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Great Balls of Fire!

KET’s Team

To create Basketball in Kentucky—Great Balls of Fire, we put together our own “fab five.” Here are some scouting notes on the talented squad behind the series:

Tom Thurman, Producer/Director Producer/Director
Tom Thurman

Tom (pictured at right with videographer John Breslin on location at Rupp Arena) was born and raised in Christiansburg, a small farming community in rural Shelby County, Kentucky. His father was athletic director at Shelby County High School, where Tom lettered in three sports.

After receiving degrees from Centre College and the University of Kentucky, Tom taught literature and film studies courses at Tulane University and Berea College, then later co-produced ESPN’s NCAA Today show. He has produced and directed seven independent documentaries for public and commercial television stations since 1992, including three that aired on KET: Warren Oates: Across the Border, Harry Crews: Guilty as Charged, and, most recently, Movies of Color: Black Southern Cinema. Tom also directed a profile of writer Lee Smith that is part of KET’s Signature series.

Basketball in Kentucky—Great Balls of Fire is his most ambitious project yet. “Basketball is much more than a game in Kentucky,” he explains. “It is central to the very fabric of the entire state. So we approached this documentary series from a perspective that extends far beyond simply a summary of ‘great games and great players.’”

Tom offers these themes for fans to look for in the series: “What does the sport mean to the players, the coaches, and especially the fans? What separates the state of Kentucky from other areas of the country in its devotion to the game? How can we track our social, gender, race, and economic identity through an analysis of the sport?”

Bob Booth Associate Producer
Bob Booth

The real KET veteran on the basketball project, Bob started here in the mid-1990s as an intern helping to put together our weekly middle-school current events program, News Quiz. He then moved on to high school with Street Skills, KET’s innovative safe-driving series for teenagers. Lately he’s been working with adult education, having been associate producer on the Workplace Essential Skills series, now airing on public TV stations nationwide, and GED Connection, the third-generation version of KET’s multi-award-winning GED preparation series.

In basketball terms, the job of associate producer combines some of the functions of an assistant coach with those of road manager, equipment manager, and statistician. A day’s work includes everything from negotiating rights to a piece of historical footage to arranging times and places for interviews to logging what’s on all the hours of tape being shot for a project. Bob admits that it was his organizational skills, and not necessarily his shooting touch, that qualified him for the basketball job. But he is known to play an intense one-on-one game: His personal motto, he says, is “No harm, no foul.”

Michael Follmer Principal Videographer
Michael Follmer

Lexington native Michael Follmer had been with KET about a year before getting the basketball assignment, having previously worked as a news videographer for commercial television. In addition to regular rotations among our weekly local shows, he’s also shooting footage for a biography of Lexington businessman and philanthropist W.T. Young that’s now in production at KET.

A lifelong UK fan—he recalls being booed just for the act of walking into a restaurant in North Carolina while wearing his Wildcats sweatshirt—Michael played basketball in high school. He also has an unusual family connection to the game: His father was a radio color commentator for UK in the late ’60s and later for the Boston Celtics.

“So basketball’s been in my life since Day One,” Michael says. Still, the KET project has broadened his basketball horizons. “Dad would tell me little stories here and there, but I’ve found out things that dad either left out or never knew,” he laughs. “Talking to people like C.M. Newton and Kelly Coleman, learning about things like the Carr Creek story, has just been fascinating. All of these people just have such interesting stories to tell.”

Mike Kelsay Writer
Mike Kelsay

Mike has written for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Miami Herald, the Chicago Tribune, and other newspapers, as well as several national magazines. He is the recipient of an Al Smith Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council and won the Emily Clark Balch Award from Virginia Quarterly Review for the best fiction to appear there in 1993. He previously worked with KET as writer of the viewer’s guide for the second season of the Signature series about contemporary Southern writers.

A native of Huntington, WV, Mike got a taste of Kentucky’s basketball devotion as a student at the University of Kentucky. After a few years at McNeese State University in Louisiana, he returned to Lexington, where he teaches writing at Lexington Community College. While working on the basketball documentary, Mike also finished his first novel, Too Close To Call, which was published in September 2001.

The KET project gave him a chance to join his writing talents to another lifelong passion, he says: “I have been in love with basketball my whole life, and I hope this documentary about basketball in Kentucky—which will look at it all: high school, college, boys, girls—will be an interesting lens through which we Kentuckians can view ourselves and this peculiar obsession.”

Marilyn Myers Researcher
Marilyn Myers

Marilyn grew up near Salt Lake City in the small town of Clearfield, UT and attended the University of Utah and UCLA. She married a native Kentuckian and, in 1996, moved to Lexington to be close to his family. It didn’t take her long to become a part of her adopted state’s basketball culture: Before starting on the KET project, Marilyn worked on the development of the University of Kentucky Basketball Museum as graphics coordinator and research specialist.

“I am very excited to have worked on Basketball in Kentucky,” Marilyn says. “My work at the UK Basketball Museum gave me a taste of the rich basketball history that belongs to all the people of Kentucky. To be able to work with Tom, Mike, and Bob on this series that encompasses not just UK basketball, but all the amazing programs that have made Kentucky basketball what it is today, is just icing on the cake.”

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