“Glad to see you here tonight,” I said to Karri Bentley. “How are things?”
“How did the finals leave you this year?”
“Disappointed. I’m a sucker for the Heat.”
An avid basketball enthusiast, Karri may be the UAB Blazers’ biggest fan. She doesn’t have the sash or tiara, but she’s often been referred to as “Miss UAB.” It wasn’t her alma mater – Karri is an alumna of Brenau University where she double-majored in marketing and music – but the self-described controlled free spirit who never meets a stranger grew up cheering for UAB and never grew out of it.
“We’ve been season ticket holders since I was in middle or high school,” she said as Emsworth placed a red velvet cupcake before her.
“What’s your earliest UAB memory?” I asked.
“Probably the chicken.”
She looked incredulous. “You don’t remember the chicken?”
“No, but I didn’t grow up here.”
“The chicken was the mascot for a while. He was this big orange and yellow bird, and I remember being a little scared of him.”
“Blaze must be a friendlier mascot.”
Karri nodded as she bit into red velvet.
“Did you play basketball in school?” I asked.
“In middle school and the beginning of high school at Ramsay. But I was doing music, sports, and dance, and my mom said I had to pick just one. I knew basketball was a hobby that wouldn’t take me to a career. Music was the best possibility. I thought I wanted to be on Broadway.”
“Well, it obviously served you well in college. Do you still perform?”
“The occasional wedding,” she said, taking a sip of her latte.
“How you feeling about UAB’s future? On the court, I mean.”
“My hopes are always high for the Blazers at the start of each season, though I had hoped we would have gone out with more of a bang than a whimper this past season. We were like March and came in like a lion and out like a lamb. But it’s good to see there’s a strong bench full of younger guys who are going to be the stars of the future. And I really like Coach (Jerod) Haase. He’s a good leader, and he inspires confidence in his players. He brings excitement to Birmingham.”
“Do you prefer college basketball to pro?”
“I do. I think it’s more exciting. The NBA is pure entertainment. It’s all about money. With college, there’s more on the line. For some of the guys, they’re playing for their future.”
Karri didn’t hesitate. “There is. We always sit with the same group of people. We all have to be there, my dad has his lucky sweatshirt on, and I’m feeding off the crowd and the players. I get loud. The next day, I’m often hoarse. Although I cheer almost as loud at home as when I’m at a game.”
“What’s your position in the debate about whether college athletics are overemphasized?”
“Tough question,” she said. “For colleges, a good athletic program can be a good thing. It’s part of a thriving student life, and people often pick where they go to college based on what there is to do outside of class.”
“And as for the die-hard fans…?”
“Well, people like to be a part of something that’s bigger than they are. During a game, they can get out of what’s going on in their own lives. Unfortunately, I think too many people make it their lives.”
“Another cupcake, Ms. Bentley?” Emsworth said, offering said pastry on his tray.
“I shouldn’t,” Karri said as she smiled up at him. “But since you’re already here with it…”