Chances are by now you have seen the above picture. While I am not sure of its exact origin, I think it began as a picture taken by someone at Rivals.com and then linked by UK websites around the land. It has been sent to me a couple of times by folks suggesting a “caption this” contest and I am sure that if we threw that out to the public, we would get a lot of responses. While I can think of quite a few myself, as the days have gone on, I have found something more interesting about the picture. Because at its core, this brilliant picture really encapsulates the past, present and future of Kentucky basketball. Sitting in one shot is a representative from the Pitino, Tubby and Billy Clyde era, along with an individual who was close to becoming the newest (and in my opinion unsuccessful) UK coach. They say a picture is worth a 1,000 words….but this one may represent 30 years of UK basketball history.
While one’s eyes immediately find their way to Tubby and Billy Clyde and the delicious irony of the two of them planted next to each other, my first reaction was to the sight of Walter McCartey in a Louisville shirt directly behind them. Now first of all, let me be clear. I have no problems with Suh Waltah joining the Cards staff. The guy wants to get into coaching and a spot at a program like Louisville is a great opportunity for him. But the fact that a UK legend, one who brought home a national championship is wearing a Louisville shirt tells us something. Specifically, it tells us that the coach that brought that championship, while great, was never truly intergrated with the UK program. While opinions about Sir Rick often vary, I must say that I personally was very disappointed at his decision to go to Louisville. Its not that he didnt have the right to go….he certainly did…..but any TRUE UK fan or afficianado would simply not go coach at Louisville….period. An employee out for his own personal gain would go coach or work anywhere. But if you were true Blue to the core, you couldnt be true Red…..especially if, as in Rick’s case, you had other opportunities. Rick Pitino was a great coach…..a true legend at Kentucky. But deep down he was hired help and never became UK like Adolph or Joe B. Seeing Walter in Red reminds us of that…..Walter should be beginning his coaching career with his former coach…..but if his former coach were a True Blue coach then Walter would have followed him to Michigan.
Then of course there is the sight of Tubby. Without getting into a tired debate on here, it is no secret that I am a Tubby Smith fan, both as a man and as a coach. However in this picture, Tubby Smith looks comfortable and at peace….which he did not towards the end at UK. I remember the look on Donna’s face at the end of the Mississippi State game at the SEC Tournament…..she looked as if she knew the end was near. And then I remember the Minnesota press conference where it looked like the weight of the world was off of Tubby’s shoulders. IT is often said that Tubby was not a “good fit” for UK and in some ways that may be true. But regardless of whether that is the case, what is clear is that Tubby is where he needs to be….at a school with less expectations and stress. That is more of Tubby’s Smith’s style and it may be that for him, maroon looks better than Blue.
And then there is Rick Barnes…..who to me represents all the danger that lurked in Mitch Barnhart’s replacement decision. Nothing against Rick Barnes as a person or a recruiter, but watching Texas at times, I wondered if he could coach his way out of a paper bag. Rick would have been the easy, but incorrect, choice for Mitch Barnhart. He had won a little at a program that was less high profile than UK, and some argued he could win bigger with the Big Blue. But in my view, he was exactly what UK DIDNT need. He was not a name that could create an immediate buzz and there was reason to question whether he was even a moderate upgrade from the previous administration. With the bad press that inevitably accompanied the Tubby Smith departure (although there was less than I expected), a new coach needed that “it” factor…..and Barnes didnt have it. Thus so close to representatives of the past in this picture sat the wrong choice and one that I am thrilled UK didnt make.
And then there is of course the other corner, and the man dressed in blue, Billy Clyde. From the outset, Billy Clyde was one of my top two choices and after talking to people who knew him better, he became my number one. There is reason to believe that Billy Clyde is as good an X and O coach as anyone of his experience level and his Aggie team was great to watch last season. But what I was most concerned about was injecting energy into a program that wasnt down…..but wasnt exciting either. And from the get go, Billy Clyde did that. His press conference and pep rally was electric as the man won over the entire state one answer at a time. Fans saw that this coach shared the passion they did and he promised to never get outworked representing the fans who cared the most. Quickly he has energized recruiting and made UK a factor again on the recruiting trail, in ways that havent been seen in years. In this picture he looks eager, a feeling that the fans who have followed his first three months surely share.
Whoever took this picture captured a great moment. This picture encapsulates 1990 to the forseeable future for UK basketball in one quick shot. You should bookmark it and look back in five or ten years and see what the future holds for each of these men. Its not clear what will happen to each individually, but after looking closely at this shot, it seems to me that each is exactly where he needs to be.