PAINTSVILLE — Growing up in Paintsville there was one person that I wanted to be like on the basketball court. That person was Tiger legend John Pelphrey. I can remember the first time I saw Paintsville play a basketball game. It was January 1987 and John Pelphrey and the Tigers were hosting Richie Farmer and Clay County. I don’t remember much of the game. I do remember being impressed by the large crowd as my Dad and I sat close to the top of the Paintsville gym. I then remember John Pelphrey, Joey Couch, Mike Minix, Keith Adkins and the rest of the team making a trip to Paintsville Elementary School to sign autographs for us youngsters after they had won their third straight 15th Region title that March. It was a thrill to meet those guys, who we all looked up to, especially my idol John Pelphrey.
As John traveled to play at the University of Kentucky I became a UK fan and as the years passed basketball became much more important in my life. By the time I was playing fifth- and sixth-grade basketball at Paintsville, I was wearing number 34, John’s number at Kentucky. By March 1992, I had another season of elementary school basketball under my belt and John was helping lead Kentucky on a run to the Final Four. I remember how I felt at the end of the Kentucky/Duke game that was played on that day. Watching Christian Laettner hit that improbable shot to knock the Wildcats and Paintsville’s hometown hero, John Pelphrey, out of a trip to the Final Four was devastating. “The Shot” became a moment replayed each March as the NCAA Tournament was played and a constant reminder of what Duke had taken away from the Kentucky fans.
As I grew older and got into high school I got to know John Pelphrey. He began recruiting me as a college coach and I always attended his annual John Pelphrey Camp at Paintsville. John even made a trip to Rupp Arena in March 1996 to watch me and the rest of the Paintsville Tigers win a state championship in the “Sweet 16.” One thing that was never talked about at any of the times we were around each other was the Duke game. It was never spoken about. After the recruiting process I became less of a Kentucky fan and as my own basketball odyssey began I thought less and less about “The Shot.”