Three years ago today, Kentucky had a huge night at the NBA Draft. In fact, so huge that John Calipari made a statement which has stuck with him to this day. On the night when John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton all heard their names called in the first round of the NBA draft… Kentucky basketball made history. Kentucky basketball became the first team to have 5 players drafted in the first round. Orton snuck in right at the end to crown the historic moment.
For Kentucky fans, the evening was bittersweet. We bid farewell to our first batch of one-year superstars who managed to capture our hearts in such a short period of time. We were still trying to get used to dealing with the feelings of knowing this was the right move for these young men, but also hating to see them go right as we were really starting to get to know them. The night also represented the first time in a while (and the first of many to come) when Kentucky fans took a genuine interest and level of excitement into the NBA Draft.
John Calipari made what felt like a stunning statement at the time when he proclaimed, “this is the biggest day in Kentucky basketball history.”
The words felt a little strange, even enraging some fans who felt it was disrespectful to Kentucky’s rich history. Could 5 players from Kentucky, most of whom were only Wildcats for one season, being drafted really trump all of the other days in Kentucky’s loaded history books? Was that moment somehow better than each of the 7 national championships to come before it? Was it better than the “Unforgettables” or “The Fiddlin’ Five?” The idea seemed absurd, and perhaps it was when you look at it from that perspective. But Calipari was quick to go a little deeper into his explanation, offering that it was the biggest day in Kentucky basketball history for the future. He was quick to state that it was not necessarily the biggest day in relation to the past.
There comes a time when the past can no longer carry your future. Just ask UCLA. The glory moments of old that we as fans cling on to, still being able to replay every detail in our memories, don’t necessarily mean as much to the “future” of the program. Nothing can take away or diminish what happened in the past. Kentucky basketball will always have a rich history that helps set it apart from so many other successful programs in the country. But defining moments must continue to occur in order to push the program forward into the future, and maybe in that sense, Calipari was absolutely correct.
In the grand scheme of things, that day likely does not hold a candle to many of the most memorable moments from the past. I’m not sure that day can top even a more recent day such as when Kentucky won the 2012 national championship. With that said, Calipari’s “biggest day in Kentucky basketball history” was a defining moment that laid the groundwork for everything that has followed in the last 3 years. Kentucky basketball not only became probably one of the “coolest” places to play basketball, but it also became a destination for the country’s best players to showcase their skills under a coach who has the mindset to help them achieve their NBA dreams as quickly as possible. Not to mention all of that, while also competing against the best players in practice WHILE competing for a national championship. All of that became a possibility because of the path laid down by that team, glorified in that moment, on that day… the one that John Calipari called “the biggest.”
Happy 3 year anniversary to the comment that at first seemed a little crazy, but kind of makes sense now that we can step back 3 years later and see all that it has done.