Today actually started fairly solid. On my way to work, I stopped at a little grocery store and a guy looked at me and said, “Tell everybody that we are going to KILL Tennessee on Sunday.” I smiled and the guy and thought to myself that his comment was a good representation of the creeping optimism around the UK fanbase. Happy about the potential to go into Knoxville in a game where the Cats had very little to lose, the fanbase was starting to smell March and the notion that good things were to come was gaining traction.
Well that was at least until a little after lunch. Three tough stories all hit on Friday afternoon, each with negative ramifications for Kentucky:
First, and of the most immediate impact, Patrick Patterson was announced to have a stress fracture in his foot that will keep him out for the rest of the season. The impact on the team and the postseason prospects have been analyzed on this blog already, but the impact on Patterson, his teammates and his coach personally were also difficult to watch. Patrick himself admitted that he cried when he heard the news, before stoically saying that he was ready to become “the team’s #1 cheerleader.” Coach Gillispie also admitted shedding a tear, saying how devastated he was for Patrick and all the hard work he had put into this season. The video below shows the comments of Ramel Bradley and Perry Stevenson, two young men obviously disappointed by the result, but determined to make the most of the season. It was a tough press conference to watch and very difficult to see Patrick Patterson, the player who was always the calming presence on this team, unable to walk without crutches this afternoon.
Second, the Cats found out that future defensive stud Jamil Paris has a medical condition that will prevent him from ever playing football again. We know very little about the details of the condition, but Paris’ playing career is over at this point at a very young age. Paris had a bright future in Lexington and it is a shame that this news will be overshadowed today as his career was just ready to take off.
Third, an important recruiting loss occurred when #4 ranked player in America for 2009, Demarcus Cousins committed to Mike Davis and UAB. Cousins was always extremely high on Kentucky and the Cats were thought to be one of the co-leaders for his services. It was assumed that he would be a top priority for Gillispie this summer and some hoped he might be the recruiting coup that the Cats needed this offseason. His commitment takes the best player in the class seriously considering the Cats off the board.
And just like that, the day got much more depressing. The loss of two great athletes, one permanently, makes today a dark day for the Big Blue. But all hope is not lost. Both of these young men will be fine in the long term and you get the feeling that this Kentucky basketball team is truly capable of rallying the troops and making some noise. The two must-win games of next week (South Carolina and Florida) are still winnable. The chance to make the NCAA Tournament is still there and the opportunity for some players who have found themself under the radar (I am talking to you AJ and Jared) to step up has arisen. An upset Sunday in Knoxville is not likely, but I do feel like you will get a strong performance. Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford are ready to have a signature game on their career….Sunday may not be it, but I am confident they are going to make every effort to make it possible.
And at the end of such a day (and a VERY long week), I was ready to still be a bit down when I got this picture below from Kyle Shipp, a member of the United States Air Force and an avid Kentucky fan. He took this picture standing outside the former Sadaam Hussein International Airport in Baghdad, sporting his Kentucky flag. Something about the picture made me smile and also put a great deal in perspective. Today may have been tough, but perspective and a realization that in the long run, the UK nation will rise again should make us all handle things a bit easier.