Throughout the course of a basketball season, the BBN always hopes to get to know the players they’re cheering for, both on and off the court. Some years are better than others, but this season felt especially successful in that regard. Thanks to a pre-season trip to the Bahamas, Jonny David’s All-Access videos and UK’s weekly behind-the-scenes look into each game in The Journey, Kentucky fans finally got the chance to once again feel close to UK’s star players, even if we only “get” them in Lexington for a few months. For the first time since the 2015 season, I felt like fans got the chance to enjoy not only the team’s basketball skills, but their personalities as well.
Now that the season is freshly over, it’s easy to forget how fun it was to get to know these guys. In a few weeks or maybe even months, once the dust settles, I hope the BBN can look past the bitter ending and the “what ifs” and remember how likable this group of young men became throughout the season.
They cut through the casino in the Bahamas to get a few more shots up late at night; Immanuel Quickley danced his heart out at Big Blue Madness. Brad Calipari’s fashion statements became a major storyline, but Tyler Herro often treated us with a funky shirt or two, as well. Keldon Johnson stole Jonny David’s microphone and serenaded the media; Ashton Hagans gave us the air guitar.
We had Reid Travis and John Calipari exchanging Supreme Court opinions, a few too many Instagram Lives and the now-famous saying, “I’m a bucket.” They spent time in the community, keeping the tradition of volunteering on Thanksgiving while adding a few new ideas, including taking food to a homeless man. The whole squad got together to celebrate Calipari’s 60th birthday – they had the shirts to prove it.
They beat the No. 1 team in America when College GameDay was in Lexington, and John Calipari earned his spot as the No. 2 winningest coach in Kentucky basketball history, while Ellen Calipari stole the show on Instagram. They beat Louisville by 15 points.
They fought off adversity – remember when Quade Green announced his decision to transfer? That feels like a lifetime ago. There were two major injuries that came at unfortunate times, but despite some nasty rumors, both players came back at full strength for the good of the team. Reid Travis brought the leadership, experience and poise Kentucky fans haven’t seen a lot of lately. From start to finish, he gave his all for the name on the front of his jersey, not the back – and let’s not forget the knee injury wasn’t Travis’ first physical sacrifice of the season:
Through it all, this team was simply a good group of men. There are dozens of people who work behind-the-scenes to get Kentucky on the national stage every year without much recognition. These are the people who spent the most time with the team; these are the people who got to know them the best. Some of these people weighed in on what the 2018-19 Cats meant to them.
Eric Lindsey, UK’s Director of Athletic Communications and Public Relations, had my favorite insider look at this year’s team, calling them the “absolute best group” he’s seen during his time at Kentucky.
I have had the pleasure of working with a ton of terrific kids over the years. I mean some really, really good people. I know I shouldn’t play favorites but this team, from top to bottom, was the absolute best group I have ever worked with. Hearts of gold. My heart hurts for them
— Eric Lindsey (@EricLindsey7) March 31, 2019
In a later tweet, he continued:
“These kids made me laugh, they made me smile, made me want to be around them every day and made me want to work harder for them. This one will hurt them for a while but I hope when the dust settles they look back at this season as fondly as I do. Love every one of them.”
Lindsey wasn’t the only one to offer a positive review of this year’s team as people, rather than as players. CoachCal.com Editor TJ Beisner did the same:
“I hope you all loved this team as much as we did,” Beisner tweeted. “It was a special group that wanted this so badly. Hate the way it ended and how much it hurts, but thankful for the journey.”
Deb Moore, UK’s Associate Director of Athletics Communications and Public Relations, hasn’t publicly made a statement after Sunday’s loss, but she did make this confession after Friday’s win.
— Deb Moore (@UKMR_Deb) March 28, 2019
And, of course, John Calipari offered his viewpoint in a series of tweets. This one was the best:
“I so badly wanted to get to next weekend to have another week to coach these kids. I’ve enjoyed coaching this group as much as any I have ever had,” Coach Cal tweeted. “These are a bunch of great kids and I hope our fan base celebrates them for a terrific season.”
For as much as Sunday’s loss to Auburn hurt, the majority of this season did the opposite. A disappointing finish should not erase an otherwise-fun year, no matter how badly it stings right now.
Earlier this season, Calipari was asked to compare this year’s group with the last one that began their season in the Bahamas – the 38-0, 2015 team. His response was uncharacteristically direct: “this is not a team full of lottery picks.” While this statement still rings true, it doesn’t diminish what this team was: a team full of genuinely good people who we all got to know. The BBN can cherish that forever.