If you're making a list of the most passionate UK fans, don't forget Wildcat Van.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) –- If you're making a list of 5-star University of Kentucky basketball fans, save plenty of room for my friend Wildcat Van on the Number One seed line.
Jim Litke, the national sports columnist for the Associated Press, cut the ribbon for the $40,000 addition Van made to his Central Indiana home, an addition that he officially named the Wildcat Lodge (plaque included).
It's the 20 x 20 patch of blue heaven where Van watches Kentucky games on a monstrous flat-screen TV, in a room decorated with blue and white lights, surrounded by Wildcats' memorabilia, including his John Calipari edition Maker's Mark bottle.
Van is 64, and a former prosecutor. He is convinced it's a felony not to watch, listen to or follow every Wildcats' game. When he attended law school in Birmingham, Van drove his car to the top of the Red Mountain Expressway. It was the perfect spot to park and listen to Cawood Ledford call Kentucky games on the radio.
Any time Van attends a game in Lexington, he arrives the morning of the game. Game-day must begin with breakfast at Wheeler Pharmacy. He'll wiggle into a seat next to former UK coach Joe B. Hall and express his infinite admiration for the Dalai Lama, a guy you probably call Kyle Macy, leader of UK's 1978 NCAA champions.
His purest moment of irrational behavior?
Van drove from central Indiana to central Illinois on Christmas Eve 1984 to watch Kentucky play Illinois even though Interstate-74 was officially listed as closed because of a blizzard that nearly postponed the game.
"That was probably a little much," Van said. "But it was worth it. James Blackmon made the game-winning shot."
Ask Van if he has purchased airplane tickets to fly to Dallas to watch UK in the Final Four this weekend. You'll hear a chuckle on the other end of the phone before you have finished asking the question.
"Bought those four months ago," he said. "It's Kentucky basketball. We're supposed to go to the Final Four. It's our birthright."
Van watched the Wildcats play Michigan State in Chicago in November, Louisville in Rupp Arena ($325 for a Stubhub ticket) in December, Georgia in Lexington in January, Florida in Gainesville ($150 ticket) less than four weeks ago and Indianapolis last weekend.
Ask Van to raise his right hand to speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This is what he will tell you he was thinking after Florida popped Kentucky, 84-65, on March 8 at the O'Connell Center.
"I was glad I had refundable airfare for Dallas," Van said.
I said, the whole truth, sir.
"I wasn't sleeping very well," Van said. "It was horrible. It was unwatchable. It looked like they didn't want to share the ball. They were standing around, not playing defense. I don't know what else I can say except it was horrible."
Here's what I'll say: When you're making your list of people who were howling in disbelief about the way that John Calipari's team was playing, do not forget a king-sized chunk of Kentucky fans. They were fussing even louder than skeptics in the media.
Am I telling the truth, counselor?
"I had Kentucky out on my (NCAA Tournament) bracket in the second round," Van said.
"I don't know what Cal tweaked, but I'm glad he tweaked it. Somebody hit the switch. The way they're playing now, somebody is going to have to show me they can beat them."
Ahhh, Kentucky fans. Somebody hit the switch within Planet Wildcat, too. From unwatchable to unbeatable. That didn't take long.
Guess what Van is doing with that refundable airplane ticket?
Flying from Indianapolis to Dallas Thursday. He has his ticket for the Final Four game against Wisconsin Saturday, but I'm sure he'll upgrade his way to the main level. Nobody does that better than Van. But that's another story.
Van has already packed the same clothes that he wore in New Orleans two years ago when the Wildcats took down Louisville and Kansas to win their eighth national championship.
"It's really a mental illness," Van said. "I know that."
Enjoy the ride, my friend. I look forward to seeing Van in Dallas.