‘WE ARE UK!’ You’ve heard his voice, but who is Ken­tucky’s ‘hype man’?

Lexington Herald-Leader (Sunday) - - Sports - BY JERRY TIP­TON

He is a Ken­tucky cheer­leader. He ma­jors in bi­ol­ogy with the in­ten­tion of be­com­ing an or­tho­don­tist. He is an ac­tor whose cred­its in­clude the ti­tle role in “Phan­tom of the Opera” and the vil­lain Gas­ton in “Beauty and the Beast.” He plays gui­tar.

This is the per­son be­hind the voice you hear at Rupp Arena right be­fore the open­ing tip of a Ken­tucky game and right be­fore the se­cond half starts. He is the per­son re­peat­edly yelling “WE ARE UK!”

He is Brax­ton Smith, aka UK’s “hype man.” Be­sides stir­ring pas­sion by re­mind­ing fans of their bond with UK, he also pro­vides, uh, spir­ited alerts re­gard­ing Tshirts about to be shot into the crowd or his fel­low cheer­lead­ers about to spell out the let­ters “C,” “A,” “T” and “S” with their bod­ies at cen­ter court. Then he yells out the let­ters as if to give each a ver­bal cap­i­tal­iza­tion.

Armed with a mi­cro­phone, Smith is a hu­man ex­cla­ma­tion point!

Guy Ram­sey, UK’s direc­tor of strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions, de­scribed Smith’s role as “a way to fur­ther en­gage the crowd and con­nect fans with the ac­tion on the floor.”

There is no script. His an­nounce­ments fol­low a rou­tine while in­clud­ing room for high-deci­bel im­pro­vi­sa­tion. For in­stance, Smith re­mem­bered some­thing he an­nounced when Ken­tucky played Ten­nessee State the day af­ter Thanks­giv­ing.

“I hope that turkey is set­tled be­cause you’re go­ing to get up and shake for some T-shirts!” he re­called say­ing.

“I en­joy do­ing that kind of stuff,” he added. “And I hon­estly think it’s pretty cool that they trust me, this col­lege stu­dent, to get a mi­cro­phone and not say some­thing in­ap­pro­pri­ate. I don’t feel pres­sure, but there’s a lot of re­spon­si­bil­ity that comes with it as well. It’d be real easy to let some­thing slip.”

Smith was guilty of an un­forced ver­bal turnover this sea­son. Struck by how en­gaged the fans were as the cheer­lead­ers spelled out C-A-T-S, he said, “I’m glad to see ev­ery­body here is awake tonight! Let’s do it again!”

UK of­fi­cials cut off his mi­cro­phone. He re­mem­bered be­ing told that UK fans are al­ways awake.

Smith, who grew up in Ed­mon­ton, comes from a fam­ily of en­ter­tain­ers. His mother, Melissa Smith, is a reg­is­tered nurse who teaches health sci­ence at Met­calfe County High School.

One of her for­mer stu­dents was fu­ture UK player J.P. Blevins.

Melissa used to be the singer in a band that spe­cial­ized in cov­er­ing songs from the 1980s. “She was the coolest mom ever,” Brax­ton said.

When told what Brax­ton said, Melissa said, “Oh, how sweet. You’re go­ing to make me cry, now.”

There’s a mi­cro­phone and makeshift stage set up in the fam­ily’s base­ment.

Melissa said there’s a chal­lenge in stand­ing in front of an au­di­ence and singing. But she be­lieved it was a far greater chal­lenge to ad lib, which Brax­ton does at Rupp Arena and Kroger Field (“It’s foot­ball time in the Blue­grass!”)

She at­tended UK’s bas­ket­ball game against Winthrop on Nov. 21. It was her first time go­ing to a UK home game and, of course, first time see­ing Brax­ton in ac­tion.

“Be­ing on that mi­cro­phone is re­ally a nat­u­ral fit for him,” she said. “He’s not afraid to put him­self out there.”

‘LAUGH­ABLE’

One ques­tion for any­one who got ag­i­tated by Mon­day’s an­nounce­ment of the first rank­ings by the new NCAA Eval­u­a­tion Tool (aka NET): why?

“It’s so early in the sea­son, that there’s no rea­son to take any of this se­ri­ously,” noted nu­merol­o­gist Ken Pomeroy said.

UK Coach John Cali­pari ap­par­ently agreed. When asked his re­ac­tion to the ini­tial un­veil­ing of the NET rat­ings that had Ken­tucky at No. 61, he all but shrugged and said, “It’s too early.

Don’t care.”

By Fri­day, Ken­tucky had moved up to No. 44.

Of course, the NET re­places the Rat­ings Per­cent­age In­dex (RPI) as the for­mula the NCAA will use in se­lect­ing and seed­ing teams for its post­sea­son tour­na­ment be­gin­ning this sea­son. The NET re­lies on more ad­vanced an­a­lyt­ics than the RPI. But at this point, with so few games hav­ing been played, what value do the NET num­bers have?

“It’s to­tally mean­ing­less, yeah,” Pomeroy said. “But so many peo­ple just bought it hook, line and sinker, and started com­ment­ing on it. And that was the in­tent, I’m sure.”

The NET al­lowed col­lege bas­ket­ball to nudge foot­ball aside, at least mo­men­tar­ily. But why does col­lege bas­ket­ball need pro­mo­tion?

Pomeroy an­swered with a ques­tion. “Uh, I mean, why does any­body need pro­mo­tion?” he said.

Pomeroy said that some peo­ple con­tinue to com­pile rat­ings based on the RPI for­mula. “It’s more crazy than the NET,” he said. At about the of­fi­cial un­veil­ing of the NET, the RPI had Ge­or­gia South­ern at No. 2, Rad­ford No. 10 and The Ci­tadel No. 13.

“Ul­ti­mately, I think the for­mula will work it­self out to be some­thing not laugh­able,” Pomeroy said of the NET. “It’s not the best for­mula in the world, but it’ll be bet­ter than what we had be­fore.”

DEAL­ING WITH LOSS

Much as Mis­souri had to deal with the sud­den loss of Jon­tay Porter, Van­der­bilt lost star fresh­man point guard Dar­ius Gar­land for the sea­son when he in­jured the menis­cus in his left knee against Kent State on Nov. 23.

Gar­land, who was one of Vandy’s most bal­ly­hooed re­cruits ever, av­er­aged 16.2 points in five games. His 33 points against Lib­erty on Nov. 19 are the most in a game by any SEC player this sea­son.

In the first game with­out Gar­land, the Com­modores beat Sa­van­nah State 120-85 on Tues­day. That was the most points scored by a Vandy team since a school record 130 against Ole Miss in 1970.

An­other fresh­man, Aaron Ne­smith, had ca­reer highs of 20 points and 13 re­bounds against Sa­van­nah State.

Vandy Coach Bryce Drew had likened Gar­land to Trae Young, who wowed col­lege bas­ket­ball last sea­son as a fresh­man for Ok­la­homa.

At SEC Me­dia Day, Gar­land down­played the im­pact he could make.

“I’m not try­ing to be a hero,” he said. “I just want to play bas­ket­ball.”

Of play­ing for Drew, Gar­land said, “I’m the leader of the team. I have the keys to his car. But I have to wear a seat belt. Don’t be reck­less.”

Gar­land, a player on four Ten­nessee state cham­pi­onship teams at Brent­wood Academy, was re­cruited by UK.

“It re­ally hum­bled me,” he said in Oc­to­ber. “I re­ally liked Ken­tucky. . . . My mind­set was on Van­der­bilt. Then Ken­tucky came in. I was wob­bling a lit­tle bit. I went with my gut.”

NO THREES

Mon­mouth missed its first nine three-point shots in Wed­nes­day’s game and still had not made a shot from be­yond the arc with less than 12 min­utes left. This raised a ques­tion: When was the last time a Ken­tucky op­po­nent failed to make a three-point shot?

It was Jan. 19, 2013, when Auburn missed all 15 of its three-point shots.

A quick look at past records sug­gested that op­po­nents have failed to make a sin­gle three-point shot against UK 17 times. Did you know that Michi­gan missed all four of its three-point shots in beat­ing Ken­tucky 81-78 in the 1993 Fi­nal Four?

Or that Navy went 0-for-8 from three-point dis­tance at UK on Jan. 25, 1987? That’s the game Ken­tucky won de­spite Navy cen­ter David Robin­son set­ting a Rupp Arena scor­ing record with 45 points.

Of course, Mon­mouth made two of 16 three­p­oint shots.

GO BIG BLEU?

On Sat­ur­day the UK scorer’s ta­ble again was to in­clude Mar­cia

Stone. She in­puts num­bers as part of the sta­tis­tics crew.

More im­por­tantly, Stone brings bite-sized choco­late chip cook­ies and other treats to each game. It’s not un­usual to see a player stray from a layup line in or­der to grab a cookie.

Stone had missed the pre­vi­ous three UK games be­cause she had been on a va­ca­tion in France.

HAPPY BIRTH­DAY

To Nick Richards .He turned 21 on Thurs­day. . ..To Ja­mal Mash­burn. He turned 46 on Thurs­day .... To Julius Ran­dle. He turned 24 on Thurs­day . . . . To UK as­sis­tant coach Joel Jus­tus. He turned 37 on Thurs­day . . . . To for­mer UK Coach Joe B. Hall. He turned 90 on Fri­day. . . . To for­mer UK bas­ket­ball pub­li­cist Brooks Down­ing. He turned 55 on Fri­day . . . . To Bran­don Knight. He turns 27 on Sun­day (to­day) . . . . To Randy Noll. He turns 69 on Wed­nes­day . . . . To for­mer Auburn Coach Cliff El­lis. He turns 73 on Wed­nes­day.

ALEX SLITZ [email protected]­ald-leader.com

Uni­ver­sity of Ken­tucky se­nior cheer­leader Brax­ton Smith, of Ed­mon­ton, ral­lied the crowd by yelling “We are UK” be­fore a game be­tween Ken­tucky and Mon­mouth.

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