Allow me to get a little sentimental.
Fourteen years ago this April, with the Cats celebrating their sixth national championship and my pre-teen self just beginning to understand the pride and passion of being a UK fan, I picked up my dad’s copy of Cats Pause and began to read a special section dedicated to reader’s letters to the editor. Many thanked Pitino, the team, and the university for such a special season and for restoring the program to such great heights in such a short period of time. But there was one letter that I will never forget.
In it (I really wish I could find a copy of it), the author spoke of the greatness of that team and how, beyond their final record and all the individual superstars , each player brought special intangible qualities to the team without which it couldn’t have been as great as it was. From McCarty’s heart to Delk’s leadership, the whole added up to a sum, however improbably, that was greater than the parts. And the parts were pretty damn good on their own.
Sound familiar? Each piece of this years’ team brings some pretty amazing things to the table. It’s fun to analyze and debate the individual merits and talents of each of these guys, and many will go on to become superstars in their own right. But what made that ‘96 team so special was the bigger picture that each of the pieces came together to create. And to me, that’s what makes this year special as well.
I love statistics, but there are things about this team that will never be able to be measured. How can you possibly measure the impact of Patterson’s return and the experience, leadership, and heart he brings to this team? How can you calculate the optimism and enthusiasm that has ignited this fanbase? How do you show in a spreadsheet the thousands of young fans who will look back on this season as I do 1996 and remember fondly watching the games with their dads and witnessing the great comeback of UK basketball?
As talented as this years’ team is, we all know that Calipari is a great recruiter and will put together all-star teams again in seasons to come. We’ll reload again and again, and experience many more seasons of success in the near future. None will be as sweet as this. Whether we win the whole shebang this year or come up short, this team will remain in my memory as a fated force, brought together through a series of improbable events, to create a really special season.
Maybe I’m an optimist or a romantic or just a girl, but it constantly amazes me how all these little things that have happened can create a kind of perfect storm. And ladies and gentlemen, we’re in the middle of just such a storm. The ‘96 team was a similar kind of storm, though it was about 8 years in the making. This storm is fast and powerful and has brought together the pieces of a puzzle that will be remembered in Kentucky basketball lore for a long time to come.
I have to say that while I love PPat and have a huge girl crush on Wall, my favorite piece of this year’s puzzle happens to be Eric Bledsoe. Here is a guy who had the chance to go to many other teams and be the superstar. While we may never know what went on behind the scenes to bring him to Kentucky (part of that perfect storm), the fact that he came out and said he wanted to play with John Wall because he wanted to play with the best and get better is one of the more awesome things I have seen out of a basketball player in some time. Someone with the character and courage to play alongside a guy who was going to inevitably overshadow him, if only for a year, is someone I’m proud to have on our team.
It’s been said a million times, but enjoy this Cat fans. Beyond all the polls and records and hardware is a team that is putting the puzzle pieces together right before our eyes. We may never again see the heart of Walter McCarty or the leadership of Tony Delk, but at least for one year we get to watch Wall’s poise and Patterson’s determination and all the rest come together to create a pretty cool picture.