At the beginning of the season, I was asked by Grantland.com to write an article about why Kentucky would win the National Championship. I approached it with the seriousness the topic deserves and on the eve of a chance to make that destiny complete, it is worth taking a look at that article again here, some of which is summarized below:
As Potter Stewart once said about pornography, “I know it when I see it.” And when it comes to Kentucky winning the national championship this season, I see it and I know it. The last time I was this certain of the Wildcats’ fate was in the fall of 1995. Going into that season with Antoine Walker, Tony Delk, Ron Mercer, and a pre-Porcini’s Rick Pitino, I was sure UK was ready to fulfill its destiny and give me the first UK title of my lifetime. That 1996 Kentucky team had nine future NBA pros on its roster, and its demolition of opponents throughout the season was magical to watch. The Wildcats lost twice that season – once to UMass and once to Mississippi State, both of which were loaded enough to eventually make it to the Final Four. It was an exhilarating ride for a Blue-obsessed teenager, made even more special by the knowledge from the beginning of the inevitability of our final destination.
Sixteen years later, this Kentucky team is headed for a similar date with destiny. Just as the 1996 group had a coach considered to be among the game’s best but without the national championship to confirm it, the 2011-12 version has John Calipari desperately yearning to finally have his face close the “One Shining Moment” montage. The roster is once again loaded with talent, as Calipari has stacked the deck with seven future pros and five potential NBA lottery picks. Early performances have showcased a team whose length and athleticism cannot be matched by any team outside of Chapel Hill. This is the year Kentucky hangs banner no. 8.
After breaking down why Calipari deserves it and how this would validate the Kentucky “recruit the top talent” mentality, I then got to the most important reason, which is that Kentucky fans deserve this title:
In Kentucky, we care more about basketball than you do. In fact, we care more about basketball than you probably care about anything. No program’s fans in America are more committed, passionate, or crazy than those of the Big Blue Nation. In college basketball, only three programs consistently matter: North Carolina, Duke, and Kentucky. The two Triangle schools have the unfortunate burden of being located where the citizenry has the most college degrees per capita in the nation. We in Kentucky don’t have that distraction. North Carolina’s wine-and-cheese crowd (as Sam Cassell so aptly termed them) has the Panthers, the Hurricanes, NASCAR, and the best college town in America to divert their attention, while Duke’s nerdy, elitist-chic student body is too focused on entering our nation’s top tax bracket to truly replicate our obsession with one college basketball team. I don’t care what ESPN, its announcers, or HBO documentarians try to tell you … we care more than they do, and it isn’t even close.
I went to grad school at Duke and lived in Chapel Hill, expecting that my neighbors would share my passion for the greatest sport in the land. I was wrong. North Carolina and Duke fans care in the moment, but they don’t live and breathe basketball 24/7, 365 days a year like we do. Triangle fans don’t camp out for three days simply to attend a glorified practice (Krzyzewskiville is extremely overrated), don’t wear jean shorts throughout basketball season in honor of a onetime benchwarmer’s nickname, and don’t watch Cougar Town simply because one of the stars is a fellow fan. We don’t just like our team, we obsess over it constantly. Ask any college basketball writer what happens when the masses go on alert after a critical column or the occurrence of even a small factual error in a piece on the Cats. In the new-age world of Twitter, with our ability to communicate with journalists, antagonizing the Big Blue Nation is not for the faint of heart, and to do so can put one in great nerd-fight peril.
We do this because Kentucky basketball simply means more to us. We have no professional team in our state. The primary reason you even know we exist is because of one horse race and fried chicken. The Wildcats are what we rely on not only for entertainment, but also for our state’s collective self-esteem. So if there is any karma or justice in the world, it is our turn to win. Our last national championship was in 1998. Since our last shining moment, Duke and North Carolina each have found a way to win two titles of their own. Kansas, Syracuse, and Michigan State each have added a ring, Johnny-come-lately UConn has had the audacity to somehow finagle three trophies, and even Florida, which barely knows it even has a basketball team, has won two.
Those who care most should be rewarded, and we are long overdue. This is the year the waiting ends. Kentucky wins no. 8. I just know it.