“Basketball is one of my passions, especially Kentucky Wildcat basketball,” said Watson, who has six children, 11 grandchildren and is expecting his first great-grandchild in August. “I have followed the Wildcat teams all my life … and I am a huge fan. I started following Kentucky through newspapers back in 1946 and then I started listening on the radio when you could pick up the games and finally following on TV.”
He managed to get tickets to the 1950 SEC Tournament in Louisville and watched UK win — and still has the program from that tournament. Sixty years later he was in Nashville for another SEC Tournament that Kentucky won. “I got to see one game. It is so hard to get good tickets or I would come more often,” he said.
He saw Cliff Hagan play his first game for the Wildcats in January of 1951 against Vanderbilt, the same year UK won a national title. He’s been to Maui to watch the Wildcats play.
However, he said his “dream” was to attend a Senior Night at Rupp Arena, and this is one he knew he had to make since he had watched Harrellson play at SW Illinois College. Harrellson had eight points, nine rebounds, four blocked shots and three steals in 36 minutes of play and even did a post-game dance at midcourt to celebrate his final victory at Rupp Arena.
“I am thrilled to be here,” Watson, who got to Lexington Friday with his wife, Lou, and daughter, Donna, said. “I have been a big Josh Harrellson fan and followed his faithfully during his career. He has those wonderful qualities of hard work, determination, dedication and humanity on and off the court that we love.
“The reason I came was to see him. I saw him briefly met him when Kentucky played at Mississippi two years ago. It has been amazing what he has accomplished. He was almost non-existent on the team last year with the freshman class UK had. I have been very proud of his progress, and he’s helped us more than just scoring. He plays defense, rebounds and has been a great influence on all these young men.”
Harrellson even put on his jean shorts — the attire that got him his nickname “Jorts” when he came to UK — after the game and wore them in the locker room.
“Just being on the court and playing meaningful minutes this year means so much to me,” Harrellson said. “Then so many people made me feel special today. All the fans at the game were great. I got so many posts on my Facebook page that it made me kind of sad to think about it all ending. But then I realized that there were a lot of people who didn’t think I would even amount to much this year, but I did.”
Watson was one of those who thought Harrellson could play well — and wanted to see him play in person.
Watson’s daughter managed to get a ticket to see UK beat Florida on Saturday, but Watson and his wife watched the game on TV in the Hyatt Regency. But he didn’t mind because he knew thanks to friends, he would be at Tuesday’s Senior Night game.
He met Jim Porter of Franklin, Ohio, in 1980 during the UKIT the Cats held then. He had read a letter Porter wrote to The Cats’ Pause noting he was an eastern Kentucky native now living in Ohio and a huge UK fan. Watson got his phone number, called him and started a long distance friendship that has lasted 31 years.
They had not seen each other since the 1997 SEC Tournament in Memphis before having dinner together before Tuesday’s game. Porter, who oversees the annual UK Ohio Convention each July, had an extra ticket for Watson.
Another connection — UK basketball manager Zach Lipson — came through with two other tickets.
“Zach’s mother, Susan, is from my hometown of Clay in Webster County. I knew Zach’s grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great grandparents when I was growing up there,” Watson said. “We took Zach to dinner Saturday night. He is a wonderful young man.”
Still, this was Watson’s night to pay tribute to Harrellson along with other UK fans. He says his daughter calls him MOJO — MO for Missouri and JO for the first two letters of his name.
“I was so lucky to be here, and fortunate that good friends made this happen for me and my wife and daughter,” Watson said. “I’ve always wanted to be at Senior Night, but I never thought I would make it.
“I have a lot of wonderful memories about UK basketball, but this will now be at the top. I know this young man and followed his career. I used to tell everybody I watched Senior Night on TV and cried. Tonight I got to cry in Rupp Arena. There have been a lot of highs for me following Kentucky basketball, but this is so, so special. It really was a dream come true for me.”
And that’s why there’s nothing quite like Senior Night at Kentucky.