Skip to content

Kentucky Sports Radio

University of Kentucky Basketball, Football, and Recruiting news brought to you in the most ridiculous manner possible.

Five Reasons Why the 2020 ‘Cats Should Be Remembered as Champions

Do you remember where you were when the final buzzer sounded on the 2019-20 Kentucky basketball season? I sure do.

I was getting back from spring break, and let me tell you, the other passengers de-boarding from that 8-hour international flight were very confused to see an exhausted-looking college kid in a blue hoodie hooting and hollering in the customs line.

Granted, as I watched on my battery-depleted phone while E.J. Montgomery tipped in a shot to complete a seemingly impossible comeback against Florida, I didn’t think it would be the end. None of us did. For that brief moment, one week before the world shut down, all I knew was that this team was special.

Now, after two incredibly long months stuck at home with no sports on TV (thanks, coronavirus), we’ve all had some time to reflect on the season cut short. The full reality has finally sunk in, and it is bleak: not only did this Kentucky team lose their chance to earn a spot on the pantheon of March heroes, but thanks to a series of draft decisions, transfers, and one tear-filled graduation, they’re well and truly gone forever. As the months wear on, it’s becoming more likely that the legacy of this special group of players will be overshadowed by the fallout of “March Sadness”—and this breaks my heart.

With that said, I truly believe this year’s group of wildcats should be remembered as champions. Here are five reasons why.

1. They Had What It Took

If anyone who follows college basketball from outside of the Kentucky bubble happens to read this post (by the way, tell your friends!) they may be confused as to why I’m hurling such praise on a team that won 25 games in a mid-tier conference, spent most of the year hovering in the 10-15 range in the AP Poll, and lost a home game to the 9-23 Evansville Purple Aces. That would be a fair question.

However, I believe—and John Calipari agrees—that the 2019-20 ‘Cats were one of the most underrated teams in the nation.

Back in March, Aaron Torres called this season Calipari’s best coaching job. Naturally, we’re pretty biased sitting here in our blue Power-K pajamas. But let’s look at the facts: Not only did Kentucky rebound from the crushing Evansville defeat to win the SEC outright for the first time since 2017, but they had a knack for getting it together for big games (see: Michigan State, Louisville, Texas Tech and Auburn). They also finished 8-2 in true road games, including that remarkable come-from-behind victory in Gainesville pulled off with Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley absent. By the end of the year, like so many of Calipari’s teams, they were charging into the postseason with considerable momentum.

It’s hard to fly under the radar playing in Lexington, Kentucky, but if it’s ever been done it was this year. The 2020 Kentucky basketball team did a lot of winning, and they had what it took to win a lot more.

2. (Non) Positionless Basketball

If I had to characterize this team with one word, it would be chemistry. From late January onward, following the transfer of Kahlil Whitney, the remaining players established themselves across the board with what may have been the most well-defined roles of Calipari’s tenure.

Yes, every member of the shortened eight-man rotation had a role. And beyond the top four scorers (Quickley, Tyrese Maxey, Nick Richards and Hagans), those roles were even more clearly set. Off the bench, Nate Sestina and Johnny Juzang provided shot-making and improved defense. Keion Brooks Jr. brought versatility and a feel for the game on offense. Even Montgomery, much-maligned for his inconsistency over the last two seasons, settled into his part as a bringer of energy on both ends of the floor.

In an interview with SportsCenter shortly after the NCAA tournament was canceled (linked a few paragraphs up), Coach Cal said the team was “a group of guys that really liked each other” and that they didn’t have a bad practice all year. “The last teams that have done that for me,” he continued, “won the national title or were in the final game.”

Of course, Cal is notorious for hyperbole, and how much guys like each other is a difficult thing to statistically quantify. But from a purely fan perspective, I watched this team developed a cohesiveness on the court that I hadn’t seen in a long time.

3. We Watched Them Grow Up

This one might be a stretch, but for me, it means everything. One of the hardest things about the Calipari era (despite the abundant success) has been getting used to seeing the players we fall in love with the most move on to the pros after just one season. As a result, it feels 10 times as rewarding when we get to see one of the few who did stick around see their dedication translate into success.

The 2020 team, for all its challenges, personified the success story feeling more than any other.

By coming back for their sophomore seasons, Hagans and Montgomery went from frustrating projects to intermittent heroes. Quickley made the leap from a bit player on the 2019 squad to SEC Player of the Year. And Junior Nick Richards grew into one of the most dominant big men in the country, justifying every Kentucky fan’s long and exhausting investment in his career (and making Drew Franklin’s whole life) the moment he did THIS to Louisville.

It may seem unorthodox, but I’ll remember this group as one of the most lovable to ever wear the blue and white—and this is a big reason why.

4. This Could Be the Start of Something New

There’s no denying that the enduring memory of the 2020 season for everyone will be the cancelled postseason, and the societal chaos that followed. But with every new headline, it’s become more and more clear that even after this passes, nothing will ever be quite the same.

In many ways, it feels like college basketball has been building to this point, with mounting tensions on several fronts just waiting for something to prompt an explosion. Well, we got it. In April, it was reported that the NCAA is considering allowing a one-time immediate eligibility rule for transfers following this season’s abrupt finish. More recently, an AP report suggested that another vote on allowing name, image and likeness rights for student athletes may be imminent. And as for the ongoing pay-for-play litigation… Well, let’s be honest, that’s never going to end.

From a basketball standpoint, this may be a turning point for Calipari as well. He is currently faced with his greatest roster replacement challenge yet, with only one returning player who played in a game last season in Brooks.

Given the success in recent years led by second and third-year players (see: Richards, Quickley and P.J. Washington) as well as the growing pull of top recruits to the G-League and overseas (see: LaMelo Ball, Jalen Green), he may be forced to start bringing in more multi-year players. Whatever the future holds, we may well look back on this team as a last hurrah for the one-and-done heyday.

5. They Went Out on Top

Finally, the No. 1 reason why I will remember the 2020 Wildcats as champions: because they were. Okay, technically, no one was. But with no tournament to prove otherwise, who’s to say Kentucky wouldn’t have won it all?

Photo by UK Athletics

Consider this: in the last 20 years, for all of UK’s postseason success, there have been only two seasons that ended with a win. You guessed it, 2012 and 2020. While Kentucky may not be able to raise a championship banner when everyone (hopefully) returns to Rupp Arena in the fall, the Cats went out with a bang. And that matters.

I can’t speak for the rest of Big Blue Nation, but when I think about the 2020 basketball season, that’s what I’m going to remember: standing in that airport, losing my mind over the ending of a regular season game more than 300 miles away. I’ll forget the long and bumpy road it took the team to get to that moment, just as I’ll forget the people staring at me because I looked like an idiot. But I’ll never forget that feeling.

That’s what I’m going to remember about the 2019-20 Kentucky basketball team. What about you?

Article written by Wynn McDonald

Follow me on Twitter for more outrageous content like this: @twynstagram

11 Comments for Five Reasons Why the 2020 ‘Cats Should Be Remembered as Champions



  1. bbn606
    9:10 pm May 3, 2020 Permalink

    I remember I wasn’t watching the game after the loss to Tennessee. I’m a fair weathered fan as I am at the age I can’t be wasting my time.



  2. dave1964
    9:21 pm May 3, 2020 Permalink

    You can play the IF game until the cows come home but plane and some there were several teams that would have brutalized our team Kansas being one their bigs would have took our bigs lunch and ate it right in front of them In no way we were a championship team.



  3. Arch Stanton
    9:23 pm May 3, 2020 Permalink

    This team should be remembered as a likely early round flameout. Rinse and repeat.



  4. RoseStCat
    9:57 pm May 3, 2020 Permalink

    Good group of kids. Fought hard at times. But listen, I’m as die hard as they come when it comes to my CATS. But this entire post and idea is pure delusion. At this point, this site is completely blind to the reality that we are a mediocre program. Next thing you know we will become “champions of life” or whatever UT touted during the Butch Jones Era. This team was ok at times. At times they really stunk. Ashton Hagans will leaves the school as a cry baby and poor teammate. Looking forward to the next article saying we missed out on a “highly touted” grad transfer from Vermont. Whatever, wake me up when this crap is over.



    • CrystalBall
      10:35 pm May 3, 2020 Permalink

      Wrong. This IS NOT a mediocre program. Mediocre programs do not win regular season conference championships. They break even in w’s and l’s and finish 8th or below.



  5. JASUN74
    10:00 pm May 3, 2020 Permalink

    I’m one of the biggest Kentucky fans I know of, and we would NOT have been on a championship this year. Man I loved the team and blah blah blah, but come on now. Maybe if I was 19 again I could possibly talk myself into believing it, but not as a grown man. We would’ve been lucky to make the elite eight. That would’ve been a good season too.

    Love the optimism, but just no! Now I was proud of the way those guys came together at the end and beat Florida, they showed a lot of heart and fire. A team that was a great bunch of kids for sure. They’re we’re just too many better teams this year for them.

    Anyway, next year we’ll have a chance to be unbelievable and could very well win it all. I’m actually thinking we will. Just a feeling, but there’s some serious talent that’s going to be wearing Blue and White next Season. Thanks. Go Cats.



  6. catfan312
    10:50 pm May 3, 2020 Permalink

    Again another pointless story that means nothing. There wasn’t a tournament so UK didn’t win a title and neither did anyone else. A good team with likeable kids that had a lot of ups and downs and was fun to watch and maddening at other timeless. Other than that what is the point to this story? 2020 March Madness never got to happen so let’s hope we can watch a 2021 season



    • dale-in-orlando
      5:14 am May 4, 2020 Permalink

      What is else is he going to write about? Come on. Great article. I was there. It was incredible. It feels great to end the year with a win. Losing the last game is so depressing for me.



  7. Kydemocrat
    8:37 am May 4, 2020 Permalink

    I don’t understand all of the doom and gloom here. Sure, the team had some ups and downs, but the tournament is always a crapshoot and surprising things happen all the time. We were going to be a number 2 seed. Of course we could have won it all. Also, we could have been upset early. Who knows. I like the enthusiasm and optimism in the post and it made me remember the good storylines from the season. Great work.



  8. kjd
    11:05 am May 4, 2020 Permalink

    Nope. Not champions. You’ve been sheltered at home too long.



  9. T-Town Cat
    2:48 pm May 4, 2020 Permalink

    I loved the team as I have all UK teams, but there were still too many unknowns going into the Tournament. Which version of Hagans was going to show up? They WERE regular season SEC Champs, so that is an accomplishment. I will agree this could have been Cal’s best coaching job, as we won the SEC with our overall talent being as low as it has ever been, based on the current Draft projections.