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When was Kentucky Basketball “Back?”

From KSR College’s Jack Heyburn

Over the past 3 years seemingly every big win, signing, or even big play has led to an announcer, or sometimes just a friend, to declare “Kentucky is back.” It could be the announcement of John Calipari as head coach, John Wall’s game winner against Miami of Ohio, or Michael Kidd-Gilchrists’ verbal commitment on ESPNU. One thing is certain, though, no team has ever “left” so few times yet been “back” so many. Assuming that we can all agree that at the end of the Billy Gillispie era Kentucky Basketball was off the map, when did we officially come back? Here’s my top 5 “Kentucky is back” moments.

5. 2009, John Calipari Announced as Head Coach

Before he even coached a game at Kentucky there were those who said Kentucky was back. Granted, most of these people were fans, and one of them was me, but the feeling was out there nonetheless. Before Calipari had been coach for a day, we knew about his talents as a recruiter, and we knew about the guy’s he had committed to Memphis and who else he was going after. On that first day I started mentally piecing together our recruiting class from Calipari’s commits and recruits and for the first time in several years I knew Kentucky basketball was going to be good.


4. 2011, Indiana beats Undefeated and #1 Ranked Kentucky

The other four moments are accompanied by a video or photo. Not this one. You know what happened. However, the fact that I can’t bring myself to put that video on this site is partly why this moment is so important. Everything about this game screamed “Kentucky is back.” Indiana fans packed the house. They talked trash all week. They made those cliché “Beat Kentucky” shirts and they created, by most accounts, one of the most hostile sports environments Kentucky fans have ever seen. And when they won, the court was so packed with fans our players could hardly walk off. It wasn’t too long ago when Kentucky fans were having legitimate discussions about whether or not the court at Rupp Arena should ever be rushed. Now, the situation is completely reversed. When we get beat on the road opposing fans rush their court and ESPN makes it into a commercial that they play on a loop. We would get that sort of treatment of we weren’t “back.”

3. NCAA tournament run

I’m lumping the entire 2011 tournament into one moment for two reasons; 1. There are so many great moments that it’s hard to choose just one, and 2. I was so caught up in this tournament that it felt like one moment. From Knight’s game winner over Princeton, to his second game winner over Ohio State, and the North Carolina game that sent us back to the final four, this tournament was full of excitement. This moment showed we were back not just because it resulted in a final four appearance, but also because of the excitement it generated.


2. 2012, National Championship Win Over Kansas

This is the last possible moment to consider Kentucky being back. Until this moment, no matter what we accomplished, our detractors could always point out that we hadn’t gotten a national championship. This put an end to any speculation. At this moment we were just getting the recruits, we weren’t just getting celebrity drop-ins from Lebron James or Drake, and we weren’t just dominating the headlines of college basketball. We finally won our 8th national championship, and that’s as far back as you can get.


1. 2009, Kentucky Beats North Carolina at Rupp Arena


For me, personally, this is when I knew we were back. In fact, I can pinpoint the exact moment in the game when I knew we were back. Kentucky was down 9-2 early in the game. John Wall rebounded a missed shot and took off. At our own free throw line he crossed over to his right and exploded for a two-handed dunk. That was the start of a 13-0 run, and the first BIG win at Rupp in years. That game confirmed that Calipari’s freshmen could play with the best in the nation. But what really made that game special was the crowd. 24,000 fans all exuded pure, high level excitement. Not we-need-to-beat-LSU-to-get-off-the-bubble excitement, but excitement that showed that Kentucky basketball was back and here to stay.



Article written by Ally Tucker

I once successfully requested "The Wobble" to be played 6 times at one wedding.

29 Comments for When was Kentucky Basketball “Back?”

  1. Ridge Runner
    9:37 pm August 25, 2012 Permalink

    My top 2 which put us back are both announcements..

    #1 – Coach Cal is our coach
    #2 – John Wall verbally comits.

    Not a “game” moment and in fact, we were back based on off the court occurences.

  2. me
    9:38 pm August 25, 2012 Permalink

    It goes from 5 to 4 to 2 to 1 ?!?!?!!?! What happened to three??? LOL

  3. Haha
    9:38 pm August 25, 2012 Permalink

    No #3??

  4. jt drowns
    9:39 pm August 25, 2012 Permalink

    Number 3 is my favorite.

  5. mikidimikidmikidmack
    9:49 pm August 25, 2012 Permalink

    #3 must be – They never left.

  6. UKJJ
    9:50 pm August 25, 2012 Permalink

    I’ll never forget where I was when moment #3 occurred.

  7. BlueBallin'
    9:50 pm August 25, 2012 Permalink

    First comment nailed it on the head. We got the ‘It’ coach and the ‘It’ recruit. Spring/Summer of ’09 is when we were officially back. And might want to consider going back and re-numbering this countdown…or include the mysterious #3.

  8. Ron Jurich
    9:51 pm August 25, 2012 Permalink

    The aftermath’s killing my bonuses.

    No question: The ‘faring’ of Beeleee……GillisPIE, & the ‘haring’ of Coach CAL.

  9. UKBlue
    10:04 pm August 25, 2012 Permalink

    UK was back as soon as the decision was made to fire Billy G, anyone was better than Billy G.

    The second was when Cal said yes to UK.

    After these two things, everything else started failing into place.

  10. jill
    10:07 pm August 25, 2012 Permalink

    lol after cards beat yall this year and you have to vacate title you wont be back anymore. lol

  11. Please
    10:09 pm August 25, 2012 Permalink

    KSR please write a post reviewing the Elite 24 game which was only on espnu

  12. Wildcat Far From Home
    10:10 pm August 25, 2012 Permalink

    When Calipari said, “when they care more about their teammates than they do themselves, it’s at that point, we will become unbreakable and unbeatable, a return of this legendary program back to its rightful place atop the mountain of college basketball”. That’s when I knew we were back. The message was LOUD and CLEAR and has been ever since!

  13. Dan
    10:34 pm August 25, 2012 Permalink

    That UNC game was my senior year at UK, watching that replay I find myself saying… I don’t remember Daniel Orton playing that much

  14. HeshimEvans'2ndGradeTeacher
    10:36 pm August 25, 2012 Permalink

    #3 is the 2011 final four run, she just didn’t number it. Three yrs ago when it was clear that we had the best team in the nation going into the NCAA tournament is when I knew we were back.

  15. Please shut up
    10:51 pm August 25, 2012 Permalink

    jill please shut up, you make all cards fans look retarded

  16. lebsdad
    10:55 pm August 25, 2012 Permalink

    When they fired BCG

  17. Iucansukabigblue....
    11:01 pm August 25, 2012 Permalink

    I think when Liggins hit that three in the corner to best UNC last year…. Has echos of being a defining moment. And I still get cold chills….

    Go Big Blue!!!

    The university of indianians should never be mentioned.

  18. bigredbleedsblue
    11:04 pm August 25, 2012 Permalink

    Wow, UL fans sure talk a lot for a team that has lost four in a row and has added zero championship banners in the last 30+ years! “Yeah well.. next year your number one recruiting class will lose to our unheard bunch of future criminals.”

  19. Duke Sucks
    11:35 pm August 25, 2012 Permalink

    Let’s not forget Billy Clyde didn’t come into the best team his self. Tubby really left the program in bad shape. It is hard to go against any of these times but the SEC tourney game with MSU was huge. big Cuz signed with less fanfare for a top 5 recruit then I’ve ever seen for a Kentucky player.

  20. SeaCat
    12:28 am August 26, 2012 Permalink

    At UK only championships
    We thought we were back
    with Wall.
    We were back with Davis.

  21. HeshimuEvans'2ndGradeTeacher
    3:23 am August 26, 2012 Permalink

    20 – I know that’s what people say around these parts but that’s really a bad way to look at things. If you’re the best team going into the NCAA tournament, that’s really all you can ask for. And as a fan, to me, that’s right about where UK should be. If were one of the 4 number 1 seeds in the tourney then obviously we had a great year. Expecting to win a national championship every season is ridiculous and not fair.

  22. HeshimuEvans'2ndGradeTeacher
    3:38 am August 26, 2012 Permalink

    I also find it ironic that you all tear IU apart for considering their win against UK last yr their “were back” moment and then you list UK’s win over UNC in 2009, which was 1 early season home game against the number 10 team in the nation, as your #1 “UK’s back” moment. I know we didn’t rush the court, build a diplay case out of it and generally act a fool like IU and their fans did, and I know that’s part of the hate but still….one meaningless home win that UK was actually ranked higher than the team they played should not be on this list.

  23. Stan
    9:48 am August 26, 2012 Permalink

    After Cal was hired and Wall committed, the Cats were back. I silently begged UK to hire Cal when Tubby left. Two lost years resulted from that mistake.

  24. 96cats98
    9:59 am August 26, 2012 Permalink

    5, 4, 2, 1
    Jermaine Lawrence can alphabetize a list, but Ally Tucker can’t count backwards from 5…..

  25. Randy Marsh
    11:04 am August 26, 2012 Permalink

    Thank you Jack Heyburn for the video highlights of the UNC game. A lot of fun to revisit

    4:19 pm August 26, 2012 Permalink

    The hiring of Billy Clyde and the firing of Billy Clyde taught us our program is nothing without the right coach.

    The ‘Kentucky Effect’ should be called the ‘Kentucky / Calipari Effect’ because he is the key to our success and Kentucky is the key to his success.

  27. What
    4:55 pm August 26, 2012 Permalink

    For me its DEF when we beat North Carolina on CBS in front of the entire nation. Then the UCONN game right after. The UNC game was Walls coming out party.

  28. What
    5:04 pm August 26, 2012 Permalink

    My favorite highlight on the UNC game is John Wall at 2:05 says, ” Im a bad motha fuc_er.”

  29. BigBlueBelieva
    8:40 pm August 26, 2012 Permalink

    Great moments all. Thanks for the memories.

    Can I add one more great memory in the Coach Cal Era? It is so much as “We are back!”moment as a “I am HERE!” moment. UK-NC 2011 Game, AD’s block on John ? with 5 seconds left in the game. Athletic, intelligent (as he switched off his man), and the national debut of an incredible run for AD of which seems to have still further greatness ahead.