster's career has been that of a typical walk-on, more Matt Heissenbuttel than Cameron Mills, and he has enjoyed being a part of the Wildcat program. But he had yet to have a game, where his appearance on the court had played a role in the outcome, a dream of all players.
Well that was until Wednesday night. Faced with the specter of the loss of a key backup, shooting guard Ramel Bradley, and an opponent that was coming in wobbling thanks to the tragic death of the brother of its best player, Coach Tubby Smith decided to go in a different direction before the matchup with Ole Miss. On Monday after practice, Smith surprised Lemaster by telling him that he needed to be ready to play actual minutes on Wednesday night. The decision was part reward for four years of what Coach Smith called "extraordinary effort" in practice and part necessity due to his suddenly unstable backcourt situation.
When Lemaster heard the news, he insists that he was unfazed. "I go into every game thinking that I may play and thus I did nothing differently this time." While that might be what Lemaster says, those who know him best tell a different story. Two of his best friends, Jason Earlywine and Joe Conley, have known Lemaster his whole life, and while hanging out with him before the game on Wednesday afternoon, they sensed something was different. Conley said, "Patrick tried to play it off like it was no big deal. He wanted us to think that this game was the same as all the rest. But Tubby had told him to be ready, and we could tell that he was taking that to heart."
His teammates also noticed a different Lemaster. "There was a different jump in his step," said Brandon Stockton. "He still did everything the same, but you could see he was excited." Joe Crawford added, "we just all were rooting for him hard, because we could tell before the game that he wanted to play so well."
And thus when Lemaster entered the game, the stage was set for a perfect Hollywood moment....next to last home game, family sitting on the front row, best friends having made the trip, teammates hoping he would be rewarded for his four years of hard work and a crowd ready to explode at any success. On one of the first possessions after his entrance, the script called for him to get the ball on a skip pass, open for an uncontested three-pointer with the crowd gasping in anticipation. In Hollywood he makes the shot....in the real world he misses it.
Well Lexington must have relocated to the West Coast on Wednesday night, because not only did the shot hit nothing but net, but so did the next three similar attempts, each leading to a louder thunderous applause from the crowd, more uncontrolled dancing from his teammates and screams from his family and friends that could have been heard all the way back in Paris. Not even the most cynical of fans could resist a grin as they watched a redder-by-the-second Preston Lemaster run up and down the court and soak in the cheers of fans that he had so long dreamed of pleasing
Lemaster played a solid game and did so by staying within the constructs of the team. He shot only when open, much to the dismay of the giddy crowd, played admirable defense and fed the post better than some of the more regular players. It was a performance that while in one sense extraordinary, he easily made his career high in the first half, was also symbolic of what Brandon Stockton calls the "we first" attitude of the UK players from Kentucky. Preston made his mark, but it never looked like he was trying to do so.
While life does not usually give you perfect moment, sports sometimes can. Tubby Smith summed up this moment after the game when he said, "everyone is pulling for Preston. We all identify the athlete that goes up against difficulties and then tries to accomplish something extraordinary." For Preston Lemaster the ride at Kentucky has been a great one, but no moment will top Wednesday night. "Its just great to have a night like this and see the guys support me like they did," Lemaster said. "I could not ask for anything more."