Voice of Cats makes stop in Hopkinsville

Bryan Edwards | Kentucky New Era

Kentucky radio announcer Tom Leach speaks to an audience at the Planter's Bank-Jennie Stuart Sportsplex Hopkinsville on Wednesday afternoon.

Longtime voice of the Kentucky Wildcats Tom Leach visited Hopkinsville on Wednesday evening as WHOP hosted "An Evening with Tom Leach" at the Planters Bank-Jennie Stuart Sportsplex in Hopkinsville.

Leach reminisced on his days getting into broadcasting, but a lot of the focus was on the Wildcats and the stories he had while covering them.

"There is no greater common thread, common denominator, whatever you want to call it, than the Wildcats," Leach said. "You can be in Hopkinsville, you can be from Asheville -- Pikeville to Paducah as coach Cal likes to say and everywhere in between, and strike up a conversation about this game Saturday night. I'm sure of it."

With Saturday being the big matchup between Kentucky and Florida, a lot of what Leach talked about in the beginning was about the football program and Saturday's game.

The play-by-play announcer said he is unsure about what will happen Saturday, due to the injury to UK starting quarterback Terry Wilson and Sawyer Smith slotting into Wilson's role for the game, as well as the rest of the year.

"Saturday is just an unknown about Sawyer Smith -- how he's going to respond in this situation," he said. "I think the crowd will certainly help being at home. But just that unknown

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with Sawyer. I'm not as optimistic as I would have been with Terry, but it's unknown. Maybe we'll see Sawyer step in and do well like Stephen Johnson did a couple of years ago. If you look at Stephen's resume vs. Sawyer's resume, Sawyer's is more impressive in terms of what he's done already vs. what Stephen had done to that point. The difference is Stephen then went out and produced and now that's the challenge that faces Sawyer.

"Like Stephen, and probably more so than Stephen, has probably an even better supporting cast around him when you look at receivers, offensive line, etcetera."

A win on Saturday would affirm several things surrounding the Kentucky football program, which Leach said has some of its best talent since the 70s, primarily on the offensive and defensive fronts.

"It would make quite a strong statement about where this program is, not just this team," he said. "It would say a lot about the depth of talent and the quantity of talent that they have ... This is the best collection of talent on the offensive and defensive lines that Kentucky has probably had since those teams in the late 70s."

With the way the program is trending, Leach said he believes head coach Mark Stoops is building something in Lexington that all of Big Blue Nation should be proud of.

"Everybody always worries about him leaving because the Kentucky football job is not viewed as the Kentucky basketball job yet, but he's put down some strong roots," Leach said of Stoops. "He seems to really like the community. They compensate him well, they enable him to pay his assistants well so he can keep a good staff (and) they've upgraded facilities. As long as all that's going, I think the pool of people that could lure him away is a lot more shallow than a lot of people might think."

But talking to the voice of the Wildcats wouldn't be complete without talking about basketball.

Leach shared stories about his times with former players and coaches throughout the years.

He said current head coach John Calipari is both the easiest and hardest coach to interview and added that the interviews are different at home games when compared to road games.

"He's going to go where he wants to go," Leach said. "If you'll notice on postgame interviews, I'll usually start out with something like, 'Cal, what did you see tonight?' And let him kind of go and then I will kind of take my cue off of where he goes, then I can kind of see what's on his mind and have some follow-ups related to that."

While some things stay the same year-to-year with the Kentucky basketball program, one of the things Leach hopes will return one day is the Wildcats' historic rivalry with Indiana.

"I can understand why they don't go back, it was a little scary," Leach said. "I remember when we walked in (to Assembly Hall), Mike (Pratt) and I, and Jim Barnhart, the guy that's out producer and engineer now. We got there three hours before tip-off. There was a line of students outside as we were walking in -- they were cussing us. So we knew they were going to be revved up if they were after us three hours before the game.

"I hope it goes back. I like the Kentucky (and) Indiana series. I think probably for younger fans, it's not that big a deal because Indiana is not really relevant right now. If they can hopefully get it back, then maybe we'll get the series back at some point."

Having been the play-by-play announcer for Kentucky football since 1997 and Kentucky men's basketball since 2001, Leach has been the main voice for most of the Wildcats' biggest moments of this century.

While the NCAA Tournament run in 2014 and Kentucky football besting No. 1 LSU in 2007 were two huge moments in his broadcasting career, Leach shared his favorite broadcasting moments to date.

"The football (moment), it's Benny Snell's touchdown I think last year in the bowl game to put them ahead seemingly at that point put the game away -- as it turned out it didn't," Leach said. "To go up 17, look like they're going to win the Citrus Bowl and that run made him the all-time leading rusher. So that was a pretty cool moment. Up until that game, it was when they beat the number one team in the country in triple overtime.

"It has to be the championship game (for basketball) to kind of get in that club. When you're a Kentucky announcer, you kind of expect you're going to call at least one or two championships. I started in 2001 and they didn't make it to a Final Four until 2011. The next year they were there and they won the championship. So that's the one that stands out in basketball."

Through all of the great moments in the 21st century for the Wildcats, Leach's voice can be heard and remembered in nearly all of them. As he has for the last 22 years, he will be in his box to broadcast the game between Kentucky and Florida at Kroger Field on Saturday.

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