What a day! Actually forget about a day….what a week! Remember where we were just five days ago? We had just gotten rid of a controversial coach in a bizarre scene that left no one with a smile on their face and questions as to who could be the coach for a program that looked to be in turmoil. Now five days letter, and as Gregg Doyel suggests in this article, the Kentucky basketball juggernaut is back! Since the first inkling that I received on Saturday afternoon that this could happen occurred, I have been afraid to get too excited. There simply cant be a better marriage than Kentucky basketball and John Calipari. A charismatic winner who is dying to take a place among college basketball’s all-time elites joins a program that needs reassurance it is the best in the land. A perfect marriage and one that is exhilirating for the Big Blue Nation.
There will be plenty of time over the next couple of days to dissect how we got here and what the future holds, but lets start with this. TEN THINGS THAT CHANGE TODAY in KENTUCKY BASKETBALL:
(1) The Fanbase is Unified:
I have been running this blog for almost four years and without a doubt, the most frustrating part of it has been a continous divide amongst the UK fans. First it was pro-Tubby vs anti-Tubby, then it was pro-Clyde vs anti-Clyde…..both splits causing one set of fans to disagree with, and at times dislike, the other half. No more. The fanbase is as unified as one could ever imagine at this moment. There is not a person I have spoken with who thinks this is a bad move. Some have concerns about this or that but all agree that UK basketball is back as the Big Blue Nation’s emotion is palpable. Its One fanbase going forward….how long we have waited for that.
(2) Kentucky is a Final Four contender….NEXT YEAR
We all imagined there would be rebuilding time to get adjusted to the new coach. Some thought a couple of years, some were more dire but all agreed it would take some time. Not now….if Calipari brings a couple of recruits, this team can be very good immediately! Give me a core group of Patterson, Meeks, Miller, Harris, Stevenson, Galloway, Orton and Hood….throw in John Wall and Demarcus Cousins and then see what happens with Matt Pilgrim and DeAndre Liggins…..folks that is a group that can beat anyone….NOW. This team is immediately preseason top 10 and has as much upside potential as anyone. Watch out folks…
(3) The School Down the Road is on Notice
My what a difference 72 hours make. On Saturday night, UL fans were literally dancing in the streets, talking about their future Final Four and UK’s coaching disaster. Three days later, they were embarassed by Tom Izzo, their coach is rumored for other jobs and the Cats just became explosive again. The UK-UL rivalry just got heated again as two men whose career paths have intersected (as this article showcases are now in the same state. Think that UK-UL game is all of a sudden a little crazier? I wouldnt be surprised to hear Calipari say tomorrow that he is going to own the state….in fact I hope he does. This rivalry should be right up there with Duke-UNC….now I think it might be.
(4) The SEC Got Its Bad Guy Back:
I have been very impressed with the hires in the SEC recently…Trent Johnson, Anthony Grant, etc have added to a conference that already had talent with Billy Donovan, Bruce Pearl, Rick Stansbury and others. But we all know that the SEC is not the SEC unless UK is great….now they are. Sellouts when the Cats come to town will be prevalent and the new ESPN contract will have its marquee team for its big affairs. Its time to dominate the conference again and make the one school where basketball is the biggest deal, the dominant group yet again.
(5) Mitch Barnhart and Lee Todd Deserve Praise:
Just last Friday, message boards and call-in shows were filled with ill-timed demands for a change in leadership at UK. At the press conference announcing Gillispie’s departure, Lee Todd said unequivocally that Mitch was his man. Now we see again why. Barnhart is the best at finding a Coach and making a deal get done. Yes he messed up with Gillispie…..but we all make the occasional hiccup. This my friends is a homerun. All those who called for the departure of two individuals who have been great for their University, step back. They showed what they are made of again.
(6) The Former Players Are Back in the Fold
Over the last two seasons, former UK players have found themselves shut out of the UK program. After Gillispie got rid of the longtime secretary for UK basketball, older players found themselves either ignored, or in some cases actually pushed away. I have had conversations with over ten former players from all generations who said that while during the Rick and Tubby years they felt a part of a program’s history, in the last two they had no connection. Former players who would traditionally come on campus and play pickup games with the current players were told not to show up and the traditional games (which includes NBA players like Bogans, Hayes, Magloire, etc and other non-NBA guys) were actually played at Georgetown College. Older players said they never even met the Coach, even when it was requested. That changes now. I spoke with a former player today who knows Calipari and who told me, “he has already said to me that he wants to meet EVERY Kentucky player to ever wear the uniform.” That is all I need to hear.
(7) Kentucky Now Has its Pick of the Nation’s Top Players
For those of us that take some interest in recruiting, it has been clear that for the last few years, only North Carolina and Duke could basically pick whoever they wanted. It is not that other schools couldnt get great classes, but those two schools basically had their selection of the elite of the litter. Now add Kentucky to that list as well. With Calipari, Kentucky will compete with UNC for the best of the best and will be spending their time deciding who they want instead of who wants them. Following recruiting will not be about which player is “leaning” UK but who UK wants. What an interesting and refreshing change…..oh yeah and no more eighth graders.
(8) The National Media Will Remember What Kentucky Means
UK still sells and has since the dawn of college basketball. But with Calipari, they join the Duke-UNC duo as THE Story in college basketball. In the middle of Final Four week, the Kentucky coaching search was the only topic on ESPN and national talk radio. Get used to it….everything Kentucky does will become a national story and as with Duke and UNC, their players will be national celebrities. Get ready to love and hate national reporters more….because they will be talking about Kentucky a lot.
(9) Kentucky will be the “Cool” Program Once Again
Combine John Calipari, the most popular coach on the AAU circuit, with all of his recruiting connections (including “World Wide Wes”) and all of a sudden people with no connection to the Wildcats will once again be cheering on UK. You can see it in articles like this one referencing Dirk Nowitski saying “We are Back” in reference to UK (and notice as well a shout out to our own KSR writer Tomlin’s little brother). The Cats will become a top seller of merchandise to those with no fan affiliations, thus helping recruiting and selling the program. Just wait, it will be big….
(10) It Will Finally be FUN AGAIN
Finally, and most importantly, how good will it be to have fun with college basketball again. For the past two years, we have spent most of our time debating losses, off the court incidents and bizarre decisions. We have had to defend actiosn that we didnt really like and debate things we werent really comfortable with. But actually ENJOYING watching a game? It didnt happen much. Thats about to change. You remember how giddy you were when Jodie went for 54? Were you like me, standing in your living room and jumping up and down with each three? That is what it is supposed to be like…..pure UNADULTERATED FUN. Thats back starting tomorrow. Kentucky basketball will not just be your passion, it will be your joy….and we have all missed that.
As you can tell, I cant wait. I am getting up at 6:30 am to get there early and get ready. I hate mornings but I am not going to hate tomorrow morning. UK basketball as I know it is back….and I could not be happier. Dont believe me? Then read what Calipari said to the AD at Memphis when he asked how much money Calipari needed:
“You don’t have to give me anymore. It’s Kentucky.”
Once again, it certainly is…..