Back-seat writer: Running blog of UK’s trophy tour (LINK TO FAN PHOTOS)

Attention, fans: If you had your picture taken at one of the stops on the UK Men’s Basketball Championship Trophy Tour presented by Verizon Wireless, you can download any of Chet White’s photos for free at chetwhite.zenfolio.com. Photos will be available to download within the next couple of days. The photos are available for download only.

For more behind-the-scenes access, make sure you’re following the site’s Twitter account, @CoachCalDotCom, and of course, Coach Cal’s Twitter account, @UKCoachCalipari.

Day one

Chet White’s UK Athletics photo gallery

Fasten your seatbelts and get comfortable. CoachCal.com is along for the ride as John Calipari and his staff takes the national championship trophy on a statewide tour.

From Pikeville to Paducah and select stops in between, the Kentucky basketball staff will make several stops over the next two days throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky on the UK Men’s Basketball National Championship Trophy Tour presented by Verizon Wireless.

Fans will have photo opportunities with the trophy beginning on Thursday in Eastern Kentucky, where the tour will begin with three separate stops. On Friday, the tour will hit four cities in Central and Western Kentucky. At each stop, Coach Cal will address the fans.

The tour will conclude on Saturday at Verizon retail stores in Lexington (Hamburg) and Louisville (Old Brownsboro Crossing). These stops will be the trophy only.

A complete schedule of the tour can be found here.

If you can’t make it to one of the stops, don’t worry, CoachCal.com has you covered. I will be conducting a running blog of sorts – kind of a stop-by-stop journal, if you will – during the tour to keep you up to date with what’s going on.

Since it’s the first time anybody on this tour has done anything like this, we’re not entirely sure what to expect, but I hope to produce some written observations, videos, photos, etc.

It will be informal throughout and a collection of random items, but by the end, I think you will enjoy. Stay tuned.

Thursday 10 a.m. ET (Lexington): And we’re off! Riding in the comfort of a Blue Grass Tours luxury bus, we departed the Joe Craft Center just before 10 a.m. for the first of three stops Thursday. Our first stop is Ashland, Ky., home of Wildcat legend Larry Conley.

We’ve got 13 people on board the bus, including Coach Cal, his staff, Matt Jones from Kentucky Sports Radio and Steve Moss from WKYT. Nothing too exciting happening on the way to Ashland, but we’ll have some content for you after our first stop.

For those fans who get a picture with Coach at one of the stops, you can order photos at chetwhite/zenfolio.com. Photos will be available to order within the next couple of days. The staff also plans on handing out some of the national championship posters UK handed out at the national title celebration at Rupp Arena last week.

Just to give you a perspective of what we’re riding on, here are a couple of shots of the bus. As you can tell from the photo, the bus has a couple new decorations to celebrate the national championship.

Thursday 10:37 a.m. ET (on the way to Ashland): What’s a trophy tour without the trophy? The national title hardware is buckled up and in the front seat of the bus.

Thursday 1:15 p.m. ET (Ashland) – We just finished up our first stop in Ashland, Ky. Hard to describe how crazy the scene was at the local Kroger.

There were at least a thousand people there, if not more. The staff distributed 1,000 championship posters and those were all gone in minutes.

Coach Cal, as he will at every stop, walked along the line of fans with the national championship trophy and posed with as many fans as he could. Meanwhile, the assistant coaches and the rest of the staff walked through the crowd and signed T-shirts, posters, basketballs, etc.

Before that, Calipari spoke to the crowd and talked about what made this year’s team so special while thanking the fans for their support. He also read an excerpt from a fan’s comment on the website that was from Ashland. We’ll have videos and pictures of all that in a little bit. On the way to Pikeville, Ky.

Thursday 1:20 p.m. ET (on the way to Pikeville) – Some pictures from Chet White from UK Athletics:

Thursday 1:30 p.m. ET – (gas station on the way to Pikeville) – Wanting to make a pit-stop to surprise a few fans, Coach Cal had the bus pull over at an Exxon gas station and Taco Bell. Two guys, sitting out front on rocking chairs, posed with Calipari for a photo before Calipari went inside to the Taco Bell.

One of the guys at the gas station – we believe his name was Woody – comes to the gas station every day and sits in the same UK rocking chair with his name on it.

Inside Taco Bell was a West Virginia fan who said, “Bob Huggins said hello.”

Calipari, a good friend of Huggins, smiled and said, “He’s a good man. It’s too bad we didn’t play them or we would have beat them too.”

Thursday 2 p.m. ET (on the way to Pikeville) – Here are a few videos from Ashland. The first one is a brief interview Matt Jones did with Calipari, the second one is the entrance from the bus and the third is some of Coach Cal’s speech to the crowd.

Thursday 4 p.m. ET (Pikeville) – Just finished up in Pikeville, where an even bigger crowd than Ashland greeted Coach Cal and his staff at the Paul Patton Pavilion in the center of town.

Before talking to the fans again, Calipari was presented the key to the city, the picture of which you can see below in another gallery by Chet.

Since the Pavilion had a stage, fans filed on stage in groups of 10 to have their picture with the trophy and staff. I was busy trying to get fans through the photo line, but no amount of work could overshadow the atmosphere we have seen so far. When we took the left-hand turn into Pikeville and fans saw the bus, the roar was like someone just hit a game-winner in Rupp.

Thursday 4:35 p.m. ET (Martin, Ky.) – Calipari’s wife, Ellen, was getting hungry, so Coach Cal asked Stan, the bus driver, to stop at the next fast food place he saw. Fortunately for Ellen, a McDonald’s popped up a few minutes later in the small Eastern Kentucky town of Martin, Ky.

Coach Cal surprised the McDonald’s workers by taking the trophy inside and posing with a picture at the counter.

You can read more about the story here.

By the way, Coach Cal’s wife has been a trooper so far. She has stood by her husband for every single picture during the day, and I’d estimate they’ve taken at least — and I’m being safe with that estimate — 200 pictures at this point with one more stop to go Thursday.

photo by Chet White

Overall, it’s been a pretty laid-back atmosphere on the bus. A little bit of talking, a little bit of resting and a lot of honking. Rarely does 20 minutes or so go by without a car or a truck driving past as someone honks the horn. The details of the tour weren’t released until late Tuesday night, but word had spread fast around Kentucky, plus it was hard to miss the big blue bus with “2012 National Champions” on the side.

Here’s the video from Coach Cal’s speech in Pikeville. If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a thousand times — the man gets it. Have  a listen:

Thursday 5 p.m. ET (approaching Hazard): Coach Cal talked with Jones again after making two of the three stops slated for Thursday. Video below, as well as video of Calipari’s speech in Pikeville:

Thursday 6:35 p.m. ET (on the way back to Lexington): Wow, what a day. Everyone on Thursday’s tour had an idea of what we would be driving into, but I don’t think anyone was prepared for what we saw.

After seeing an estimated crowd of 1,500 at Kroger in Ashland and 2,000 in Pikeville, there was an estimated 3,000 people waiting for the bus to arrive at a park in Hazard. Nestled between a line of trees with a few hills in the background, Coach Cal took pictures with every single one of the people there, including a guy with a prosthetic leg painted in UK colors.

Given the pace at which we had to shuffle fans through the picture line, this picture is pretty impressive from Chet White. As Coach Cal said in a tweet, it sums up what Kentucky and this tour is all about:

Thursday 8:30 p.m. ET (Joe Craft Center, Lexington): Eleven hours since we left Lexington, we’ve arrived back at the Joe Craft Center. Everyone’s a little tired and headed home for some rest, but Coach Cal said it best as we left the bus: “Great day today. We made a lot of people happy today.”

We will have more Friday during the tour to Western Kentucky. The tour will start in Frankfort before heading west for Elizabethtown, Owensboro and Paducah. Coach Cal asked his followers on Twitter on Thursday if Western Kentucky could top the Eastern Kentucky turnout. We’ll find out Friday.

For now, here are a few more shots from Chet from the Hazard stop.

Day two

Britney McIntosh’s day two photo gallery

Friday 10:45 a.m. ET (on the way to Midway, Ky.) — All aboard!

Day two of the the UK Men’s Basketball National Championship Trophy Tour presented by Verizon Wireless has started in a fashion that only Coach Cal and R.J. Corman Railroad could produce.

Comfortably seated aboard one of Rick Corman’s luxurious trains, we’re on our way to Midway, Ky., for a brief whistle stop before heading to the the capital of the state, Frankfort.

Former coach Joe B. Hall, who won a national championship at Kentucky in 1978, is on board, along with Herky Rupp, son of legendary coach Adolph Rupp. Both are currently sitting aboard the train reminiscing over stories, talking about this year’s team and enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime tour. I hope to get a video interview of them up in just a little bit.

Corman, who owns the railroad company, is also on board and wearing some colors he almost never dons. Corman, whose trains are famously painted bright red, rarely wears blue. Upon greeting Coach Cal and his staff Friday morning, he was wearing his signature R.J. Corman red hat.

Calipari asked him what he had to do to get him in blue, and Corman opened up his jacket to reveal a UK polo. After settling in on the train, Coach Cal tried to explain to all of us that it took a national championship and a tour like Friday’s to get him in blue.

Now, on to a few pictures I snapped this morning:

Friday 1:36 p.m. ET (on our way to Elizabethtown, Ky.): Sorry for the delay on updates, folks. It’s the first time since the last post I’ve had a chance to sit down and write.

What’s happened in between however, may have been the most special part of the trip. I’ve used the word unbelievable a lot already on this tour, but the stop in Midway was truly special. It’s what the state of Kentucky is all about.

Like something from a presidential whistle stop in the 1930s and ’40s, we slowed down and came to a stop in the center of Midway, a small town in the heart of Kentucky in between Lexington and Frankfort. With the train stopped on the tracks, buildings on both sides of the train, and hundreds of people lined down the tracks for a football field or more, the mayor of Midway pronounced it Kentucky Wildcat Day.

Children — who had the day off because of the stop — were ushered onto the train where they took a picture with Coach Cal and the trophy. Calipari then made another speech (I’ll post video of that as soon as I can get it to upload) to hundreds of screaming fans.

Paying tribute to the coaches before him, Calipari said Kentucky basketball did not start, three, five or 10 years ago, but rather in the 1930s when Herky’s father, Adolph Rupp, took over. He said it was fortified by coaches like Hall, who had the unlucky task of following Rupp, and yet still kept the program going.

Calipari has been in and eaten in Midway before, but being back and standing on the back of the train brought him back memories of growing up in Pennsylvania. Once again, he thanked the fans and said Midway might have been the best stop yet. Here are the photos from there.

More on Frankfort in a little bit.

Photos from Britney McIntosh

Friday 2:05 p.m. ET (getting close to Elizabethtown): Here’s a video interview Matt Jones and Steve Moss did with Hall and Rupp in Midway. Again, we’ll have more videos later on once we get better wireless:

Friday 2:30 p.m. (just outside of Elizabethtown): A few more photos from Britney. I’ll get into the details about Frankfort once we get done in Elizabethtown, but these pictures are from Frankfort.

Friday 4:15 p.m. ET (leaving Elizabethtown): The last two stops probably deserve a little bit more text, but I’ve only got so much time in between in stops while juggling several other things, so here are the Cliff’s notes.

Our short train ride ended in the middle of Frankfort in front of the Old Capitol Annex. The crowd, an estimated 3,000-4,000 people, covered the lawn in front of the building where a podium sat on the top of the stairs and a band played in the background.

Gov. Steve Beshear was the first to greet Coach Cal before he and the coaching staff walked up to the front of the crowd to address them once again. In introducing Calipari, Beshear said he’s never seen a more talented team but said it didn’t matter because the players played as a team. He said they checked their egos at the door to bring a championship back to Kentucky.

After taking pictures in groups of 20, everyone got back on the bus we were on Thursday to head to Elizabethtown.

Things were rather quiet on the way to Elizabethtown until we decided to stop at a Shoney’s just outside of the city. The waitresses inside the restaurant were genuinely surprised and ecstatic when Coach Cal walked through the door with the trophy, but the moment of the trip (at least in terms of humor) came when the owner of the store popped out of the kitchen and said, “Coach, are you here because you heard about the remodel?”

Everyone, including Cailpari, started bursting out into laughter. Coach Cal immediately put it up on Twitter, and with the help of Jones, the Twitter hash tag #shoneysremodel has taken on a life of its own.

But back to the tour.

We arrived at the E-town Kroger at about 3:40 p.m. ET. We were expecting it to be one of the smaller crowds of the tour, but we were dead wrong. A couple of lights down from the store, we looked through the front of the window and saw a sea of blue. No blacktop from the parking lot — just blue. Once again, at least 3,000 people were there, and Coach shuffled people through the line for autographs.

After Coach Hall was pulled from a crowd from followers, he plopped down in his seat and let out a huge sigh of relief. Hall insisted to Calipari that he come on the daylong trip, but I don’t think he knew how crazy it was going to be. It may have been a couple of decades since he coached, but it was never more evident than Friday that he’s still a star in the Commonwealth.

On to a few more photos from Britney McIntosh:

Friday 4:47 p.m. ET (on the way to Owensboro, Ky.): Finally, here is the video from the whistle stop in Midway, as well as the crazy process for trying to get 3,000 people or more to take pictures with Calipari and the trophy in less than an hour.

Assistant coach Orlando Antigua was the star of the photo line in Elizabethtown. While signing autographs and taking pictures, Antigua shuffled people through the line while yelling out, “CoachCal.com! Little ones in the front!” As in, head to CoachCal.com to find the link to the fan photos, and children in the front of the group picture. As someone who has helped with the photo line multiple times on the trip, let me be the first to say that it’s not an easy process. Well done, Coach O.

Friday 7:15 p.m. ET (leaving Owensboro): There’s always a story, right?

Even though we’ve been doing this for nearly two days now, doing the same thing at each stop, there always seems to be a new — and funny — story at each city.

This time, with about 4,000 people packed at the local Kroger parking lot, we had our first canine visitors get their picture with Calipari. That’s right, a couple of people brought two HUGE dogs. I don’t know what breed they were, but as Calipari tweeted, they were nearly the size of horses.

For another example of the organized chaos that we experience at each stop, check out this video shot by Jones. Really, I’m not that mean as I seem in the video — I promise.

After that, Calipari and his wife got the urge for some Orange Leaf so we made a quick pit-stop at the store on the way out of the city. Either it was the worst-kept secret in town that we were going to stop or some people took a chance and assumed he’d get a craving because tons of people were waiting for him in the store.

Now we’re on our way to Paducah, Ky., for the last stop of Friday’s trophy tour. After two days of this, we’re all a little tired and ready for bed, but everyone, especially Coach Hall and Ellen, are pushing through.

And I haven’t forgot about those other couple of videos I promised. Connection hasn’t been good enough to upload them. They’ll be up before I close this thing out. Stay tuned.

Friday 7:30 p.m. ET (on the way to Paducah): Some pictures from Owensboro, including one of the local police officers. Coach Cal wanted to make sure I got out there how thankful he is for the police officers for their help and the hospitality of the Kroger stores. Four of the seven stops with Coach Cal were at a Kroger store.

The first two pics are from Britney, the second two are from me.

8:30 p.m. ET (just outside of Paducah): Before we get to our last stop, here are two videos from much earlier in the day. The first one is Calipari’s speech at Midway, and the second one is an interview Matt Jones did with Coach Cal on the way to Owensboro.

Friday 11:37 p.m. (in Lexington): Nearly 1,000 miles, seven cities, too many restroom breaks to count and thousands of pictures later, the first two days of the UK Men’s Basketball National Championship Trophy Tour is over.

By train, plain and automobile – quite literally, we used all three forms of transportation after flying back from Paducah Friday night – the trophy has been all around the Commonwealth.

We finished up in Paducah just before 10 p.m. ET. Another couple thousand showed up, but for the first time we did everything underneath the lights. Before arriving, Coach Cal soaked in the Portland-Houston NBA game on the bus and gushed about two of his former players, Patrick Patterson and Marcus Camby.

The national championship trophy will continue on Saturday with stops at Verizon Wireless stores in Lexington (Hamburg from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and Louisville (Old Brownsboro Crossing from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.), but the tour has ended for Coach Cal and the staff.

After two long days, it’s time for a break and time for us all to recharge our batteries.

When we started on this tour we had an idea that there would be a lot of people at the stops, but we had no clue we’d see 10s of thousands of people in two days, with just about every one of them getting their picture taken with Calipari and the trophy.

As you can tell from this super long post, it’s been a humbling experience for Coach Cal and his staff, one that’s reminded Calipari just how important the program is to the people of Kentucky. Near the end of the trip, Calipari talked about the genuine happiness he saw in people’s faces, and though he was only able to snap a quick picture with everyone, he was grateful he got to take the trophy around to the people of the Bluegrass.

From someone who sees Coach Cal on a daily basis, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him laugh or smile as much as I did Thursday and Friday. Coach Hall had the time of his life.

Before I finally close this down, I want to thank everyone who followed along the last two days. There were countless wireless issues on the way, lots of caffeine, and I’m sure plenty of typos on my part, but I hope you got an inside view of what it was like to be along for the ride of a national championship trophy tour.

Some final photos from Britney McIntosh. I’ll put a photo gallery up of all of her selected photos Saturday morning. Don’t forget to click the link up top for downloadable images.