“The Sixth Man”: A love letter to citizens of Big Blue Nation

Posted on
Robbie Clark

New documentary focuses on obsessive UK basketball fans

sixth man - epperson

Director Jason Epperson interviewing a UK fan for "The Sixth Man"

When the film company producing “The Sixth Man: Rise of the Big Blue Nation,” a new documentary about the University of Kentucky Men’s Basketball team’s irrepressible fan base, first started shooting footage for the movie at the beginning of the 2010-11 season, they decided to put the project on the back burner for the time being. Everybody involved with 4 Rocket Surgeons, the production company that includes director Jason Epperson and producers Lee Cruse, Steve Bates, and Tim Bates, didn’t have the time necessary to dedicate to a feature documentary; besides, after the exodus of the previous team, which saw five players enter the NBA Draft after the end of the season, expectations weren’t very high for the following season.

sixth man: producers

"The Sixth Man" producers (from left to right) Lee Cruse, Tim Bates and Steve Bates. With the director, they formed the 4 Rocket Surgeons production company.

As their luck would have it, the team, led by freshman Brandon Knight and ascendent senior Josh “Jorts” Harrelson, shocked the sports world by progressing all the way to the Final Four in the 2011 NCAA Tournament. While the Big Blue Nation, as the legion of local and far-flung Wildcat basketball fans are known, relished in their team’s success through an emotional season, those involved with “The Sixth Man” were kicking themselves for the missed opportunity.

The director and the producers vowed they wouldn’t sit another season out, and cameras were rolling even before the 2011-12 season began, beginning with the hoopla surrounding fans trying to get tickets to Big Blue Madness – the first public showcase for the men’s and women’s basketball teams. Any citizen of the Big Blue Nation knows the story line: led by freshmen Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the Wildcats not only made a return appearance to the Final Four, they cut the nets down in New Orleans as the tournament champions. And the filmmakers were there to document fans’ fervor.

“We got lucky,” said Cruse, a popular media personality in the Lexington area, “like catching lightning in a bottle.”

Cruse was approached by the director and other producers to help make a movie about UK, even before a specific focus for the movie was established.

“We knew we wanted to do something on UK, but we wanted it to be different,” Epperson said. “There’s been a ton of documentaries about the players, about the program, about Rupp. Those movies have all been done. We didn’t want to do the same movie.”

About Robbie Clark

Robbie Clark is the editor-in-chief of Chevy Chaser and Southsider magazines. He can be contacted at (859) 266-6537.
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