College basketball’s grand cosmos is in alignment once more. As appropriate as Alabama reclaiming universal football supremacy, Kentucky is king of basketball again.
Old order to new – that is, Adolph Rupp admirers to kids who paint their faces and mug for ESPN cameras – an eighth NCAA trophy stands in the big-windowed display case at Craft Center next to the House that Rupp built, Memorial Coliseum. Go see it.
On 38 of 40 nights this winter and spring, Wildcat fans went to bed with a smile — a total that included five especially delicious ones. If your UK car window flag is still flying, you know them by heart – North Carolina, Indiana pay-back, Louisville twice, and last-night-of-a-season, Kansas.
And, during Kentucky’s march to the sea, the Wildcats paused to share a little prosperity – SEC Tournament champion for 2012 is Vanderbilt.
Durham and Chapel Hill to Lawrence, Syracuse, Waco and Louisville, the car window flags are mostly put away. In 120-county Kentucky, not so.
The words National Champions will echo awhile in Kentucky’s collective soul through another summer and on to Midnight … well, you know.
This magical season and crown at the end I hope will be enough to soothe the hearts of Big Blue Nation’s faithful when the starry Wildcats of today pack their bags sooner rather than later and hasten to the NBA’s “show-me-themoney” lottery.
Amid the celebration of title time, there is standing in the wings Mr. Hard Reality who looks remarkably like Coach John Calipari. “I hope we have six guys in the NBA draft,” he said the other night.
Ah, the land of four seasons? Midnight Madness, a regular season, tournaments, then this one – recruiting. Vanceburg to Hickman and all points between, town talk already is reload with an epilogue question: “Ya think coach will stay?”
Team for a generation, this one. For all its magnificent skills, poise and team-ness, it’s curious how this team never got a nickname that stuck. Maybe it’s linked to Calipari’s business-as-usual approach and post-game dismissive, “I don’t feel any different after this game than I did before.”
His shrug-and-move-on was a stark reminder of another Calipari ism, “Kentucky isn’t for everyone.”
Never mind, the glory and joy tied to this week’s “One Shining Moment” belongs to you.
Jealousy Rears Its Head
When Big Blue is still in the conversation in a college basketball season’s last week, success breeds contempt.
The snipes were out over the last several days. Media gunsling- ers armed with self-righteous eloquence bleating for attention.
Beneath one column headline, “Why You Should Feel Sorry For Kentucky Fans,” the writer prattled, “This is what Kentucky fans wanted. They wanted to win, no matter what it took. And that’s what they’ve got.”
Irony? Take out Kentucky and insert UConn or Baylor, Syracuse, Ohio State or North Carolina, and “feeling sorry” works just as well.
Says here, it is a pious view better aimed at the rulers at NBA and NCAA.
Another scribe’s whine was about arrogance.
“Calipari’s two-loss team is dominating and knows it. Their games, produced with few blemishes, feel like a business transaction. But if you were to ask them (fans) their favorite team, they would reflexively bring up the ‘Unforgettables’ — the ragtag group of Rick Pitinocoached over- achievers who infamously fell to Duke’s Christian Laettner 20 years ago.”
Next, from shallow to ridiculous, came this: “Louisville fans know where the real joy lies — the joy of the struggle.”
Over seven decades, Kentucky fans have struggled with scorn when its beloved basketball program stooped to point-shaving; kept out of an NCAA tournament because its players were in graduate school; another team was made villain in a game media tied to civil rights; next, Kentucky fans were embarrassed by NCAA probations after coaches were caught buying high school recruits; and there was the $50 handshakes episode; and an academic fraud that led to a “Kentucky Shame” cover from Sports Illustrated.
Next, this cheap shot: “This season, they (UK fans) only know that pinch of relief, the joylessness of entitlement.”
Finally, on the eve of UK-UofL, this poetic poison: “A Pitino victory would be a story of redemption and Cinderella’s plucky spirit. A triumph for college basketball as we’d like it to be. A Calipari victory would be a triumph of sleaze and capitalism and dark forces we don’t quite understand.”
What is quite understandable is: The jubilation a win on a ball court brings to Kentuckians was earned by players and appreciated by fans who work for a living. Only a slice of UK’s fandom needs to “get a life.”
That a sports writer would reach so far with
Final Four Notes
• Naismith coach of the year Bill Self was gracious in defeat with a single subtle exception. Kansas coach told media his team lost to “professionals.” The remark illustrates a mindset among coach-of-the-year voters. Apparently he doesn’t care, but for what his team accomplished, John Calipari is college coach of the year.
• (Some) Kentucky fans won’t ever get-over-it with Rick Pitino, but passing time shows clearly Da Coach’s decision has worked perfectly. Kentucky is back at basketball’s summit; Calipari got his dream job at a dream pay grade; Pitino is at home in Kentucky and comfortable Louisville. Fans have their love-to-hate antagonist an hour apart. Perfect.
• Terrence Jones isn’t ready for the NBA. The sophomore can dominate, but if Jones is hammered early in a game and no foul is called, two things happen. 1. Jones is denied his staredown self-starter tactic. 2. He retreats to being a 6-9, 252-pound game-watcher.
• Anthony Davis. That the NCAA stands holding the coats while the NBA players union facilitates another 19-year-old quitting on education is hypocrisy at its most shameful.
Worth Repeating Dept.
• Pitino Davis: “When you’re playing against Bill Russell at the pro level, you realize why the Celtics won 11 world championships. When you see this young man at the collegiate level, you realize why (Kentucky is) so good. Not that their other players aren’t, but he’s so much of a factor.”
• Say what? An Internet poll question last week: Which college hoops program is most enduring? A majority answered, UCLA. Hilarious.