Sitting in his car and scrolling through his phone, CJ Fredrick watched the heartbreaking photos of the Eastern Kentucky flood and the devastation it wrought in the region.
One, in particular – a photo of an elderly woman, her whole house flooded, huddled in a sitting position to stay above the water – struck him.
“It kind of broke me,” Fredrick said Monday. “And that’s when I just said, ‘Man, we have to do something here. “”
The University of Kentucky basketball player spoke out less than a week after catastrophic flooding hit the eastern part of the state and on the eve of his team’s efforts to help. Fredrick was joined on the podium by British coach John Calipari and teammates Oscar Tshiebwe and Jacob Toppin.
Calipari paused for a moment as he told the story of the four children who were carried away by their parents and died in the floods. Toppin’s eyes watered and he choked on remembering a photo of a woman holding her dog on a roof, floodwaters surrounding them.
“I was devastated for her. For her family,” he said. “It can happen to anyone. It could happen to us. And it’s just by the grace of God that it doesn’t happen to us. So we should be grateful for that. But we must also keep these people in our prayers and pray for them. And just stay with them and make sure we can do all we can to help them through this.
What the UK basketball team will be doing is hosting a telethon and open practice at Rupp Arena on Tuesday night, with 100% of proceeds going to the American Red Cross to benefit flood-affected Kentuckians. .
Calipari is no stranger to such occurrences. He helped organize several telethons during his 13 years as Kentucky’s head coach.
In 2010 — a few months into its first season with the Wildcats — the program used a telethon to raise more than $1 million for Haiti earthquake victims. British Basketball also held telethons to help victims of Super Hurricane Sandy (2012), Hurricane Harvey (2017) and tornadoes in western Kentucky in December.
Fundraising for tornado relief in Western Kentucky is underway. Calipari and several UK players visited five Kroger stores last month as part of these ongoing efforts, and the program says it has already raised more than $5 million.
In the past, Calipari players have been eager to participate in the process. But, this time, the British coach has touted the “player-focused” approach to fundraising efforts.
“They would always want to know, ‘What are you doing, Coach?’ Because they knew I would do something,” he said of similar events in the past. “…It was totally different. That kind of got me.”
This time the players came to him.
Toppin credited Fredrick with getting the ball rolling with the team’s flood relief initiative. Fredrick acknowledged he was the first Wildcat to mention it, but he said his teammates were quick to come up with their own ideas and – by the time they went to Calipari with the plan – it had become a team effort.
Fredrick is from Cincinnati but played his high school ball at Covington Catholic, so he knows better than anyone what the British brand of basketball is capable of in times like these.
“And the first thing that came to mind was, ‘What can we do to help?’ Because the Kentucky brand — it’s a huge brand,” he said. “And I knew we could have an immediate impact. And you think about what Cal does in his leadership – that’s what he teaches us.
“I just thought it would be a great way to get the fans involved. … It would be good for everyone to come together right now. And I think that’s what everyone needed.
Kentucky Flood Relief Telethon
Calipari spoke with pride in highlighting his team’s “player-led” efforts.
“When you coach you try to give something to the players and then you see it on the pitch and you see them succeed – and it makes them smile. Nothing gets better,” he said. ground, when you try to give them things they can live with for the rest of their lives. …
“When they came to me, it was servant leadership in action. And that’s why I said, “That’s a big deal.”
Calipari wants to give Kentucky fans who show up to Rupp on Tuesday night a good show.
The British women’s basketball team will be present. Posters will be distributed. T-shirts with caricatures of current British men’s players are being printed, with some to be given out at open training. The rest will be sold online, with proceeds going to flood relief. The team has already collectively signed 100 basketballs – two of which were on display at Monday’s press conference – and these will be sold to benefit the efforts.
Calipari also teased “a really big announcement” that he said would be revealed at some point during the telethon.
He knows that much of the area is still without cell service or power, things far more important than basketball on their minds right now. If anyone affected by the floods can connect, the hope is that they will feel a sense of solidarity.
“What I’m hoping for is that they turn on the TV and see Rupp Arena. And they’re like, ‘Wow, these people care.’ And that state is like that,” Calipari said. “…Our state always passes.”
As of Monday afternoon, there were 35 confirmed deaths from flooding in eastern Kentucky. Rescue and recovery efforts are still ongoing. More storms are expected in the region later this week.
The Kentucky Flood Relief telethon will air from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on WLEX-18, with UK players and coaches taking calls for the first hour or so of the broadcast. At 6:30 p.m., free practice in Rupp will begin. Gates to the arena open at 5pm, admission and parking – in the High Street lot – will be free, and fans are encouraged to donate to flood relief efforts.
Training donations will be accepted at the entrances to Rupp Arena.
“Just come. Have fun with this team,” Calipari said. “Enjoy what they’re trying to do. Let’s give what we can give. can tell you is that you are doing it for the right reasons.
Those who want to donate to flood relief efforts don’t have to wait for the Tuesday night telethon to do so. Donations are accepted at Red Cross.org. People can also donate by mailing a check to the American Red Cross Bluegrass Chapter (Attn: Kentucky Floods), 1450 Newtown Pike, Lexington, KY 40511; or by calling (859) 787-0909.