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Kentucky Pride: Josh Hopkins' Roots Bleed Blue

Josh Hopkins, actor on the TV show "Cougar Town," greets the crowd during the second half of the UK vs. UT-Arlington game at Rupp Arena on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014 in Lexington, Ky. | PHOTO BY ADAM PENNAVARIA

From Hollywood to New York City to Texas, Josh Hopkins has lived all over the country and met some extraordinary people in his travels and career as an actor. He’s starred in the likes of "Cougar Town," "CSI: Miami," "Quantico" and more over his 26-year acting career, but he hasn’t forgotten where he came from.

“I just love where I'm from,” Hopkins said. “Lexington is one of the greatest places to grow up. I mean, it's family-friendly, but not isolated, and I just love it.”

Hopkins quickly grew an affinity for his home team, the University of Kentucky Wildcats. He grew up in the Joe B. Hall years and was enamored by the likes of Kyle Macy, Rick Robey and Jack “Goose” Givens.

Hopkins remembers asking his father why fans would boo Givens every time he made a play, only for his father to tell him they weren’t booing but collectively bellowing “Goose” at the Kentucky legend.

“I didn't really have a good enough sense as a normal human being to enjoy that,” Hopkins said with a laugh.

Once he gained that sense, he remembered crying when Kentucky played rival Louisville for the first time in 24 seasons and the game saw the Cardinals edge the Wildcats 80-68 in overtime in the Stokely Athletic Center in 1983. Hopkins recalls crying even harder the following season when Kentucky lost to the eventual national champions Georgetown, led by Patrick Ewing, in the Final Four where the Hoyas held the trio of Sam Bowie, Kenny Walker and Melvin Turpin to 19 points.

Two years later, that’s when Rex Chapman became a Wildcat — Hopkins' favorite Kentucky basketball player of all time. Thirty-five years later, the two would begin a podcast together: “The Rex Chapman Show.” They’ve come a long way since the start of their relationship.

“It started with me following him around the UK campus and following him around in the malls,” Hopkins said. “But that was my start of the relationship, not his start of the relationship.”

They really meshed once Chapman became prevalent on social media. The first time they met in person was during the 2012 National Championship game that saw Kentucky capture their eighth title in program history. Chapman bought the pair two tickets, and the rest was history.

“We were cemented as buddies at that point,” Hopkins said.

Now the two come together once a month to talk to world-class athletes as well as notable influencers such as Stephen Curry, Martina Navratilova, Isaiah Thomas and more. All episodes can be listened to on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and anywhere else podcasts are available.

Even though Hopkins has as much notoriety as Chapman these days, sometimes he sits back in awe of the relationship he now has with someone he looked up to growing up in Lexington.

“14-year-old me would freak out,” he said.

That’s just the basketball culture in Lexington, though. Kentucky’s fanbase, the Big Blue Nation, would travel to the moon to watch their beloved Cats play on the hardwood. The love starts early and that spark never goes away, Hopkins said. It’s because of his love for Kentucky basketball that he wanted to get into it as a teenager himself.

Hopkins graduated from Sayre High School where he played on the school’s basketball team. He said he wasn’t close to being an All-State selection, joking that he averaged four points, four rebounds and four turnovers a game for the Spartans.

“I probably was built better for baseball naturally, but basketball — it’s like, we're in Kentucky,” Hopkins said. “I just concentrated on that more because I loved it. You know, [Lexington was] where we were, so playing was a lot of fun.”

Hopkins recalled when his teammate David DeMarcus scored 59 points while making 17 three-pointers in a 119-36 stomping of Millersburg Military Institute on Valentine’s Day in 1989. That was a national record that stood for over two decades and has since been topped, but it still stands as a KHSAA record all these years later.

“He was Jimmy Chitwood,” Hopkins said. “He was a big, country, farmer boy, and he didn’t miss. Just being around that kind of guy, he was great and just kept catching fire, and it was a lot of fun.”

Hopkins may not have had the scoring prowess of DeMarcus, but he has one claim to fame: the inbound pass. Fake a pass to make a pass. “I'm just one of the greatest intuitive inbounders,” Hopkins said. “I think you're born with it, and I got it, so, I’m one hell of an inbounder. No one can deny.”

He was able to learn some of the more exciting aspects of basketball playing for the late Charlie Givens on the Salvation Army Lakers. While his experience with Sayre was a more traditional experience into the game of basketball, playing under Givens gave him a more streetball type of approach to the game.

The court inside the gym at Douglass Park on Georgetown Street felt like it was 110 degrees Fahrenheit, but as a 15-year-old kid, it felt amazing to Hopkins, like he could do anything. Even if he couldn’t jump high enough to dunk a ball, he felt like he could.

“That’s one kind of ball when you go and play with these guys where you're throwing alley-oops and stuff, that was different,” Hopkins said. “I made a lot of good friends there that I've kept in touch with for all these years.”

That was when Hopkins realized the many different cultures present in Lexington and learned not to be stuck in his one little bubble. Givens was instrumental in helping Hopkins realize the importance of parenting, patience and having social skills. He showed Hopkins that he needed to be willing to help those less fortunate and to treat everyone the way he expected to be treated.

“I treasure that experience,” Hopkins said.

After graduating from Sayre, Hopkins considered going to UK but thought better of it. He saw that as “big high school” and wanted to start fresh and go somewhere he could never know everyone, which is why he decided to go to Auburn University.

“About two years in, I was really kind of depressed at Auburn,” Hopkins said. “I was not doing anything toward an interest that I had, and so I left school. I didn't really know what I was going to do, but then I heard about Actors Theatre of Louisville.”

Nine men and nine women were selected into his class from their audition, and Hopkins made the cut. He calls it his biggest break in the acting business.

From there, he became an actor’s apprentice and was taking acting classes all while living on Muhammad Ali Boulevard in Louisville.

“It was a big opening door for me to go there and learn and learn the right way,” he said.

Hopkins said he had no idea that type of resource was available in the state. Aspiring actors coming in from the outside don’t look at Kentucky as a place to cut one's teeth in the arts but rather an Appalachian, poverty-ridden area. Hopkins is proud to know he learned acting the right way in the state that molded him into the man he is today. He said he’s thankful to know Kentucky is where he started his career.

Whenever he can, he likes to include Kentucky-related apparel and items onto his acting sets. He has even gone as far as giving Ellen DeGeneres a bottle of Woodford Reserve on “The Ellen Show.”

“My family is still there. My mom, my sisters, nieces, nephews, all my best friends in the world are still there,” Hopkins said. “It's just home.”


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