I will be contributing to the SB Nation blog for UK sports entitled A Sea of Blue.
Check out my first of many articles here: http://sbn.to/1ixILNP
I will be contributing to the SB Nation blog for UK sports entitled A Sea of Blue.
Check out my first of many articles here: http://sbn.to/1ixILNP
Stop me if you have heard this one before, Aaron Harrison, Louisville, Michigan, and Wisconsin all walk into a bar… The stage is set for a national title game between the 8-seed Kentucky Wildcats and the 7-seed Connecticut Huskies and the question is quickly becoming; just what will it take to beat these unflappable freshmen?
Kentucky began this unlikely march through murderer’s row by drawing Kansas State in their first game, The other wildcats were a 9-seed and by far the lowest seed on Big Blue’s path to the final, in fact the total amount of seeds UK has taken down after K-State only totals nine. While there were moments of angst, the game never really was in doubt and UK won a mucked up game scoring its least point total of the tournament 56-49 led by Julius Randle’s 19 points and 15 rebounds.
Next up was the #1 seed Wichita St Shockers, the 35-0 Shockers who were on a direct path with history and potentially a 40-0 season, which is ironically coveted as a coaching goal by Coach Cal. In what turned out to be the best tournament game to this point, everyone knows UK prevailed 78-76, what they may not know is how improbable it was. Wichita St amassed the following statistics in the loss:
With Kentucky leading 78-76 Wichita State had a midcourt inbounds play with one shot to tie or win it, Shockers coach Gregg Marshall would later describe he had drawn up a play designed to give Cleanthony Early or Ron Baker the last shot. Early was on a personal mission to advance the Shockers, finishing with 31 points and 7 rebounds cementing his NBA lottery pick potential. Baker himself had scored 20 points and they had combined for 8 out of 12 shooting from behind the arc, it was the right play by Marshall. Once Wichita St came out of the timeout, coach Cal decided to call a timeout to set up his defense, Cal would later explain he made it clear that anyone but Early or Baker would have to beat them. The result was a focused smothering of Early ad Baker, leaving Fred Van Vleet with the ball in his hands for the winning shot; he had a decent look but 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein was able to extend enough of a defensive presence to pressure the shot into an errant miss and jubilation for the young cats. If you had asked anyone to guess a score based on Cleanthony Early’s line and the team stats for Wichita St, all of them would have guess UK was beaten and many would guess it was an easy win.
Next on the road to Dallas was a rematch with the hated Louisville Cardinals, however, the Cardinals were rolling, under seeded, and considered by most to be second only to Florida as favorites to win it all. Rick Pitino was undefeated in sweet 16 games for his hall of fame coaching career and the game started with UL jumping out to an early 18-5 lead as the February version of the Cats was rearing its ugly head. Even the most blue tinted card carrying members of BBN were already figuring out how to cope with the loss. Kentucky would battle back to only be down three at the half, the 2nd half was a flop fest of fouls on both ends and Luke Hancock had figured out a way to make UK defenders essentially treat him as though he had an infectious disease and basically avoid even touching him out of fear of a whistle. He took advantage of this by dominating the 2nd half on the way to 19 points and pushing UL to a seven-point lead with just 4 minutes left.
The Cardinals shot just under 50% from the field (vs. UK’s 43%), made as many 3’s as UK, more assists, steals, and blocks than UK and even less turnovers than UK. If you were Rick Pitino you could not imagine a better stat line than that and would expect a win more often than not, having said that, Aaron Harrison decided otherwise. With UK down one point, Aaron gave the world a bit of foreshadowing and took matters into his own hands by taking a perfect pass from Julius Randle and dropping a 3-point dagger in the heart of the cardinals. Two more free throws by Randle would push the lead to three for UK and Russ Smith’s last shot attempt of his college career would fall short, allowing the aforementioned Aaron Harrison to finish off the five point win with two free throws. Up next was Michigan.
Michigan came into the NCAA tournament as a borderline 1-seed; they had won the B1G conference outright and only lost to Michigan State to prevent a conference sweep. While Michigan did not dominate the stat lines on this night, they did take a double digit lead early on the back of B1G player of the year Nick Stauskas with 19 points and effortless domination of the young Cats. The problem for Michigan was even with this; the game was tied at the half. In a back-and-forth 2nd half of what was an immensely exciting game, the Wolverines were able to force UK into more turnovers, they also had more assists than UK and in a role reversal, Michigan made as many free throws as UK even attempted… but Aaron Harrison did not care. With under 10 seconds to go, Andrew drove left and handed off to his brother Aaron, with Michigan’s best defender draped on him he took a step back, leaned back just enough and let it fly from about 24 feet, bottom of the net and after a half court heave went awry, the Cats were headed to the final 4. Up Next was Wisconsin.
Before the game, most UK fans felt great about the matchup, but soon enough the BBN would learn this was going to be a battle. In front of 79,444 fans (largest ever to watch an NCAA game), Wisconsin would begin a methodical offensive game plan that kept UK’s defenders chasing, scratching, bumping, and fighting to stay with them. Mostly to lackluster results as Wisconsin got loose ball after loose ball, tip outs to open three point shooters and ball movement that would draw the envy of any coach versed in the fundamentals of the game. The result was a four-point lead for the badgers at the half that felt like fourteen. Kentucky would come out in the 2nd half and quickly make a run that would put them on the verge of a double digit lead and finally, finally some relief from a mind numbing anxiety filled game ending… false. Wisconsin would immediately adjust and go on a run to not only come back, but also take the lead and BBN would have to live through another “Maalox masher,” as Dick Vitale would say. Both teams traded haymakers down the stretch, but a series of three possessions where James Young would miss an open jumper and Andrew Harrison would miss an open three with a basket sandwiched between to keep any separation from happening, then came the unthinkable. Point Guard Traevon Jackson would pump fake a three pointer with one second left on the shot clock getting Andrew Harrison to leap and the savvy PG would skirt a missed travelling call to draw the dreaded foul on a three point shot. This would send Jackson to the free throw line where Wisconsin was perfect on the night at 17 for 17.
Maybe it was the basketball gods showing mercy for a team who had become the NCAA darlings just months after being the poster boys for all that was wrong with college basketball according to many venom filled media members with a Paul Bunyan sized axe to grind. Maybe it was just time for Wisconsin to miss a free throw or maybe it was simply a tension filled moment where Jackson was off by just a millimeter on the shot, but nonetheless, he missed the first shot, opening the door for UK to be able to win or tie with the last shot. This set the stage for what everyone in the world saw coming, Kentucky would have a last second shot and Andrew Harrison would have the ball in hands under Coach Cal’s direction. Later Cal would explain while in the huddle it was simple for him; ‘We’re going at Aaron boys, anyone got a problem with that?’ The result was a dizzying turn of events that involved Andrew being trapped in the air while driving baseline, a dangerous bounce pass caught and fumbled by Dakari Johnson, then kicked back out to Andrew in the corner and the passed to the wing to his brother Aaron. It was that moment that the stars aligned, literally, the three stars of the recruiting class Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, and Julius Randle were all aligned the same way they were for the dagger against Michigan.
Somehow, Aaron was even deeper for this shot than the Michigan; nonetheless, it was a carbon copy as the last. Wisconsin’s Josh Gasser had defended Aaron like a glove all night, allowing him nearly nothing all night, but that did not matter at this moment because Gasser made the fatal mistake of not trying to find out what flavor chewing gum Aaron was chewing. It was that slightest bit of opening that gave “Aaron the assassin” the shot he wanted and the shot he made in front of nearly 80,000 people in person and millions more watching at home and local watering holes, to give the Cats a 1 point lead with less than 6 seconds to go. Kentucky would stave off an errant 18 footer by Traevon Jackson to preserve the win and a date with Kevin Ollie and UCONN for a shot at their ninth title. How improbable was the win for UK from a statistical standpoint:
What these young cats did not do was turn the ball over, only 4 the entire game and 5 more offensive rebounds equates to nine extra possessions for the Cats an ultimately what they were able to use to overcome Wisconsin’s phenomenal offensive efficiency on this night. But what it ultimately came down to was the bowling ball sized, umm, cojones that Aaron’s teammates are so forthrightly claiming to be witness to, which allowed him to live out his coach given nickname of “Aaron the Assassin.”
So there it is, Coach Cal decided to start referring to one and done as “Proceed and Succeed,” (with help from @Rene81) what he did not count on was it also being the mantra to the 2013-14 Kentucky Wildcats march towards #9. Ultimately how do you beat these Cats is a tough question to answer; we have seen teams come up short even though they shot better, teams come up short even though they did not get dominated on the boards, teams come up short even though their star player played even above his norm. We have even seen teams come up short even though they directly took away crucial parts of UKs success. In the end, maybe the only way to beat this Kentucky team is to kidnap Aaron Harrison a la Celtic Pride.
This is a post that can be found floating around on various message boards so I am not sure who the credit goes to, currently it’s fellow GYEROer poster woodfordandwater who is posting it when needed, here goes:
“And thus I clothe my
…With odd old ends
stol’n out of holy writ,…
…And seem a sain, when
most I play the devil”
I’ve spent a great portion of my years fighting a losing battle. Tooth and nail, blood and bone, quip and keyboard have been the viscera and the tools of my war. I’ve used logic, reason, appeals to rational minds and every weapon at my disposal. I’ve gone through opinion, fact, statistics and old fashioned common sense in the way an archer goes through arrows. My quiver is empty now, I have nothing left to shoot. But I will not stand down.
We’re cheaters, we’re “everything that’s wrong with college basketball,” we’re “crazy.” These, and a host more, are the things said about UK over the years. Rick Pitino is the coach? He’s a cheater and too slick. Adolph Rupp? He was a racist and your titles don’t count. Tubby Smith? You ran a great coach out of town… but we don’t want to hire him because we laughed at you when you were down under him and proclaimed your fall from grace to be a permanent state of affairs. Nothing a Kentucky coach does, or a fan says, or how a player performs will ever change that. We will not be respected (For the most part) for our dedication, passion and pride. Our tradition and history will be vilified and have aspersion cast upon it in an attempt to blacken their achievement and merit. The hypocrisy of others will be ignored, the shaky foundations of a system whitewashed so that its stains can be overlooked in the pursuit of the false idolatry of the “student athlete,” as the stones are cast against us in the name of sin.
I never wanted to accept this role. I wanted folks to see the good and take the bad with a grain of salt because, in the end, we’re all guilty of something. I know now that it is never going to happen so I have chosen to embrace what so many have wanted to thrust upon us: We are the villains of this play and we are going to play the role to the hilt. We are the evil that is coming for you out of the dark. We are going to be every ugly, hateful and spiteful that you’ve said all along. We’re going to crush your Cinderella, beat the crap out of her Prince and then burn her house down with her wicked stepsisters in it crying for mercy.
Why? ‘Cause that’s what villains do. We’re not redeemable, we’re not anti-heroes and in the words of the American poet Common: “We straight nightmares.”
By: Keith Garrett
Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way, John Calipari did not invent the one and done rule, John Calipari does not even like the rule. Coach Cal has gone as far as openly opining against the rule, in an interview with Kentucky Sports Radio, Cal said:
“I’m the one guy out there saying we’ve gotta change this somehow,” Calipari said. “We’ve gotta encourage these kids to stay two years. But the NCAA’s gotta do some stuff, and if they don’t do it we need to separate from them. I’m not afraid to say it. Look, they’ve embarrassed me. I’ve done nothing, so they’re not gonna come in, show retribution to me and do stuff. I don’t really care. But something’s gotta change with this one-and-done rule. I seem to be the coach saying anything.”
However, the philosophy has become so synonymous with his name and style that it has become a negative connotation, even openly advocating changing the name of it altogether. What Coach Cal does is play the hand he has been dealt, and unfortunately, for college basketball and many curmudgeons, he plays it better than anyone out there does.
Beyond the criticism of the rule and Cal “exploiting” it, there is a narrative that nobody else wants to do it that way, that nobody wants to have to suffer the yearly turnover and “ruin college basketball” the way Cal is. The problem with that agenda is it is so utterly ridiculous it is asinine to claim it as a relevant reason. I’ll ask this simple question to those that feel the Duke’s, UNC’s, Michigan State’s and Kansas’ of the world prefer to do it a different way. Do you really, truly, honestly believe that if Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, Jabari Parker and Andrew Harrison wanted to commit to Duke that Coach K would say “sorry guys, I’ll take one of you, but we don’t play the one and done game”. Do you really, truly, honestly believe Ol Roy would say “aww shucks guys, I’m flattered but no thanks”, if you believe that then I have a timeshare of the Brooklyn Bridge I need to see you about asap. I can tell you the answer to the question because I know what John Calipari would say, “bring it on, let’s do it.”
So, beyond all the conjecture and hand wringing on this, let us look at results. Because Kentucky is the lynch pin in this, it only makes sense to look there first. In his fifth year at Kentucky, Coach Coal has amassed the following results at UK:
The bottom line is that there is no other coach in the same stratosphere as Coach Cal in those results; the closest to him would be his final four counterpart Billy Donovan. Fun Fact, of the top 10 rivals ranked HS recruits coming into this year, six of them are playing this weekend… 2 for Florida and 4 for Kentucky. The bottom line is success in the NCAA is directly correlated with having NBA players n your roster and from day 1 of being on campus in Lexington, Coach Cal has made that a priority and the proof is in the pudding. For comparison let us look at the numbers, these are the total number of players on an NBA roster at the beginning of this season:
|2013||Louisville (35-5)||Rick Pitino||82-76||Michigan||Atlanta, Ga.|
|2012||Kentucky (38-2)||John Calipari||67-59||Kansas||New Orleans, La.|
|2011||Connecticut (32-9)||Jim Calhoun||53-41||Butler||Houston, Texas|
|2010||Duke (35-5)||Mike Krzyzewski||61-59||Butler||Indianapolis, Ind.|
|2009||North Carolina (34-4)||Roy Williams||89-72||Michigan State||Detroit, Mich.|
|2008||Kansas (37-3)||Bill Self||75-68 (OT)||Memphis||San Antonio, Texas|
|2007||Florida (35-5)||Billy Donovan||84-75||Ohio State||Atlanta, Ga.|
|2006||Florida (33-6)||Billy Donovan||73-57||UCLA||Indianapolis, Ind.|
|2005||North Carolina (33-4)||Roy Williams||75-70||Illinois||St. Louis, Mo.|
|2004||Connecticut (33-6)||Jim Calhoun||82-73||Georgia Tech||San Antonio, Texas|
|2003||Syracuse (30-5)||Jim Boeheim||81-78||Kansas||New Orleans, La.|
That list reads like a who’s who of college basketball and even more impressive is other than Louisville last year, you have to go back to 2003 to find a National Champion that is not on that list. Syracuse won it that year and ironically, they were led by maybe the best one and done of all time in Carmelo Anthony. So the moral of the story and the math backs this up, if you do not recruit the very best players on the planet, you have virtually zero chance of winning a national title. Therefore, if you are claiming that your school does not recruit one and dones, congratulations on either a) your undiagnosed delusion or b) your ignorance. Another fun fact, of this years final four, only Wisconsin is not on that list so it’s highly likely this years champion will also be on the list comprising most NBA players as well.
So, the question is now how is it that UK keeps getting disproportionally more NBA folks than do anyone else? Ask anyone other than BBN members and it is a product of cheating or worldwide Wes or some other sour grapes agenda. The truth of the matter is it can be summed up in one paragraph that comes from SB Nation writer Tom Ziller who recently wrote an article entitled “Future NBA stars don’t need their college coaches.” Ziller wrote:
“When Kentucky’s done, Cal will tell Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein to go get that paper. And that’s why Cal will grab the next Randle, the next Anthony Davis, the next John Wall, the next Derrick Rose. If Self, K and Boeheim want to be honest with their own stars and tell them they are ready to go get paid, maybe Calipari wouldn’t have such a strong hold on the preps-to-pros pipeline.”
My opinion is that when anyone not named John Calipari snags up a future lottery pick, the mindset is one that they have reeled in the guy who is going to lead his team to national glory and maybe a national title and a contract extension. The difference with Cal is he is a players first coach and even wrote a book on it, he knows he will only have these guys for a short time and he works tirelessly to develop their game to do two things, 1) turn them into better teammates and be “their brothers keepers,” 2) prepare them for the future that is going to change their family tree. Coach Cal takes more joy in seeing Eric Bledsoe and Demarcus Cousins instantly become multi-millionaires and instantly changing the future(s) of their family tree.
The 2010 NBA draft saw UK have 5 players selected in the first round, a first in NBA history, Calipari proclaimed “I’d like to say it is the biggest day in the history of Kentucky’s program.” The outrage was palpable with even former players like Dan Issell amusingly saying it was the dumbest thing he had ever heard. While many a UK Fan agreed and many more thought it was just Cal getting caught up in the moment, what we have all learned is Cal was simply ahead of the curve. That night has allowed him the opportunity to recruit on a level never seen before and the dual edged sword of that is all of BBN can rejoice in the results on the court, while John Calipari rejoices in his player’s development and the way they are changing their family tree for the foreseeable future. I could not agree more Mr. Ziller, if more coaches thought like this; he would not have a stranglehold on the recruiting pipelines and would not be dominating the college basketball landscape as he is.
It was nearly 2 years to the day, April 3, 2012 to be exact. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had gotten beat on a back door play by Tyshawn Taylor who glided to an easy layup, only thing is MKG does not give up, he never gives up. MKG hustled back and blocked the shot with under 1 minute left to preserve a six-point lead. Later Anthony Davis would come out of nowhere on Elijah Johnson, who had to feel like the Spartans in 300 when the reign of arrows blotted out the sun, and made him rethink his 3-point attempt and came down with the ball still in his hand… traveling. From there the wildcats would finish off the Kansas Jayhawks at the free throw line setting in motion the “Kentucky Coronation” and a celebration for the ages back in Lexington as Big Blue Nation proclaimed in one singular voice; “We’re BACK.”
There are no shortage of quotes regarding patience, trust me, I looked… here are a few that are fitting for BBN;
Since that night in New Orleans, it has been an exercise in exponential frustration for a nation that revels in playing the villain and thrives on the envy and hate of the rest of the college basketball nation. It did not start that way, however, Nerlens Noel had cut the iconic UK logo into the back of his high-top fade and vaulted the cats right back to the top of the college basketball world by bringing in the #1 or #2 class, depending on service, in the nation. Going into the season, Kentucky was a consensus top 5 pick and visions of repeat were dancing in Kentucky fans’ heads.
The season started fine, the cats were 4-1 with only a loss vs. Duke, and then the cats took a trip to south bend. That is when the wheels started loosening; a dominating loss to the Irish, followed by an embarrassing loss at home to Baylor began the doubt and head scratching.
The Cats would go on a mini-cupcake run only to lose to the hated Louisville Cardinals for the first time under Calipari fueling a mini fire under the blue bloods. Then SEC newcomer and football school Texas A&M came to Rupp Arena and Elston Turner dropped a 40-spot on BBN and kicked the wheels off the bus. Losses at Alabama and Florida would follow, but an even bigger loss in Gainesville would set the downward spiral in full speed motion. Nerlens Noel, in a tremendous hustle play to prevent a fast break ran into the goal harness at the O’Connell Center, which doubles as an arena football field apparently. The result was a torn ACL and a season ending injury for one of the most beloved UK players to ever suit up and a fan base in mourning.
To say Noel was the heart and soul of the team was an understatement, UK came out the next game and travelled to Knoxville on the proverbial bubble. The result was a 30-point loss, I was there, and to be truthful, it was not even that close. The popularity of Kentucky Football had never been higher after that game.
Two more losses at Georgia and Arkansas as well as a first round SEC Tournament loss to Vanderbilt and the stage was set for an NIT berth for UK. Not even the most cynical of UK fans could have envisioned the cats would be an NIT team under Coach Cal after his first three years of elite 8, final 4 and national title in that order. The loss to Robert Morris was maybe the least surprising loss of the year to most BBN faithful and thus the offseason had mercifully begun. To add insult to injury, the rival Louisville Cardinals went on to win the national title. There was some, I repeat some relief when Coach Cal landed Randle, The Harrisons’, Young, Dakari and Lee for what nearly everyone proclaimed as the greatest recruiting coup in NCAA history.
The hype began with a quote that Calipari had made years before this class ever landed, “before I retire, I would like to coach a team that went 40-0.” He never said this team would or even could do it, but it did not matter, the snowball was rolling. Then, just about the time the Louisville football team was winning every football game with a Heisman candidate and the Kentucky football team was losing every game and arguably regressing, the 40-0 talk picked up steam and it was off to the races.
The season started slow and it was chalked up to freshmen learning the college game, or new guys finding their ways together, no worries, they would get it together. Michigan state was widely considering a national title contender and the Cats had battled valiantly only to fall short on a comeback validating just how good the cats would be in the next 30-45 days. The Cats would come back to hammer Robert Morris in what everyone thought was and “exorcising of the demons” of last year. A bad loss to Baylor followed, a disinterested loss to North Carolina would follow. Kentucky would bounce back and beat a good Louisville team at home and the score was not indicative of the job the cats did in handling the cards. The fan base was in full Yo-Yo mode.
Then came a tough loss at Arkansas on an overtime put back dunk as time expired and UK ended up on the wrong side of a Sportscenter top 10 play. An embarrassing loss at LSU in a game where the cats were thoroughly outplayed and outcoached, a loss to #1 Florida at home after leading the majority of the game would all follow. After a home loss to Arkansas for a season sweep by the hogs, the Cats found themselves a last second Julius Randle overtime put back at home vs. LSU from being beaten in three consecutive games at Rupp Arena, a place where John Calipari did not lose a single game in his first three years. The worst loss of the year to a hapless South Carolina team in Columbia coupled with a senior day blowout in Gainesville had all of Big Blue Nation on the verge of losing it, whispers of needing an SEC win or bubble talk were blowing in Lexington. Fans were openly debating if Sean Miller or Gregg Marshall would take the job and would Bruce Pearl be available later if Cal did not make a major change in next year’s approach and results.
The talking heads were out in force too, Pat Forde lambasted Cal, Clay Travis eagerly jumped on the wounded fan base, and many others jumped at the chance to give a big fat “I told you so” to big blue nation. The thought was that 2012 was an aberration and MKG and Anthony Davis were some kind of witches that may not be real people making 2012 a very big exception, not the rule. Coach Cal had caught lightning in a bottle and now his demons had come home to roost and unfortunately, a portion of the fan base was starting to wonder if it was true… then the SEC tournament started and the word “Tweak” was trending on twitter.
Kentucky opened with LSU and the fan base was worried, this was a team that UK did not match up with and Johnny O’Bryant had treated the Cats like his own personal video game with a cheat code, the angst was evident. Low and behold, the tweak was about the speak, the cats came out strong and finished strong winning going away by 12 points and scoring 85 points. Kentucky had not scored 85 points since the loss at Arkansas in January and that was an OT game. The tweak had ignited some joy and optimism in Lexington, next up were the Bulldogs from Athens, while it was a valiant effort, the game seemingly was never in doubt and UK had won by double digits on its way to a third matchup with Florida in the SEC title game
In that game, Kentucky was down by double digits and there were worries that the tweak was in fact only being able to play LSU and Georgia… but then it clicked. The boys in blue came back fast and furious and had the Gators in a situation where it was UK’s ball with a last second shot and down one point. Unfortunately a slip on the floor derailed what I am 99.9% sure was going to be a glorious rim run and James Young going down in folklore. What followed was a renewed faith in these guys, a renewed faith in Coach Calipari’s ability to rally the guys and turn them into a genuine threat.
That night was a kick in the stomach for everyone as we were announced as an 8-seed with a 2nd round matchup against ironically a team chasing 40-0 in Wichita State, then a sweet 16 matchup with rival Louisville at a time when UL was considered by many as the tournament favorite and hottest team in America. Get through that gauntlet and what is waiting for the Cats? Either Michigan or Duke for a trip to the final 4.
The tournament started with a well-played win against a very solid Kansas State team and a matchup with Wichita State. The hype around the game was palpable and the parallels between a team with a chance at 40-0 vs. the team that had failed at it. A team of freshmen vs. a team of veterans, although they have two sophomores and one junior starter, but shhh… the big blue axis of evil one and dones vs. a team who does it the right way. Greg Anthony even went as far as saying that “this game will determine how teams structure their rosters in the future,” hyperbole much?
The game started fast and furious, with a breakneck pace, it was exciting, and the cats looked poised to play with a legitimate #1 seed. A big time James Young three-pointer kept the game close at the half and everyone could sense the battle coming. The second half continued the excitement and down the stretch, Cleanthony Early gave his best Dwayne Wade at Marquette impression for the rest of the nation and nearly took the Cats down singlehandedly with 31 points. In the end, another James Young 3 was able to give the cats a two-point lead with under two minutes left. The cats held off Cleanthony Early-Wade in the end and “shocked” the world by ending Wichita State’s bid for perfection, up next was a date with Louisville in Indianapolis.
In 2012 the overall #1 seed and tournament favorite Kentucky Wildcats faced Louisville in the final four, the cardinals had a chance to derail the magical run to #8 and just crush UK fans. The problem was, UL was not winning that game and everyone knew it so while the hype was significant, it was one of more fear and angst than excitement for UK fans. Fast forward to 2014 and UL was the hottest team in America and 2nd only to Florida as the favorite to win it all, but this time… we were the team on the uptick and we were the team that had already beaten Louisville and we were the team that was going to wreck their season. Aaron Harrison cemented his spot in UK folklore and his “stone cold assassin” status when he dropped a dagger in all of Louisville residents hearts, well, half of the city anyway.
At this point, many UK fans were satisfied, they had gotten us to the elite 8 and destroyed UL in the process, the healing could begin, and anything else was gravy. Having said that, as the game grew closer the desire grew more aggressive. The game itself was played the way basketball should be played:
The game came down to a heart wrenching possession where Michigan got four offensive rebounds and three attempts from behind the arc to take the lead only to see the ball get tipped in off Julius Randle’s attempt to corral the ball. It was deflating but the game was tied the Cats had the last shot. The following played out as such, Andrew Harrison drove left and handed off the ball to his brother Aaron, the handoff was not clean and it appeared evident the cats may not get a great look at this. Aaron had hit his last three triples and took a quick step back AND faded away just enough to get the ball over the outstretched arm of Chris Lavert… splash and after an errant half court shot, the cats were on there way to the final four and in the words of voice of the wildcats Tom Leach, “Big Blue is going to Big D!”
With that shot, the cats are back in the final 4 for the 3rd time in 5 years and have a viable shot at a 2nd title in 3 years. Among the accomplishments and broken streaks of this group of cats;
The narrative was overwhelmingly becoming that Cal needed to adjust his ways as 2012 was the aberration and without an adjustment in recruiting, he could soon be on his way out. In the matter of 4 weeks that has undoubtedly been flipped on its head and even constant detractor Pat Forde said “Three Final Fours in four seasons says that your way works – it works better than any other way currently being implemented in college basketball,” true story Pat.
So now, UK Basketball is back on the top of the college basketball landscape and dare I say they are the darlings of this year’s tournament. They are two games away from cementing John Calipari as a hall of fame coach (if not already) and big blue nation is right back where it wants to be; the most hated and envied college basketball program in America. It’s been a long time BBN, enjoy the ride.
By: Keith Garrett
Full disclosure, I am going to be upfront and unapologetic about this, I am a Kentucky Fan. I bleed blue… I once missed school for two days following a UK loss at Thompson Boling Arena when Allan Houston was able to bypass the blatant lane violation he committed leading to an and-1 and a loss for my cats. I once made a deal with God that I would not attend my high school prom as a junior if only he would let my 1996 Wildcats go all the way. I was at the corner of Euclid Avenue in 1998 after we won a much-unexpected title. Having said all that, I am also an educated fan, I know when we are deserving and when we are not, I will be the first to admit when we are subpar, but without wondering what Sean Miller is doing next season and if he likes Lexington. I can have a rational conversation with other fans with rational thoughts about my cats. My point in all this is the points I am about to make are going to come from a card carrying member of big blue nation, but it will also have a significant dose of reality and rationality.
Before Kentucky hired John Calipari, I did not know a lot about him, other than we beat his UMASS team in the final 4 in 1996 on our way to the title and avenging the early season loss they had put on us. I knew he had won a ton of games and was at Memphis again winning a ton of games, albeit with a cloud of “shadiness” around him. When Tubby left, I recall many people were adamant they did not want the “Crooked Calipari” at UK, he did not fit. We wanted Billy Donovan and later we wanted Billy Gillisipie. I’ll admit I was a frontrunner in wanting Gillispie, even hoping it was Billy Clyde and not Donovan… oops. Soon after the debacle that was Billy Clyde; the time came again for a coach and this time, the tide had turned from thinking John Calipari was not up to par for UK to wanting him to get us back to glory. I had some concerns, the World Wide Wes rumors were rampant, the whispers of every other non-UK fan telling anyone who would listen to get ready for vacated titles, but I was still excited to have a proven coach.
I have learned a lot in Coach Cal’s 5 years in Lexington, but probably the most confusing is the all out hate so many have for the man. There is no question he is the most polarizing figure in today’s college basketball game. Just mentioning his name outside of BBN and you’ll get nicknames like PayPal Cal, Calimari and others to go along with what I consider to be an unbelievable sense of judgment from anyone that wants to give their two cents about it. Cal disdain isn’t immune to just the common fan either, many in the spotlight or even just a blog have taken Cal to task for anything that can possibly garner a hit on a website or an article view.
To get a better idea of just what I am talking about, let’s look at a few examples. In October of last year, Kent Sterling wrote an article titled “why I can’t (or won’t) respect John Calipari.” The Bullet Points paraphrased:
I could go on for pages and pages refuting articles similar to this; there is no shortage of people looking to take a shot at him. However, I will spare you the novel and hit the highlights:
Bobby Knight had plenty to say and has made it clear in no uncertain terms; he has a considerable amount of disdain for Cal and UK. He once even went as far as refusing to say the word Kentucky until his employer ESPN had to step in. Two of the more poignant quotes
Then there is maybe Coach Cal’s likely biggest detractor, Pat Forde. Just a few weeks ago Pat wrote a column entitled “You made your bed John Calipari, now lie in it.” If there was ever a more eager push of the “enter” button on a computer, I’d like to see it. I will say, the questions Forde asked were valid questions, but the feel was extremely personal and anybody within 50 miles of Lexington or Louisville will confirm. However, let’s not take my conjecture for it, let’s look at examples. Just 11 days ago Forde proclaimed it to be a good day for chickens and went on discussing the victories of mascots that fit the narrative, but then he couldn’t help himself by saying “and Kentucky coach John Calipari for the first time since he refused to continue playing Indiana home-and-home in 2012.” Never mind that Crean refused to play alternating neutral site games of Indianapolis and Louisville… Cal even was willing to play the games in the state of Indiana every year and not have them come to Kentucky at all. Crean’s response was “We couldn’t have gotten our students up there,” said Crean. “Prices would have been too much to get them there.” Excuse me while I roll my eyes. However, Pat keeps on putting the onus squarely on Cal acting as if Crean was the victim. Fun fact, it was the aforementioned Bobby Knight who refused to play on campus and pushed the series to neutral sites every year. Another fun fact, Pat Forde has twice been suspended from the Louisville Courier Journal for Ethics issues, if you come across a glass house, knock on the door and tell Pat hello.
So Let’s get to the meat of the story, let’s look at exactly what John Calipari has done to earn such a reviled reputation:
That’s it, that’s the list… now let’s look at some other big time coaches transgressions and humor me if you will, just imagine the coach in question to be John Calipari and wonder just how severe the reaction to it would be:
So, I have listed Coach K, Jim Boeheim, Rick Pitino, Jim Calhoun, Roy Williams and Bill Self in much worse or similar NCAA “issues”, yet the clear cut winner in the most polarizing and dirtiest coach of the group is John Calipari, why? Why is there such disdain for a coach who literally cares more about the names on the back of the jersey than he does the name on the front? After Kentucky had five first round draft picks he proclaimed it the greatest night in Kentucky basketball history. While we all know that’s not true, he believed it and still does and it’s because of his players first mentality. Cal knew the importance of that night because it’s allowed him to recruit to a level never seen in the history of the game and is the reason he will have his former players making 75 million dollars in the NBA this year. Why hate a coach who does so much philanthropic stuff behind the scenes with little to no fan fare? In 2010, Haiti suffered devastating destruction due to an earthquake and in just over 2 days (while UK was 18-0 mind you) he organized a 4-hour telethon with his players and raised over 1 Million, with an M, dollars for Haiti relief. Every year he brings pizza and various refreshments for people camping out for tickets. Calipari still donates nearly 7 figures of money per year to various organizations in Memphis, where he is largely hated. Cal travelled to China to teach coaches more about America basketball in hopes of broadening the sports brand. I could go on for pages about the behind the scenes community stuff he does.
I will close with a quote from Calipari while he was attending a gala hosted by Dick Vitale; “Now as I get older, life becomes less about me and more about everyone around me. It’s about players reaching their dreams, assistants becoming head coaches, support staff growing their families and also helping the Big Blue Nation realize their dreams. It’s about causes that move me, like this one.”
“In closing, earlier this week I relayed to the Big Blue Nation that I NEVER want to be JUST a basketball coach. I coach basketball and it’s my profession but it’s not who I am. But, we can use our positions to come together on nights like this for a very worthy cause. It’s the people we touch through this game and those who we will touch tonight who feel moved to do something to help us fight this dreaded disease. Mom, I love you. Thank you.” You can disagree with his philosophies, his beliefs, his hopes and dreams, but what you can’t disagree with is his genuineness. This is a man who cares far more about his ability to make a difference in people’s lives and his press clippings and he sure cares about it more than wins and losses. It’s actually refreshing and my only understanding for you if you just hate Coach Cal is you are either ignorant to the man or you are simply an unhappy person whom can never fill the hole. As for me, I am going to enjoy the ride.