With bourbon firmly in hand, I set out on the task of eulogizing the 2009-2010 Kentucky men’s basketball season. The process is a delicate one, for as disappointed as we all are that it’s over, it was still an outstanding season. In fact, as my friend Joe was discussing with me, it can be argued that despite the elite eight loss, no one in the country had a better season than Kentucky. That isn’t to say that our season could not have ended better, but no matter who wins the championship this season, you couldn’t pay me to trade our season for theirs.
Now is the time to recollect on what made this such a memorable season.
1.) Getting Shit Right
Perhaps no group of Freshmen have had a bigger impact on the Kentucky program than those we were privileged to root for this year. From the day the super athletic, high flying John Wall committed, we knew this class would be a special one. But who foresaw the love affair Kentuckians everywhere would have with Demarcus Cousins and his Peter Parker Swag? What about Bledsoe, the guy people thought wouldn’t want to share the spotlight with Wall, only to become one of his best friends? And those were just the big three. There’s the quiet (unless he has fallen and “can’t get up!”) Daniel Orton, and Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball Jon Hood who will thrive in Cal’s DDO within the next few years. We knew that, statistically, this recruiting class could be one of the best in the history of the sport. We knew they would win games, but we didn’t know that in just one year they would win over the bluegrass state too.
2.) The Old with the New
If the Freshmen Five wove the fabric of the season, the returning players were the loom. Patrick Patterson will go down as many of Kentuckians favorite wildcat, and no one was more important in keeping the Kentucky program afloat. Patterson was a workhorse for two years, putting the program on his back and not complaining one bit when he was subjected to torture in the form of practice. Then, all he did was pass up millions to return and make sure our program would enjoy this year – even if it meant taking a back seat to some wide eyed freshmen. Not to mention Stevenson and Harris, who went from starting almost an entire season, to seniors embracing their roles all for the sake of the team. The chemistry is what made this team so special, and every member of the team contributed to that. Yes, even Krebs.
3.) “Fast breakability”
A few years ago, fans were tired of what they deemed to be ‘Tubby Ball.’ Then they were tired of Billy’s ‘No-Motion Offense.’ Enter Calipari and his DDO. Even though we only saw bits of the true style during games, due to our phenomenal post presences, but the fans desires were met. Kentucky was once again a running team, and we were once again winning games. While there will be many more season to come where Kentucky uses intense defense to transition to amazing offense, the drastic change from the grinding, out-toughen your opponent style to the one of beauty we were witness to this year only added to the legend of the 09-10 Cats. It was like drinking a tall glass of cold water after a two year binge on Wild Turkey.
4.) A Coach Who Poops Ice Cream
And of course, none of this would have been possible without the man on (and frequently away from) the sidelines. Perhaps no coach without a K at the start of their name is more hated outside of the boarders of Kentucky, yet you would be hard pressed to find a person more loved inside of it. And that’s only after one year with us. Almost to a T, where Billy went wrong, Calipari went right. From recruits homes to rotary meetings. From winning number 2,000 to raising over a million dollars for Haiti. From getting Kentucky on twitter to calling ESPN personalities jagoffs. And yes, even from Pikeville to Paducah, Calipari found a way to match the enthusiasm of the Big Blue Nation and together we raised the level of Kentucky Basketball to an arena it hadn’t been since the mid 90’s.
5.) It’s been a long time coming
Ultimately, this all lead to one thing. Kentucky is back. The predominant spotlight of college basketball once again was on our boys in blue. Even though Kansas spent the majority of the season at number one, even while Bruce Pearl was orchestrating a phenomenal season after losing his star player to that whole ‘jail thing,’ and even while returning champs North Carolina was enjoying it’s worst season in a while, the media was constantly focused on Lexington. And even in their loss last night, media members found the Kentucky storyline fascinating. No fanbase in America cares more about it’s basketball team, and it only seems deserving that the Wildcats are back at the top of the basketball world.
Finally, when Billy Gillispie was let go many people thought it was because his inability to get to the NCAA tournament. We all insisted that no, it was more for off the court issues than on, but few people outside of Kentucky believed us. Now that Calipari has finished his first season short of his goal of hanging number eight, it was the off the court product (and yes, the 35-3 record,) that made this season a special one. We don’t need a banner to remember this season. With everything that has happened, it would be impossible to forget.