Jeff Sheppard was always a creative basketball player, especially during the 1997-98 season, when he helped Kentucky win its most recent national championship.
However, Sheppard is insisting that what he’s doing with the Big Blue All-Stars is not a novel idea. He has a team of former UK players who are now on NBA rosters scheduled to play a series of exhibition games against NAIA schools in Kentucky, starting with Saturday’s game at Pikeville. Other games will be Sunday at Alice Lloyd, Monday at Georgetown, Tuesday at Union and Oct. 13 at Mid-Continent.
Former Kentucky players scheduled to play in some or all of the games include Brandon Knight, Chuck Hayes, Josh Harrellson, DeAndre Liggins, Eric Bledsoe, and Jodie Meek. More also likely will join the team for some of the games.
“This is not an original idea. When we finished playing in 1998, we did a barnstorming tour with autograph sessions. I helped Josh with the ‘Jorts Tour’ this spring,” said Sheppard, who now lives in London. “The NBA is in a lockout, so players are doing games and different things.”
True, but the game he has scheduled for Oct. 24 does have a different, creative twist.
This game in Rupp Arena will feature the Big Blue All-Stars against the Villains.
And what better villain to coach the opposing team than Duke’s Christian Laettner, who put a dagger into every Kentucky fan’s heart with his game-winning overtime shot in that 1992 East Regional final in Philadelphia that ended “The Unforgettables” magical season.
Former Kentucky great Rex Chapman will return to coach the Kentucky team that will include many of the same players barnstorming across Kentucky. However, don’t be shocked to see other former Wildcats like John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo, Tayshaun Prince, Keith Bogans and Nazr Mohammed on that roster, because they all came back to Lexington in August to play against the Dominican Republic national team that UK’s John Calipari coached.
And imagine them playing against players like Tyler Hansbrough of North Carolina, Kemba Walker of Connecticut and others.
“It is just going to create a fun atmosphere with a ton of talent,” said Sheppard, who hoped to unveil full rosters for the game by this afternoon. “We hope the Kentucky guys will be playing against players from Louisville, North Carolina, Duke, Michigan State, Indiana and possibly UConn. Those are traditional Kentucky rivals, and we would like to have a player from each of those teams playing.”
Proceeds from the game will go to the V Foundation for Cancer Research, the organization that honors the memory of former North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano.
“Tickets will go on sale October 10th,” Sheppard said. “We would have done this sooner, but we didn’t want to conflict with Big Blue Madness (Oct. 14), and then the football team has a home game the next weekend and it is homecoming. So Oct. 24 is the date that worked best.”
Sheppard said there will not be a mass autograph opportunity at the game Oct. 24 or during any of the games across the state.
“Every autograph thing is thought corporate sponsorship. There will be a very exclusive corporate meet-and-greet before the game (in Lexington), and there will be some ticket packages that include that,” he said.
He said convincing former Wildcats to take part in the Oct. 24 game, as well as some of the others, was not a hard sell.
“It was relatively easy. They are off right now, and a lot of them are in and out of Lexington anyway,” Sheppard said. “They have all been very willing to play and participate. They all have a lot of other commitments and endorsement deals, so scheduling can be kind of hectic. But they all loved the idea of the villain game and were all interested immediately in playing.”
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For tour and ticket information, visit www.bigblueallstars.com.