ARLINGTON, Texas -- Just after noon Sunday, Tyler Austin Black left Richmond, Ky., and pointed his borrowed Camry toward Texas. He hit the gas pedal with a right leg adorned with wishful thinking – a "2014 NATI9NAL CHAMPIONS" tattoo – that is, improbably, one University of Kentucky win from coming true.
Black will be there to see it in person. CBS, which interviewed him for a TV piece last week, called him late Saturday night after the Wildcats beat Wisconsin in the Final Four to reach Monday night's NCAA title game. He just had to find a way to get there, so he borrowed a car from his buddy's mom for the 14-hour drive.
"I drive a big truck," he said, "so that gas would've killed me."
Black, a 22-year-old machinist, got his predictive ink on March 13, the day before the Wildcats played their first SEC Tournament game. No one was picking them to play for the national championship then. They'd just lost three of their final four regular-season games and were unranked. But Black just had a feeling.
Plenty of people called him crazy – he admits he probably is – but now he's on the cusp of having the last laugh. After winning four consecutive thrillers, the last three ending with go-ahead Aaron Harrison 3-pointers in the final minute, Kentucky will play for the program's ninth national title. That's what the "9" in his tattoo represents.
"I've always had confidence in them, but I ain't gonna lie, they've had me worried here lately," Black said. "It's very surreal. It's wild. And seeing us win the type of games we've been winning, every one of them nail-biters, it almost feels like it's destiny for us to win a championship."
Black didn't have to scramble to get out of work, where he makes transmission gears for Honda, because he'd already scheduled a day off Monday, naturally.
"Gotta be prepared," Black said.
He's only ever seen one Kentucky game in person, the 2012 season opener against Marist. That team went on to win the national championship, so perhaps Black is a good-luck charm.
"The only seats I could afford are the nosebleeds, and if I gotta have bad seats, I'd rather just watch at home," Black said. He typically stands for the entire second half, "holding my breath, hands on my head, heart pounding, about to have a panic attack."
He knows his seats might be awful in the cavernous AT&T Stadium on Monday night, where the crowd of almost 80,000 for Saturday night's semifinals set an all-time college basketball attendance record. But Black – who planned to make the entire 900-mile drive Sunday, taking turns at the wheel with his friend Nathan – will make an exception to his rule for this one.
"The seats are probably somewhere on the roof," Black said, "but just being there for this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I can't really believe it's actually happening."