Happy birthday to Bruce Willis, who turns 58 on Tuesday. Willis will always be known in our house for the Die Hard series, which kept my family entertained and at peace during several holiday seasons. Born in West Germany, Willis and his family came back to the States in 1957 after his father was discharged from the army. Willis took up acting and moved to New York, where he has made a living off looking like the living embodiment of masculinity ever since.
I don’t think many would argue that Willis is the type of actor that should have a cabinet full of Oscars, but he does fill a certain niche. If your movie includes explosions, more than six machine guns, fires in downpours or crashing helicopters, it’s probably going to be better if Willis is in it. Whereas Tom Hanks is the everyman actor, Willis is the everyman action star. Plus, he’s just cool. If I were a guy planning the ultimate guy’s trip to Vegas, it would include Willis, George Clooney and, of course, Drew Franklin.
So, in Bruce’s honor, to everyone who asked you why the Cats didn’t make the tournament on Monday, say it with me: Yippee-Ki-Yay…well, you know.
I’m going to split tonight’s news and views into GOOD NEWS and BAD NEWS. I always like to leave things on a good note, so let’s get the bad stuff over with.
— Worst Monday ever? It’s hard not to be melodramatic after the Cats failed to make the NCAA field on Sunday night, leaving Kentucky fans to grapple with the harsh surreality of an NIT game against a tiny Pittsburgh college whose arena only holds 3,000 people. While the rest of the nation poured over brackets and began preparing their fake illnesses for Thursday and Friday, we were left to sit and sulk. Filling out a bracket, usually an euphoric experience, became painful, and even if you have highlights of next year’s class on a loop, it all still feels a bit…empty.
Yet, here we are, on the eve of what will probably be the oddest game atmosphere we’ve seen since that ballroom back in Cancun. Robert Morris, predictably, is thrilled, canceling classes and turning it all into a big party. As Cal would say, it’s their Super Bowl. For us? It feels like a cruel joke. But, this is that hand that we were dealt. On Monday, Cal met with the media twice and didn’t even argue with the Selection Committee’s decision to exclude the Cats, saying that the loss to Vandy essentially sealed their fate. How does he get his team up for an NIT game against a school none of them have heard of? By challenging their pride: “Do we want to play? Do we want to have pride? Do we want to fight or do we want to let go of the rope? We will find out real quickly Tuesday.”
During his afternoon press conference, Cal grew introspective, telling reporters that he has no regrets because he “tried everything” to get this group to turn around: “You know it’s a great learning experience. (I) hate going through it. I’d rather learn from someone else’s issues than my own. This was hard. I feel good, but it was hard going through it. We never stopped coaching them. We never gave up on guys, never. So, I have no regrets on what we did. Yet, I’m just disappointed that the response wasn’t there.”
The question now becomes, who will be there next year? Cal said that while they will sit down and talk about each player’s situation at the end of the season, that this team “may be a group of four-year players” and as long as they still have games to play, he’ll keep trying his hardest to help them improve: “Keep coaching them and maybe the light goes on. Maybe reality hits. When you hit rock bottom you either want to change or you are delusional. We will see if we have delusional guys or they understand.”
— Will the light go on Tuesday night or will a tiny, packed arena against a small, hungry team result in the latest humiliation for this group? Jon Hood said that when the players didn’t see their name come up during the Selection Show, they were “just kind of speechless for a while. Nobody really knew what to do.” Julius Mays said the exclusion was “a deep wound and it’s going to haunt me for a while,” but it was deserved. Monday morning, Cal said it was probably a good thing that the game was at Robert Morris, because it meant that his players would have to prove that they want to play in order to merit Kentucky fans buying tickets to the game at Rupp if they advance. Julius agreed: “I think he is right. I think that is the right thing to say. We don’t want fans to go buy tickets and have a few guys that don’t really want to be there and show it and we lay an egg in the first game.” There he goes with that “few guys” line again…
— Kentucky is currently only a 4.5 favorite over Robert Morris, a team that Cal says plays really hard, has great guard play and will shoot nine threes a game. He compared their physical play to Arkansas, a team they only lost to by five. On Arkansas’ court. Oh brother.
— I can’t handle this anymore. Let’s switch to GOOD NEWS. Nerlens Noel was named to the Associated Press All-SEC First Team on Monday afternoon. Congrats, Nerlens.
— What will hopefully be some more good news? Julius Randle announces his college decision on Wednesday, and from everything we’ve heard, it will be more than a nice consolation prize for the Cats missing the Tournament. On Tuesday morning, USA Today’s Jason Jordan, the media member closest to Julius’ recruitment, will join Matt on the radio show to talk about Randle’s decision and what it’s been like to be a fly on the wall for the past few days. On Monday, Jordan joined Randle for some shopping at Burberry and a hat store to buy hats for all of the four schools he’ll choose from on Wednesday (UK, Kansas, Florida, Texas):
That’s blue, right??
— Let’s keep the good news rolling. Monday was also the start of spring football practice, which means we have yet another distraction from our basketball woes. The rain moved the practice inside, but didn’t damper spirits. Mark Stoops held a press conference to discuss his staff’s changes, which start with not having a listed depth chart. Stoops said that “nobody’s earned anything yet,” and that the only notable position change was Bud Dupree to defensive end. In terms of the quarterback battle, Patrick Towels, Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow split reps evenly on Monday. Despite all the hype surrounding the new era in Kentucky football, Stoops was adamant about how far the program has to go, citing fundamental mistakes that will require a “back to the basics” approach. One of those mistakes he noticed today? Dropped passes, which if you forced yourself to watch at least one of UK’s games last season, you would believe.
While there is a lot of work to do, the right attitude is in place. Stoops said that both the staff and the players have the attitude required to turn the program around: “I was encouraged. I really feel like there’s some things to work with there. You know, we’ve got a long way to go, don’t get me wrong but I feel like they are good guys and they have a good attitude. That’s a good start.” Chad Scott and Neal Brown agreed, both tweeting about the positive attitudes and energy at practice.
— Chad Scott (@CoachChadScott) March 18, 2013
1st Day in the books. Guys had a great attitude. Must get better EVERYDAY! #FastHardPhysical
— Neal Brown (@UKCoachBrown) March 18, 2013
KSR’s Nick Roush will have reports from spring practice throughout the week.
— It looks like John Wall is finally turning things around in Washington after coming back from injury. Wall was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the first time in his career on Monday. Last week, he averaged 26 points and 11 assists, and in nine games in March, he’s averaging 19.6 points, 8.1 assists and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 53.1 percent from the floor and 50 percent from beyond the three-point line. In other NBA news, the Oklahoma City Thunder recalled DeAndre Liggins and Daniel Orton from the D-League.
— Congrats to UK Hoops on being named the #2 seed in the Bridgeport Region in the Women’s NCAA Tournament. They will face #15 Navy Sunday at 12:05 p.m. in Queens, New York. Wilder Treadway has a full recap below, but the girls have a pretty favorable path to the Final Four, with possibly the weakest #1 seed in UConn. It’ll be a homecoming of sorts for sharp-shooter Jennifer O’Neill, who grew up in the Bronx. Also, seeing their reaction on Twitter was the first time I’ve smiled since last night’s Selection Show, so there’s that. Go get ’em, girls. I’ll leave you with their reaction to their #2 seed…
See you soon. We’ve got some Robert Morrises to beat.