GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – I feel compelled to warn my fellow residents of Greensboro that you are about to be invaded – maybe even swarmed – by a throng of blue-bedecked fans of the Kentucky Wildcats.

The ‘Cats are playing Friday night at the Greensboro Coliseum in the opening round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament’s East Regional, and as a native of Kentucky and a UK fan by birth-and-weaning, I must let you know exactly how this development will affect life in the Gate City and what you need to know to be ready for situations that might arise.

Kentucky fans cheer during a game between Kentucky and Tennessee. (AP File Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Because these fans will be everywhere. In the hotels, restaurants, bars and just on the streets. More of them will attend an open practice than typically show up at games in the coliseum. They will drink bourbon and beer and at times be loud and, well, pushy. You must be ready, and I’m here to help.

My insights come from a lifelong commitment to following the exploits of the Big Blue that I came by naturally. My mother is one of those “COME-ON-BOYS” fans who watches the TV while trying to distract her nerves with mundane tasks. She sometimes these days allows my going-on-93-year-old dad to have the large TV in the family room to watch Westerns while she repairs to her office. After more than 70 years of marriage, that drill is well-practiced.

My personal “Catpitulation” came from days of sitting at my grandmother’s kitchen table and listening to clear and creative descriptions of Cawood Ledford as he described the action via WHAS-AM on an old Silvertone. I kept a running scoring total for each player on a small pad and yearned for the occasional Saturday when I could see a game in colorful black-and-white. When I was older and realized I wouldn’t be starring on anyone’s court or field, I wanted to be a “Cawood with hair,” which in some ways got me to where I am.

At about age 10, I saw my first game in person, and there were numerous others during a lifetime of devotion from near and far. Can you imagine the wonder I felt when ESPN started to televise most of the NCAA Tournament?

I would argue that the number of fans in Guilford County who know more than I do about UK basketball could be counted on one hand. So I feel comfortable sharing this primer about the invasion of Wildcats.

Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe won all the big awards in 2022. (AP Photo/James Crisp, File)

These fans will be loud. They will be informed and opinionated. From their seats, they will officiate without flaw and will help Coach John Calipari direct the team with admirable acuity. They will enter brackets in pools and always have one that has Kentucky at least reaching the championship game, even though UK hasn’t won an NCAA game since 2019! That the ‘Cats face one of their former players in Providence star Bryce Hopkins will command their interest but not their fear.

I type with full knowledge that all of this might not be totally embraced by those of you who bleed the light blue of the Tar Heels, the red and black of the Wolfpack, the black and gold of the Demon Deacons or that other blue from those other Devils.

I get that. I have a son studying in Chapel Hill and a daughter considering those other schools. I know the depth of loyalties, and I appreciate them.

But those loyalties also are to me an acquired taste. The blue in my blood doesn’t make me a basketball blueblood, but it courses with all urgency when UK takes the court.

So if you better be ready to protect your Tar Heel pride (the state, not just the team).

If you go out, you will know that UK is in town.

Matt Jones, host of Kentucky Sports Radio. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Kentucky supporters travel as well as any fanbase in the country. Some football contingents may be larger, but UK fans tend to take over basketball arenas near and far. Greensboro is only 6.5 hours from Lexington and about 4 hours from the southeastern corner of the state. So Greensboro will see why they call Atlanta “Catlanta” when UK plays there and why an SEC Tournament game last week against Vanderbilt in Nashville was a ”home game” for the ‘Cats. New Orleans also has seen Bourbon Street flooded by people from bourbon country. They fill up the road arenas. So many fans are expected to make the trip to Greensboro, that The Herald-Leader in Lexington published a fans guide about how to navigate the area. On Tuesday night, three days before the first tournament game, a UK-wrapped bus – it’s unclear who might have been inside – already was seen at the intersection of South Holden Road and West Gate City Boulevard. The invasion had begun, and it will remain. If – or should I say when? – the ‘Cats get past Providence on Friday night, you can bet that Tournament Block Partywith country music star Michael Ray headlining and Dylan Marlowe performing on Saturday night in Hamburger Square, will create a sea of blue up and down Elm Street. You might also find a small group of people doing live radio broadcasts from unique locations. Kentucky Sports Radio has a statewide morning show but also does pregame and postgame broadcasts on location. The network was founded by a lifelong Kentucky fan named Matt Jones, who started this as an internet-only broadcast in his basement. The show now is broadcast by iHeart radio, and its website is part of the on3 network. And get this: Jones is a graduate of Duke law school.

They’ve been there before.

President Barack Obama speaks during a ceremony to welcome the University of Kentucky’s championship team from 2012. (AP File Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

This is the 15th time that Greensboro has hosted NCAA Men’s Tournament games, including the Final Four in 1974 (remember that one, NC State fans?) and regionals in ’76, ’79 and ’98. Kentucky has WON more than twice as many NCAA Tournament games (129 total – and, yes, North Carolina last year passed them with 131) than have been played in Greensboro in those 14 previous years. Kentucky has appeared in the tournament 59 times (again the most) since 1942 and has won the championship eight times (most recently in 2012), second only to UCLA (11). Now recently that has not gone well. The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted a high-potential season in 2020 and infected the ‘Cats with a 3-season case of mediocrity, which included the program’s worst record ever in the aborted 2021 season and a stunning first-round NCAA loss to St. Peter’s last year. This year’s team started with high potential – I would’ve bet your farm that UK and UNC would play for the championship – but has been a continuous dribble, hitting low spots and bouncing back. So the Cats (21-11) are seeded sixth in the East. The game against Providence could floor them or bounce them to greater heights.

Adolph Rupp and them others.

Here Coach Adolph Rupp talks to his five starters in 1954: Billy Evans (from left), Cliff Hagan, Rupp, Phil Grawemeyer, Frank Ramsey and Lou Tsioropoulos. (AP Photo/John Wyatt)

Now it’s certainly understandable that many of you would defend one or all of Mike Krzyzewski, Dean Smith or Roy Williams as among the greatest college basketball coaches of all time. They are among the game’s most successful, with Coach K’s 1,202 victories the most ever. But don’t tell Kentucky fans that Adolph Rupp, the ‘Cats’ coach for 41 seasons, wasn’t more successful than all of them. Rupp retired with 876 victories, and most observers thought there was little chance that record would be broken (much less by seven people). But who would guess schedules would expand from about 25 games to up to 40 per year? That provided about a 60% greater chance that Rupp would be passed, and Smith retired with three more victories. But Rupp’s winning percentage of .822 was by far the best. Smith’s .776 is second, and Williams’ .774 is third. K won .766 of his games. You get the point. Rupp also won four NCAA titles in 1948, ’49, ’51 and ‘58 (fewer than John Wooden, 10, and Coach K, 5) and also an NIT (1946), which in the 1940s was considered equal to the NCAA. And in 1948 Rupp coached his starting five to the Olympic championship, another rare double. Like Smith, Rupp has a large and iconic arena named in his honor. If you run into a UK fan this weekend, don’t argue. You will lose.

Big Blue star power shines.

University of Kentucky guard Rex Chapman in 1987. (AP Photo/Tim Sharp)
Former ABA/Kentucky player Louie Dampier during induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015. (AP File Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

In that same debate, don’t suggest that any school has had more great players than Kentucky. Sure UNC had Michael Jordan, perhaps the greatest player of all time, and sure UCLA had Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton. Duke has had its share of iconic stars, too. But UK – for sheer magnitude and volume – should be considered at the top. Its current star, 6-foot-9 center Oscar Tshiebwe, won EVERY major national award last season and yet returned for his senior season and is the finalist for some of them again. The great teams Rupp coached in the 1940s were led by a group called the Fabulous Five. I was enthralled by a team known as Rupp’s Runts, which had America’s first great 3-point shooter (Louie Dampier), although he was historically overshadowed by a more famous teammate, Pat Riley. That team lost the NCAA final to the first all-Black starting five, from then Texas Western University (now UTEP). Since then, championship teams have been dotted with players like Cliff Hagan, Cotton Nash, Dan Issel, Kevin Grevey, Jack Givens, Kenny Walker, Rex Chapman, Jamal Mashburn, Antoine Walker, Tayshaun Prince, John Wall, Anthony Davis, Karl Anthony-Towns, Bam Adebayo and Devin Booker, among many more. Hundreds have gone on to be professional stars, and many currently are. When the NBA started its current season, there were 11 UNC players on its rosters, and there were 25 from Duke. UK had 27, including two overall No. 1 picks (Davis and KAT) and some of the league’s greatest upcoming stars (Booker, De’Aaron Fox, Jamal Murray, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Julius Randle). Two names on that list should stand out to North Carolinians. Wall was recruited from Raleigh, and Adebayo played at High Point Christian Academy. There were eight total players from the state of North Carolina who played at UK.

Bam Adebayo from High Point Christian (right) during the McDonald’s All-American boys basketball game in 2016. (AP File Photo/Matt Marton)

Know the great teams and great games.

Kentucky forward Anthony Davis (left) and forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist kiss the trophy after the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game against Kansas. (AP Photo/Bill Haber, File)
On March 28, 1992, Duke’s Christian Laettner takes the winning shot in overtime over Kentucky’s Deron Feldhaus for a 104-103 victory in the East Regional final NCAA college basketball game in Philadelphia. (AP File Photo/Charles Arbogast, File)

You should know the headlines about Kentucky’s greatest teams, some so beloved that they had nicknames, such as The Fiddlin’ Five. Rupp’s Runts became famous for a game they lost. The 1975 team stunned unbeaten Indiana to get to the Final 4, then lost to Wooden’s final team in the championship. Givens set a scoring record when UK beat Duke in 1978. There was an unexpected run to the championship game in 2014. But there are three teams at UK that might stand out above all others. Rick Pitino’s 1996 team featured an array of stars and rivaled the greatest UCLA champions for power and dominance. That foundation led to a loss in the finals in 1997 but then another title run under Coach Tubby Smith in 1998 that included a stunning comeback to beat Duke in the Elite 8. The Davis-led championship of 2012 was another among the five best NCAA winners of all time, with teamwork and defense and incredible balance. Those ‘Cats won 38 games, but 2015 was the great one that got away. With Anthony-Towns, Booker and a roster so deep Coach John Calipari platooned fives, the ‘Cats started 38-0 but were upset by Wisconsin, 71-64, in the semifinal. But there were two other games that involved opponents from our state that you shouldn’t mention because they leave UK fans fighting mad. They will argue until they are blue in the face (get it, blue?) that before he made the winning shot with 0.3 seconds left in North Carolina’s 75-73 victory in their Elite 8 game in 2017, Luke Maye took steps. You will not win an argument that says otherwise. But an even bigger brouhaha emerged in another Elite 8 game 25 years earlier. That’s when Christian Laettner of Duke became the eternal villain for UK basketball by making a turnout jumper as time expired to beat one of the Wildcats’ most embraceable teams, the Mashburn-led, Pitino-coached, rag-tag bunch known as The Unforgettables, who had resurrected the program from a dark period. Fans can live with that heroic shot, but most don’t think Laettner should have been on the court. He earlier had stomped on reserve Aminu Timberlake but wasn’t ejected (Laettner years later apologized for the stomp). The combination of those facts is why UK fans have two rooting interests in basketball year-round: They back their beloved ‘Cats and then they adamantly pull for ABD – Anybody But Duke. Get ready for that one.