What do you buy a college kid for his birthday? Target gift cards? Beats headphones? Concert tickets?
How about a national championship?
That is exactly what Brian Long got as he celebrated his 20th year on the planet back in April. While most college students would celebrate with friends and family, Long got to celebrate in New Orleans with his Kentucky teammates and thousands of Wildcat fans, right after climbing up a ladder to help cut down the nets at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“It can’t be topped,” Long said. “I don’t even know when the national championship is this year, but when I saw it last year, I kind of shook my head, like, ‘Oh, no, that’s the worst day it could be,’ just in case something bad happened. But it turned out to be the best possible situation.”
Finding himself in the best possible situations is something Long has grown more accustomed to recently. He was given a spot on the basketball team last year as a walk-on — something he would have considered a great experience, even without the special relationship he has with coach John Calipari.
Calipari has been a family friend of Long’s for years. Brian’s brother, Travis, also played for Calipari at Memphis. Because of that history, Long has known his coach for years, but actually being on his team is a different story.
“It’s great. You see him (Calipari) in a different way,” Long said. “It’s like two different people almost. Seeing that firsthand, you realize how hard he works and how passionate he is. You really see why he’s successful at what he does.”
Now, Long has been given a scholarship to play for Calipari, and he plans to make the most of his time at Kentucky. He has already had an “unbelievable” and “surreal” freshman year, after all, even if he played only 17 minutes in 12 games last year.
“I’m fine with it (lack of playing time),” Long said. “Just to be here and be a part of it is unbelievable and just to be in Rupp Arena every day when it sells out every game and to be able to travel and go on the road… just being a part of it is real special. And I just work real hard to help the team and do whatever I can in basketball and academically.”
The story of Long represents the dream of countless basketball players across the state (although Long is from the east coast): to be a part of the Kentucky basketball program, no matter how small. Whether he logs playing time in every game or not, Long still practices and lifts weights with the starters, lives with the team at the new Wildcat Lodge and travels to away games.
“I’ve known coach Cal my whole life, so to be a part of a program so historic and what he’s accomplished here, and to be a part of his team and be a part of these players and be around everybody has just been great,” he said. “Winning a national championship was just the topping on that.”
UK Preview: National titles was perfect birthday present for Brian Long
Brian Long (Clay Jackson / October 1, 2012)