I am generally a person who believes that we all speak way too much hyperbole when it comes to sports. After the Rose Bowl this week, I heard multiple announcers say that it was the best game in the history of college football….and the ones who held their tongue on that gem made sure to proclaim that Vince Young was the best quarterback to ever grace the field since the love child of Otto Graham and Johnny Unitas. These types of comments are laced with virtually no historical perspective and usually do nothing but infuriate me.
Nevertheless, I am going to make just such a statement about the upcoming week. As I see it, there are this week will be very important in defining the future of Kentucky basketball for three primary reasons.
1. Kentucky is coming off one of the worst losses that the program has suffered since probation. I dont think that anyone can really underestimate just how bad the game and performance on Saturday was for the team. While neither Kentucky or Kansas are having great seasons, it was the biggest game of the day, as showcased by the fact that Vitale was on the scene to call the action. Kentucky was embarrassed and humiliated in a way that I cant remember in recent years (except for possibly a few weeks ago against Indiana). It has always been a trademark of UK teams that they dont get embarrassed….their defense keeps them in games and they always give top effort. Saturday showcased neither trait.
This week will show how Kentucky responds to the lowest of adversity on the court. There are multiple problems with this team and I will spend a day later in the week chronicling some of those problems on here. Needless to say, there are serious chemistry issues that showcased themselves in the argument between Rondo and Crawford during the game. After being throughly embarrassed, will the team put themselves together? There are two loseable home games this week, games that Kentucky MUST win in order to have a chance in the SEC this year. To win those games, the negative feelings of Saturday must be overcome and quickly. We shall see if it happens.
2. The most anticipated Return since Empire Strikes Back also occurs on Tuesday as Randolph Morris, the true prodigal son, makes his re-entry into the Kentucky lineup. In terms of the future of the program…ie the next 3 years or so, no one is more important than Morris. Kentucky has no inside game to speak of and only the most optimistic of folks really believe that Jared Carter will ever become the type of inside scorer that Kentucky so desperately needs. For Kentucky to develop any type of low post game in the near future, Randolph Morris has to be the man.
In the short term, the importance may even be greater. Patrick Sparks has completely disappeared as a threat on this team, going from one of the faces of college basketball (thanks to his shot against Michigan St), to a non-factor that has done something I would have thought impossible (become a hated Kentucky player from the state). Morris as an inside presence, even if he rarely scores, holds the key to this team having anything resembling a mediocre offense going forward. Kentucky fans are expecting the world from Randolph and there is always the worry that if he doesnt deliver, the Kentucky fans will turn on him…..and nothing could be worse for the program.
How Randolph Morris and his return effects not only this team, but the year’s ahead is of great importance to the next few years of the program.
3. Lost in the uproar of the Kansas loss is another VERY important feature of this week, and that is the release of “Glory Road.” We at Kentucky Sports Radio will be doing a special show on the issue of Rupp and the questions inspired by the movie, but ultimately the truth of the story is of little importance compared to what the movie shows. If Adolph Rupp and the Kentucky program are portrayed as the “bad guys” of the movie, specifically if a large feature of “Glory Road” is not only the inspiration of the Texas Western team, but is also the villainization of Kentucky, the effect on the program could be very significant.
I for one am relatively optimistic about this. I talked to Dan Wetzel, the author of Glory Road, on the Radio Show (available in the archives) and he told me that the movie portrays Rupp relatively well. Whether that is true or not, what is much more important is how big Kentucky is to the story as a whole. When I look back at “Hoosiers” and “Remember the Titans”, I think of Hickory and the Va high school, not the opponents. I hope that the same is true of “Glory Road.”
Why is this important? Because if Kentucky as a villain is a theme of the movie, the effect will be huge. This movie (if even halfway decent) will become the inspirational movie that every coach in America shows their team to get them ready for the big game against a cross-town rival. The African American community will embrace the movie for its important story and it will be a film that becomes part of the American sport movie lexicon. If that happens, and Kentucky is EVIL in the movie, not only will the image of the school and state be hurt, but from a purely basketball perspective, recruiting could be hurt even more (which considering problems 1 and 2, just cant happen). I dont mean to sound apocalyptic, but I think in our rush to make sure that Rupp is portrayed “fairly”, we should also remember that no matter the portrayal, the extension and appeal of this movie could have a very important impact.
So is this the most important week in UK basketball history…..probably not. However this is a week that will begin a series of events that will shape the next 5 years of Kentucky basketball. In the same way that George W Bush can look back to the comment “Your doing a heck of a job Brownie” and realize that certain things turned on that day, there could be a moment where we look at January 9-15 and say, that things (whether for good or bad) were kicked in motion that have substantial importance.