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UK basketball: Where are they now? J. P. Blevins enjoys career beyond basketball

By Stephen Burnett
KYForward contributor


Former University of Kentucky men’s basketball player J. P. Blevins may have left Kentucky, but he has kept his Wildcat legacy with him. His phone number is the same. He still teaches summer basketball camps in the Bluegrass. And at his office in a North Carolina bank is recent addition proclaiming his allegiance.


“I went and bought an ‘UK: Eight National Championships’ sign, and I put that right on the outside where it’s impossible to miss,” Blevins said with a laugh.


Yet Kentucky may have only loaned Blevins to North Carolina. Someday he may return to the state of his birth and of his college basketball career, he said. Until then, he’s enjoying his work as a loan officer at Live Oak Bank in Wilmington. And he still enjoys keeping up with the team with which he grew up, and for whom he fulfilled a childhood dream by playing for.


“I grew up in a big sports family,” in Edmonton, Ky., Blevins explained. “My father had played college basketball and my oldest brother had played college basketball.


“When I was just about six years old, my oldest brother led our high school team to the state tournament. … I just always had a basketball in my hand. Basketball was almost my first love, and I was surrounded by people who knew how to play and would teach me the right way and also loved the game.”


J. P. Blevins.
(Photo from LiveInPursuit.com)

Getting older, Blevins began practicing more seriously. When he was in third or fourth grade, his father sent him to a UK basketball camp. There Blevins met the man he would nearly play for as a Wildcat: then-coach Rick Pitino, then new to the UK program.


“I just absolutely fell in love with the program,” Blevins said. “I pretty much said, ‘This is my dream.’ … After that time, that was just what I wanted to do. I went into my court every day in my backyard with a dream, and that was to put on that uniform one day.”


By seventh grade Blevins was playing on his varsity high school team. News articles promoted his high-scoring averages. Soon he began receiving recruitment letters. During his freshman year in high school, Blevins heard from UK for the first time.


“It really kind of picked up between my freshman and sophomore year, and then as a junior in high school, coach Pitino comes and watches me a few times, then offers me a scholarship,” he said.


But during Blevins’s junior year, Pitino left to coach the Boston Celtics.


“That was a big bummer for me,” Blevins said. “Kentucky was at the top of college basketball. We’d won it in ‘96, runner-up in ‘97. Coach Pitino was at the height and had kind of built an empire at that point. … I kind of fell in love with his coaching style, the way he developed guys, his system, the whole thing.”


Coach Tubby Smith arrived the next year, Blevins’s senior year, and stayed committed to fulfilling Blevins’s scholarship.


“Certainly the dream of playing at Kentucky outweighed the change of coach, in my mind, and I ended up coming on,” Blevins said.


“I grew up really different than most of the guys that end up playing there,” he said. “Like every Kentucky kid, I grew up a huge Kentucky fan. So as I was dreaming of playing for them, I was cheering just as hard. I lived and died by the games. The NCAA Tournament — watching them was just as nerve-wrecking for me as it was your die-hard Kentucky fan who’s your neighbor.”


On the team at last


His first season began in 1998, the year after Smith had won a seventh NCAA championship.


“I’ve been very blessed and very fortunate. … I got to do the one thing that I dreamed about doing more than any other,” he said. Blevins was able to walk into the Wildcats’ locker room, and pick up a new blue and white jersey that has “UK” on the front and “Blevins” on the back.


“When you spend every day of your childhood working towards your dream, and you get to fulfill it, and you get the experience that goes along with it, it’s just a really cool thing,” Blevens said.


At 6’2″, Blevins played guard, and in his own words, his UK career was a roller-coaster. During his freshman year he had little playint time. By his sophomore year, he was on the court more.


He said he especially remembers one game against Michigan State in December of his sophomore season when he was able to give UK the lead for good with a three-point basket in the second half.


Christmas that year with his family was certainly more enjoyable, Blevins said with a laugh.


Still, unlike many fans and players had hoped, Blevins’ career saw no NCAA tournament championships.


“But you know, you realize how hard it is to win it,” Blevins said. “Certainly I wished we could have done it, but it wasn’t in the cards.”


After the dream


Blevins’ major was communications. In 1999 he made athletics director’s honor roll. “I always made good grades, and I’ve always wanted to do well,” he said. “I made all As through high school; I only made one B or two.”


Yet he acknowledges that desire did not bear through.


“As much as I put forth academics to do well, it wasn’t at the top of my mind,” he said. “I can’t tell you that I went into that major with something dead-set in my mind that I wanted to do.”


Basketball was his focus. And after he graduated magna cum laude in 2001, he wasn’t sure what came next. He knew he could play for foreign teams, a path for many former Cats, but that didn’t interest him.


“I knew that after Kentucky, I would get out into the real world,” he said.


First Blevins went into pharmaceutical sales. He did well. But a year later then-Rep. Ernie Fletcher, running for state governor, asked Blevins to join his team. After Fletcher was elected, he recruited Blevins for a position in the Frankfort commerce cabinet. Blevins’ father had already been involved in politics for years and was county attorney for 36 years. That made Blevins interested to try politics beyond family dining-room discussions.


A couple of years into that job, Blevins started more businesses on the side. That included his Get the Edge basketball camp in Lexington, and speaking tours in Kentucky schools.


“I really enjoyed that, being able to share what I had learned and what I thought about a few things,” he said.


Eventually, Blevins faced a choice between his Frankfort job and basketball-themed work. He broke out on his own, only hosting camps and making speeches. By then he’d also gotten into trading and joined a company called Investools, training to be a stocks-trader and business entrepreneur. Finally in 2010, that side of his interests led him to the Wilmington-based bank.


A father of one of Blevins’ friends had started Live Oak Bank in 2007. It’s a niche bank, Blevins explained, which lends nationwide to specific industries and professionals such as veterinarians, independent pharmacists and funeral directors.


“It was an opportunity that I felt was fantastic,” Blevins said. “It’s a very unique business model. … It was an opportunity to go be around not only the most successful but some of the best people I’d ever known. … I decided to try it, even though I never wanted to leave Kentucky, never even pictured it in a million years.”


It also helps to have a house near the ocean, on the North Carolina coast, Blevins added. “If you’ve got to leave Kentucky … the beach is not that bad of a place.”


That did mean the end of his statewide speaking tours. Nevertheless, he could not keep away from Kentucky for long. Since 2010, every summer he has returned to host more basketball camps for a week at a time.


“I’m not married,” he added. “I look forward to that one day, but I’ve got nephews and nieces and I kind of live vicariously through my brother on that front.


“I really do enjoy it. I had the opportunity to learn under so many tremendous folks, and the bank has been tremendously successful, and we feel really good about where this is going.”


Coworkers know of his team allegiance, though — especially in an area full of North Carolina State University fans. (Duke fans number less, at least in his area of the state, he said.)


“I’ve got to keep some ties to Kentucky,” Blevins said. “Bumper stickers and all that. I have Kentucky gear in my office. There’s no mistaking where my loyalty lies.”


Yet it’s been enjoyable to break out of his own niche, to go beyond basketball and live in the moments beyond that fulfilled childhood dream, Blevins said.


“When you leave your comfort zone with everything that you’d ever known, you’re leaving family and friends, that is the tough thing,” he remarked. “But it also really does stretch you as a person, and I can definitely see a lot of growth.


“From the time that I was in sixth grade, I’ve always been associated with basketball. And when people see me, they want to talk ball. And that’s fine. I love to talk ball! But it’s kind of cool now to be in a place where nobody knows you. … It is kind of refreshing that the minute someone sees you, it’s not, ‘Oh, there’s a Kentucky basketball player.’ It’s kind of a weird thing, but kind of refreshing too. … I’m in a good spot. But I’m also never ruling out coming home.”

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