‘WE ARE UK!’ You’ve heard his voice, but who is Kentucky’s ‘hype man’?
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
University of Kentucky senior cheerleader Braxton Smith, of Edmonton, rallied the crowd by yelling “We are UK” before a game between Kentucky and Monmouth.