Out of the Blue celebrates the 1997-98 Kentucky Wildcats NCAA championship team but with a running time of under an hour, the documentary is too short. This isn’t to say that there’s not much to love because any Kentucky fan will take whatever opportunity exists to see these guys.
Of all the Kentucky Wildcats teams to have won a championship, the 1997-98 squad that was considered the unlikeliest of all teams. Then-Georgia Bulldogs head coach Tubby Smith got the call to replace Rick Pitino as the latter returned to the NBA to coach the Boston Celtics. Whether or not Pitino should have stayed in Lexington is a question that will be debated for eternity.
WKYT-TV’s Dick Gabriel directs and isn’t interviewed but joining the championship team in being interviewed are sportswriters Mark Coomes and Chuck Culpepper, formerly of The Cats’ Pause and Lexington Herald-Leader, respectively. Both writers shared their insights from covering the team from a media perspective. It’s interesting to note that while the media speculated that Tubby Smith would take over the team, all the players wanted to see Billy Donovan come back to Lexington. Donovan had just finished his first season as the head coach of Florida following a brief stint at Marshall while Smith had more years under his belt as head coach between Tulsa and Georgia.
This was a team that saw three consecutive losses in Rupp Arena, highlighted by a fall to Ole Miss. The loss would spark a players-only meeting where everyone agreed that it was best to embrace Tubby Smith’s style of player rather than adhere to Pitino’s style.
It was a team that included three seniors (Allen Edwards, Jeff Shephard, Cameron Mills), four juniors (Scott Padgett, Heshimu Evans, Nazr Mohammed, Wayne Turner), and a sophomore (Jamaal Magliore) among their top players. The other players were sophomore Steve Masiello, and a crew of freshman featuring Saul Smith, Michael Bradley, Ryan Hogan, and Myron Anthony. It may be unheard of in the one-and-done era but this was what went in a different era of college basketball.
The NCAA championship game aside, the season’s highlight came during the South Regional on March 23, 1998, when Scott Padgett’s 3-pointer became the contemporary shot heard around the world unlike Aaron Harrison would work his magic during the 2014 Kentucky tournament run.
Where Out of the Blue differs from The Team is that it’s not grounded in a reunion of all the players meeting up too mark the celebration. Everyone from the 1998 squad is doing their own thing now and the only players interviewed together are the senior captains: Allen Edwards, Jeff Shephard, and the documentary’s executive producer, Cameron Mills.
The running time is short and with all of the archival footage, there’s not much time for the former players to talk about their memories of this unlikeliest of seasons at Kentucky. The legacy of the Comeback Cats will never be forgotten.
A collaboration between Filthy Rags Media, Eppic Films and WKYT-TV, Out of the Blue aired on WKYT on December 25, 2017. For more information on how to rent or own the film, please click here.