It hurts to hope.
I said as much last night to the people who’d come to my apartment to watch Stoops’ first game of the season. It was rough, and more than once an idea was tossed about that maybe, just maybe, Kentucky is doomed to be bad forever. Apparently my friends weren’t the only ones to think that; there are a few (albeit a minority) who seem to have already given up hope on the Stoops Era.
And I think basketball is to blame.
There’s a fundamental difference in football and basketball, made especially clear in “turnaround” seasons. Football is a sport of momentum, while basketball is won or lost in spurts. The same can be said of individual games, or sweeping regime changes. Basketball can be ruined or fixed quickly. Football? Well that’s going to take some nurturing.
By way of example, look no further than Kentucky basketball in 2008. What was supposed to be a “quick fix” to Tubby’s perennial decline had morphed into a disaster in only two short years. BCG’s teams were sloppy, frustrated, and, with small exception, untalented. In comes Calipari in 2009, who takes a roster bereft of stars and leads them to an Elite 8 with what many believe was the most talented team at UK in a decade and a half. How was Cal able to do that?
He’s a phenomenal recruiter, of course, but Mark Stoops has knocked it out of the park on the recruiting trail since his hire months ago. But it’s not just that he’s a good recruiter. He’s a good recruiter in a sport that only needs a couple of guys to make a team. I mean, LeBron took the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals, and they were terrible. One great guy can make an okay basketball team good. Two or three great guys can instantly make a team championship competitors.
But unlike basketball, you can’t make a football program in a year.
Ryan Timmons can’t dominate the way John Wall did. Jojo Kemp won’t have the same impact as DeMarcus Cousins. There are just too many players doing too many things at one time for any one (or two) to make a huge difference. Basketball is a sport where one guy can come in and change the landscape of the season immediately.
I think we got ahead of ourselves in the offseason and walked around laughing, saying “Remember when we had a bad football team?” Well yeah. It was last night. But because they were bad last night doesn’t mean they’ll be bad next year. Or even next week.
We hired a coach with a long-term goal of getting better. This loss doesn’t mean it didn’t work.
So before we go claiming this year as a failure, let’s curb our expectations of what we want from this coaching staff. The recruits are there. The talent is coming. It’s unfair to abandon ship after the first loss, because of the unrealistic expectations we had that were based on a fundamentally different sport. In this case, the Bard’s words ring especially true: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”