Capiloutos learn to bleed blue



By Rachel Aretakis

When students are grumbling about classes not being canceled, they may think the president isn’t a basketball fan.

But really, he and his wife might be the biggest fans of all.

“We haven’t missed a beat,” Dr. Mary Lynne Capilouto said. “I’ve been so impressed with the whole fan base. I mean, everyone is very respectful of the other teams and have been fun to be with.”

Though Eli and Mary Lynne Capilouto are new to the state and the university, they have caught on quickly to the strong athletic traditions here.

From football to the rifle team, the Capiloutos have been supporting UK athletics from the start.

Mary Lynne Capilouto said from their first time at Commonwealth Stadium, the experience has been fun.

They know the tradition runs deep, and have learned the true meaning of March Madness.

“All that magic and heart-felt appreciation for teams … that magic brings people together,” Eli Capilouto said.

And as the Capiloutos are huge sports fans, they also are the biggest supporters of the university as a whole.

Eli Capilouto said it is nice knowing that along with such great athletic success, the athletes are good students.

Among many other academic accomplishments, he said two-thirds of the programs have a 3.0 GPA or higher and the student athletes give back through service.

“That’s a very gratifying part of this as well,” he said.

His wife said athletics are just an added bonus to such a great university.

“The athletics are really like icing on the cake, it brings everyone together,” she said.

Other than attending practices and games for many of the university’s sports teams, the pair have gotten to know the coaching staff and support behind each team at UK.

“The coaches are a great set of human beings,” Mary Lynne Capilouto said. “They care about the athletes and are wonderful role models.”

A prime example of a great coach is in the scene when freshman forward Anthony Davis hurt his knee in UK’s game against Baylor in the Elite Eight, they said.

“Coach Cal walks over, puts his arm around him and kisses him on the forehead,” she said. “That says a lot about Coach Cal.”

Eli Capilouto joked that when it comes game time, he would give Anthony Davis a kiss just because.

After laughing for a few moments, Mary Lynne Capilouto said she would kiss his brow.

But all jokes aside, the two said it has been great meeting everyone involved with athletics.

“The biggest shock,” Mary Lynne Capilouto said, was “to walk into a room where they are standing right beside you … it’s really phenomenal their height and strength.”

She said she has enjoyed watching the players develop and work together as a team.

“They each have a special presence on the court, I think,” she said.

She also said she loves watching Calipari coach.

“Everybody says he is a great recruiter, but he is an exceptional coach,” she said.

Being from Alabama, the Capiloutos know what an intense in-state rivalry is like. So for the game Saturday against Louisville, they know all eyes are on Kentucky.

“I think it’s what makes college sports special,” Eli Capilouto said. “I think it’s what makes being a Kentuckian special.”

He said he had hoped UK would face Louisville in the final game, but said the Final Four is still “terrific for the state and brings lots of attention.”

Though the Capiloutos haven’t witnessed all of UK basketball history, they have learned quite a bit from being here for less than a year.

The president said he quickly learned not to mention UK’s 2004 NCAA loss to the University of Alabama-Birmingham, where he was provost before coming to UK.

He said he remembers only about 250 UAB fans in the crowd dominated by the Big Blue Nation.

But although UK lost, he said the fans “were great to us.”

And this past year, they have been able to experience the Big Blue Nation up close as members. Especially when they went to New Orleans.

“You realize the thousands of people that come just to share the moment. That was pretty thrilling,” Eli Capilouto said.

Other than men’s basketball, the couple also traveled with other teams and have been able to see what the teams are like behind the scenes.

“That’s been a real treat,” Eli Capilouto said.

When he traveled to Iowa for the women’s tournament, he said he received so many compliments on the team and everyone who supports them.

He said fans line up to greet and send off the players, and the players and coaches are courteous and respectful.

As the two head to New Orleans to cheer the Cats on, they will be some of the team’s greatest fans.

They reminded students to stay safe, and Eli Capilouto said he hopes there are no blemishes on the celebrations.

“I hope we celebrate, I hope we have fun,” he said, “and I hope everybody is going to take away from this memories that are going to be a part of Kentucky basketball that you can pass down.”