When KySportsStyle.com Magazine's own Jamie H. Vaught came out with his first published book in 16 years, it’s big news! Jamie’s fifth book, Chasing the Cats: A Kentucky Basketball Journey, was published several weeks ago, and it seemed like a great time to get the inside story for our readers.
For a guy who is usually on the interviewing side of the microphone, Jamie’s insights were almost as much fun as the book itself. In full disclosure, yes, Jamie is the editor of our website. I’m the contributing editor. I also still had hair in 2003 when he wrote his last book. But I’ve read all five, and enjoyed my run through Chasing the Cats.
Here’s what Jamie had on his mind when I slowed him down for a brief moment.
Q: It had been a long time since your last book. What persuaded you to come back to write another one?
A: There is no question that I love writing about sports. As you know, this is my first book in 16 years. I already had lots of material to work with that I could use for the new book and I already knew some of the people who were featured this time. So, I thought, 'Why not?' and that made my job much easier. Also, it kept my mind busy from other things and that's healthy. It was a fun project overall.
Q: How long had you been working on this book? I know you had some family help in the endless jobs of transcribing and editing down material. Could you talk a little about the process for assembling Chasing the Cats?
A: I started the book around 2017. To jump start the manuscript, I began to develop a mental list of former players and student managers that I’d like to feature. Since I had already knew some of them, it was pretty easy to get in touch and that helped tremendously. I did some research and reviewed background materials before interviewing them. I could have interviewed several others but the manuscript would never get it done. Unfortunately, I had to stop somewhere.
Q: Chasing the Cats follows the same format as your other books -- I've described the series to a friend as Wildcat Profiles in Courage. Did you think about a different format or do you especially enjoy the profile approach to your subjects?
A: I didn’t think about using a different format for this book. Since the other books did well, I continued the same arrangement in featuring different people who are associated with the program and I like it. And the readers can go from chapter 1 to chapter 12 and then back to Chapter 3, for example. They don’t have to read the book in orderly fashion as all chapters are pretty much self-contained.
Q: As usual, the book is an incredible panorama of UK-related people -- from legends like Cliff Hagan, Kenny Walker, and Jeff Sheppard to some more obscure stories. I know I particularly enjoyed the chapter on former EKU Coach Dan McHale. Whose your pick for the story that will surprise most of the hardcore UK fans?
A: Oh, boy! That’s a very difficult question. I think each chapter has a couple of interesting stories or tidbits that the Wildcat fans may not know about. For example, some Wildcat faithful may not realize that Coach Rupp’s grandson was a big fan of the Tennessee Volunteers.
Q: You profiled John Calipari in this book, and you interviewed Tubby Smith and Rick Pitino for some of the previous books. How were the three similar or different to talk with?
A: When I interviewed Coach Pitino at Memorial Coliseum during his early days at UK, he for some reason wasn’t in a real good humor or mood at the beginning. His team must have had a horrible practice that day but I don’t know. But he began to open it up more as the interview went on. So, the 45-minute interview went very well and I was pleased.
As for Coach Smith, he was awesome. When I first arrived at his office, he asked if I wanted a Coke or something. He sure made you feel comfortable. It was a very pleasant interview. He was a true gentleman. I also interviewed his wife for another book. Like her husband, Donna was enjoyable.
Since Coach Cal has such a crazy schedule, it wasn’t easy to get a face-to-face interview with him in Lexington as I live over two hours away and his schedule could change in the last minute. UK publicist Eric Lindsey was helpful and somehow managed to set up the interview. Anyhow, Coach Cal was great and we discussed mainly about his early days in his hometown of Pittsburgh.
Q: You talked with a couple of figures who people around UK hoops might blow hot and cold on. How'd you decide to talk with Dale Brown (of LSU fame) and Dick Vitale?
A: Another good question. I have always liked Coach Brown even though his Tigers have beaten UK quite a bit. He is colorful and outspoken. I believe he has read my columns in The Cats’ Pause during my old days and other outlets. He has said he likes my writing style. I remember my boss (Oscar Combs) would have long conversations with him on the phone many times (during the pre-Internet days).
After numerous emails, Coach Brown and I finally met face to face for the first time about nine years ago at Rupp Arena when LSU visited UK and we later had an email interview. That interview or story, though, wasn’t for the book at the time. Later, I decided to include him in the book because he is such an interesting fellow who really respects UK basketball and Coach Cal. While working on the book, I had another interview – face to face – with him in Lexington in addition to emails.
Coach Brown was very cooperative and helpful throughout the book project. I often emailed a question or two to him and he has never failed to respond. By the way, he just congratulated me recently when the book was published.
Like Coach Brown, Dick Vitale was awesome and very helpful. Interviewed him at his Florida home near St. Petersburg and we stayed in touch via emails and during his TV assignments in Lexington. He likes UK basketball and Coach Cal. And he is a good man even though some fans don’t care for his announcing style. He is one of the leading faces or supporters of college basketball, and I’m glad to have him in the book.
Q: Do you think you'll do another book in the near future? Anybody who you've thought, "Darn, I wish I'd gotten him or her for this book!" who might be featured if there is another one?
A: If I do another UK basketball book down the road, it would be after I retire from teaching at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College. UK Football would be a possibility in the future. But right now, it's hard to find the time between family, teaching, covering the football and basketball Wildcats as a sportswriter in addition to managing my sports website.
As you can tell, it was very difficult to find the time (for the book). I was able to get a lot of work done during the summer months when I am off from teaching. Yes, there is a person or two that I wish I had him for the book, but I’d rather not mention their names.
Q: When and where can folks buy the book? What signings are scheduled or in the works?
A: They can purchase the book in various ways. The fans can buy it online at AcclaimPress.com (publisher), Amazon.com and BN.com (Barnes & Noble), or they visit major bookstores. Or they personally can get a signed copy from me. Just check with me via Facebook, Twitter, or email at KySportsStyle@gmail.com (with book as the subject heading).
Before the current virus outbreak, we had three successful signings in Middlesboro, Lexington and Somerset. I'm very humbled for that and it was great seeing old friends and meeting the Kentucky Wildcat fans. It was a lot of fun. The two other signings at Joseph-Beth and Barnes & Noble in Lexington were scheduled for March 21 but they have been postponed. We are hoping to have the signings rescheduled for early June.
Right now, it is a very sad time in our country, and we need to work and pray together as we go through this national crisis. While I feel awfully bad for the players, coaches and fans, I think the officials did the right thing about canceling the NCAA tournament and other sporting events. It is a very difficult time for us but we will be okay.
Joe Cox is contributing editor for KySportsStyle.com Magazine. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County and has written eight books. His most recent, "A Fine Team Man: Jackie Robinson and the Lives He Changed," was released in February 2019 and can be ordered on Amazon or at many local bookstores. Joe is an attorney and lives in Logan County with his wife and children. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org