This is it, folks.
Kentucky vs. Louisville. For a chance to play for the National Championship.
Either is reason enough to get your heart pounding, but the combination is enough to send you into full cardiac arrest. It’s the perfect storm of passion: the biggest game, against our biggest foe, on the biggest stage, on the four-year anniversary of the death of the person to whom it would have meant the most.
Just think about the magnitude of this game; not just for our players, but for us, the fans. It’s been fourteen years since we’ve watched our team bring home the ultimate prize. Although we’ve always acted the part, it’s been fourteen years since the crown of college basketball was placed upon our head. Those fourteen years haven’t been easy; at times, it was almost easier to pretend the team didn’t exist than to witness the way in which it was being drug through the mud by someone who just didn’t care.
This is Rick Pitino, the man who brought our program back from its darkest days, leading us to the top with one of the greatest teams in the history or the sport. Rick was a god in the Bluegrass, which made his departure hurt, and his return to the helm of the team we hate the most burn. Outsiders will never understand that pain. Eleven years later, it still smolders.
This is John Calipari, who rescued a team from the brink of collapse, sweeping in with promises of a better future which we were almost too scared to believe. That is, until we saw it in motion. John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe…the talent came, and restored the swagger to the Big Blue Nation. We were so giddy we danced. Unfortunately, an off-night stopped us short, but that would have been too easy, right? Which is why we were thrilled by the gutsy postseason play of the “rebuilding year,” a sweetly unexpected trip to the Final Four, led by a whip-smart freshman point guard, basketball’s equivalent of a folk hero in jean shorts, and a defensive role player who refused to let his team lose. Again, our fingers brushed the brass ring but couldn’t hold on, but that’s okay, it wasn’t our time.
This is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the most mature 18-year-old I’ve ever seen. A coach’s dream, a player so pure and good it’s as though he was made for the “One Shining Moment” montage.
This is Anthony Davis, the best player in college basketball, and maybe the most humble. We may only have one year with him, but what a year it’s been.
This is Terrence Jones, the Real T. Jones, who has come full circle in his time at Kentucky. The real test of a man? Knowing you’re not ready and returning to learn more.
This is Marquis Teague, who came to Kentucky with the pressure of living up to Rose, Wall, Bledsoe, and Knight, and withstood it.
This is Doron Lamb, the sleepy-eyed assassin, who returned to college with unfinished business.
This is Darius Miller, the Kentucky native and four-year starter, to whom this game may mean the most.
This is Louisville, the team we like to think doesn’t exist, until they somehow find a way into our semifinals on our path to destiny. These are our friends, whom we have to ignore for certain parts of the year because of their dirty bird ways. This is our state, who is united we stand, divided in basketball. To the nation that has watched our anxiety this week: this is not hyperbole. This is real.
In the immortal words of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, we expected this, now it’s here.
This is our time.