There is nothing with this group that will be easy. Even up 13 with under four minutes to go, the game is never over with the Cats of 2008 who according to a sarcastic Coach Clyde “put on a clinic there at the end on running a press offense.” But while this group never makes it easy, they also always find a way to get it done. Whether it was a bank three from the corner by Jasper, AJ Stewart hitting a prayer with a high bounce from the top of the key or Perry Stevenson calming stepping to the line and putting the game away, these Cats do whatever it takes to put a “W” on the board. On a day when Rupp rocked like it hasnt all season and it seemed that ghosts of Kentucky teams past were guiding the ball into the basket, this edition of the Cats played themselves into 2nd place in the SEC and an almost certain bid into the NCAA Tournament. I hope you were one of the lucky ones to be in the arena as more than one person said to me afterwards, “this is what the good old days were like.” There were lots of interesting tidbits from the day. Here are a few…..
— The Senior Day festivities were extremely emotional and as always, a great sight. Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford seemed genuinely moved by the experience, as did their families. Prior to their walking out on the court, I spoke for just a second with Bradley’s mother who said she was nervous but excited. She said “Kentucky is Ramel’s second home and watching him tonight will be tough.” Ramel and Joe both stayed composed during the festivities but Ramel admitted afterwards, “my mom was laughing which is why I could laugh. If she had been crying, I would have been done and started crying too.” However the person who did not stay composed was Billy Gillispie, who got choked up during “My Old Kentucky Home” and stayed choked up throughout. He said afterwards that “he never heard anything like” the ovation that the fans gave Ramel and Joe and he was emotional at the thought of “not seeing 3 and 32 out there next year.”
— A cool moment early was the return of Rajon Rondo (dressed like Farnsworth from the P Diddy videos) for his fellow classmates Senior Day. Rondo surprised the Seniors by presenting both of them with their jerseys during the ceremony. Both later said they were genuinely surprised and praised Rondo for the gesture. Randolph Morris also sent a tribute by video, showing him in the Knicks weight room sending his well-wishes. Cool moment for what was once the #1 recruiting class in the nation.
— Ramel brought back the diamond hand signal again for his last day in Rupp, which led to the great sight of old people all over the arena giving the Jay Z/Diamond Dallas Page shout out back to Smooth. His mother was great during the game, holding the diamond up when Ramel hit a big shot and flashing it back and forth with Crawford’s family at every Kentucky run. I am not sure I have ever seen two families happier on a Senior Day and they both seemed to have an immense amount of fun.
— After the game, Gillispie was once again emotional and had a number of things to say about his team. Some of those were:
“We made a lot of lucky shots today but we worked hard as well. This group is tougher than nails. I have never been around a tougher group of people during my coaching career.”
“These guys were emotional and I was too. Those two out there have Big Blue hearts.”
“There is no way I could be prouder in a group of young men than this one.”
After being asked if he expected such success when Patterson went down: “Yes I did to be honest. When you have belief you can do anything. What else are you gonna do? Are you gonna crawl in a hole? I dont think so.”
“We could have had an excuse (when Patterson got hurt) for not making the tournament. But we dont make alibis and we dont accept them.”
— As for the Seniors, Ramel and Joe both had a good day. Crawford showed once again how good he is at getting to the paint and creating his own shot in the first half. When no one else could put the ball in the basket, Joe did….a theme we have seen all season long. As for Ramel, early his shot was off, but late he helped calm down the team (well at least until the last couple of minutes) and played solid defense all day. A good way for two guys to go out who have had a great career to remember.
— Gillispie said that today was the best game of Perry Stevenson’s career, which was ironic because he had his worst two days of practice of the season. Stevenson found a way to get open for a number of dunks and was a force on defense….by far his best game of the year in my view. Afterwards Billy Donovan complained that the Gators made it too easy for Stevenson but that “he just keeps improving.” Stevenson also made the two key free throws at the end, not by accident. Gillispie said that Perry came up to him towards the end and asked to get the ball. “Give it to me and I will make them Coach,” he said. Gotta love that.
— 14 points for Derrick Jasper, who is quietly becoming an offensive force. Same thing for Razor Ramon, who had some big points, including a drive to the basket that Gillispie noted was one of the key plays of the game. And a shout is deserved for AJ Stewart and Michael Porter, both of whom had good outings. Gillispie said that Stewart had his best game of the season and was “fantastic”, while noting that Porter has a shoulder injury but “he is just so tough.”
— Finally, at the end of the game, Gillispie, Ramel and Joe addressed the crowd. Gillispie went first, thanking the crowd for coming and being loud and supporting the Seniors. He then introduced Patrick Patterson from the bench, causing some media folks to speculate that it could be a “good bye” to the crowd….a theory I dont hold. I spoke with Patterson’s parents afterwards and they said that the introduction had nothing to do with that and they were as surprised as anyone (speaking of the Pattersons, they were as into the game as anyone in the arena, even while their son wasnt playing….true blue all the way). Ramel and Joe both were then introduced and both thanked the crowd for their time at UK. A neat moment and one that saw emotion from Ramel and Joe, both of which were good to see.
Just a great day in Rupp all around. It is days like this that make UK basketball special and in a season of occasional turmoil, I can think of no better finish on the court or off. On to Atlanta, where the Cats are VERY, VERY dangerous. The Cats are going DANCING folks!!!!