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March 9, 2013

Injuries, bench time don't dampen Beckham's UK stay

Last week, Twany Beckham wasn't sure if he would ever step on the Rupp Arena floor again.

His last appearance had been on Jan. 2 for Eastern Michigan. Shortly after that, Beckham had back surgery to remove two herniated disks. His recovery had taken longer than the estimated six weeks, and his season had been declared over.

But on Feb. 27, at the end of Kentucky's 85-55 blowout win over Mississippi State, coach John Calipari walked down to the end of the bench. He asked Beckham if he wanted to check in to the game.

"I was all smiles," Beckham said.

He subbed in before UK attempted a free throw, then checked back out immediately afterward. Officially, his stat line read: DNP, for did not play. But it was the gesture that mattered.

"It meant a lot," Beckham said. "When (Calipari) said that, I just got that much more respect for him."

That it came against Beckham's former school "didn't mean anything," he said. It was simply because Calipari wasn't sure whether he could pull off a similar move in Saturday's season finale against Florida, a game that carries immense importance for the team. Beckham "understood" the move. All season, as he's had a "tough" time coping with his career ending via injury, he's tried to stay positive for his teammates.

He doesn't expect to play against the Gators - although he'll be wearing his jersey, "just in case" UK has a large enough lead at the end to put him in the game.

Regardless, he will be one of two seniors to go through Senior Day recognition.

That includes bursting through a hoop imprinted with his name and likeness - bad back and all. Beckham's not sure if he'll be able to sprint through the hoop, but he'll make it work.

"My adrenaline will probably be flowing a little bit," Beckham said. "It will be a sweet feeling. I can't wait."

It will cap his collegiate career, the last two seasons of which were spent at Kentucky.

Beckham's stats at Kentucky aren't much: 61 minutes played in 21 games, two points on 1-of-4 shooting, 0-for-1 shooting from the free-throw line, 10 rebounds, two assists, one block, one steal, one turnover.

"I wish I could have been more productive, but my injuries held me back," Beckham said. "I haven't hung my head at all this year, just trying to stay positive through this whole process and be there for my teammates."

This time, he will be the focus, at least through the pregame ceremony. The Louisville native expects his immediate family and some extended family and friends to be in attendance.

"I've been waiting for this day to get here for a long time," Beckham said. "Like I said, growing up, I always wanted to play at Kentucky. Raising my jersey up in front of the fans will be emotional."

He said that, despite having less of an on-court impact at Kentucky than Mississippi State - where he averaged 10.6 minutes in one and a half seasons - he "doesn't regret" the decision to transfer.

He got to be part of a national championship team last season. He still looks at photos and videos he took from after that game. The post-game locker room madness. The bus ride through New Orleans, surrounded by fans. The trip back.

"I recorded everything," Beckham said.

It will be those off-court memories that will remain the strongest.

"Just how much fun I had," Beckham said. "Especially last year was a lot of fun. This year's been kind of up-and-down, but it's still been kind of fun. We're all like brothers, lose or win."

As for him, he's not sure what life after Senior Day will bring. He's going to continue rehabilitating his back. He will meet with Calipari after the season and discuss his options. If basketball can still be part of his life, he would prefer that.

"But if it doesn't work out for me, I wouldn't be upset at all," Beckham said. "I've had a good career and ended my career at the school I always wanted to be at."

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