Big Blue Nation! Wow, can you believe this is my 10th madness? It seems like just yesterday I was walking out in front of the greatest fan base in the country. I’ll admit, I was a little nervous because I knew the responsibility I was undertaking to sit in this seat and lead the greatest tradition in the history college basketball. This stage, this court, this is the greatest of them all.
To think about the coaches who have been in this seat – Adolph Rupp, Coach Hall, Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith – and to think about the players who have put on that uniform – Dan Issel and Kenny Walker, Jack Givens and Jamal Mashburn, Cotton Nash, Kyle Macy, Pat Riley and so on – it’s heavy stuff. I knew that in 2009 just as I know now: This is the greatest job in the country.
But let me say this: It may feel like yesterday, but one look at me and you can tell what it’s done to me. (LOOK UP AT SCREEN AT PICTURE OF CAL AND ELLEN). You people have beat me up. For some reason, it hasn’t affected Ellen. But I’ve aged in dog years!
In recent days, there have been a lot of stories about us entering the 10th year of this. How much longer will he go? How much does he have left in the tank? When will he retire?
I’ll be honest with you, at one point I thought 10 years was enough for me. Coach Hall told me that it’s a 10-year job, and I believed him.
But when I look at this team and I look at this group, it makes me want to keep going. I wake up every day excited to coach my team. I may look one age, but I can tell you that these guys make me feel like I’m 30 again. Having the opportunity to coach Brad and seeing him grow as a player and a man is something I’ll never forget.
I’m excited about this team because every one of the guys have goals and aspirations beyond Kentucky. They’re driven and wired to earn their opportunity and they all have a burning desire to win and be the best team in the country.
They’ve accepted the challenge of playing here and they’ve accepted the challenge of playing against each other. At Kentucky, you take what you want. I’ve had special teams here at Kentucky – some of the best that have ever played this great game. One has won the national title and four have been to the Final Four, but they’ve all grown and developed over a small period of time. They’ve all been special to me.
Each team and each player sacrificed and worried less about numbers and more about efficiency. They all sacrificed, yet they all gained. It took other teams a while to establish that culture. I’m proud to say this team has it today.
The question becomes how good do these guys want to be? And why settle for any ceiling as a team? Why settle for any ceiling as an individual player? Every player here is coached the same whether you’re a 7-footer like Anthony Davis or Karl Towns or you’re 5-9 like Tyler Ulis.
We’ve had players average less than 10 points and go in the lottery. We’ve had the number one player in the draft average 21 minutes per game. We’ve had a player – and I’ll tell you his name – Devin Booker, come off the bench and be a lottery pick. And not just be a lottery pick, but score 70 points in an NBA game. He tweeted, “Coach would you have started me on Senior Night?” Think about what those guys sacrificed for the team, yet gained for themselves. You learn how to be a great teammate and you learn what it means to be a servant leader here.
As we get into this, we’ll have to teach these young men not only how to deal with success but to deal with personal and collective failure. We’ll have to teach them how to deal with pressure and everything that comes with representing Kentucky basketball. These guys want to be coached. That’s why they came here. My job will be to keep them focused on progress and how to stay in the moment, so we can all have fun as we go through the grind of the season.
I respect these players and I tell them that. I respect each individual on this team. One, they chose Kentucky, which is the hardest place to play basketball. No program has more scrutiny and no program has a bigger following. There’s no hiding here. Two, they’re held accountable. They are responsible for their own performance. They’re going to be challenged by the coaching staff and by each other DAILY. Three, for this to work, you have to be about your teammates more than yourself. It takes a special player to take on this challenge and each one of these players has.
When this is over and they look back, I want them to see this as the greatest time of their lives, where they become a family in every true sense of the word because of what they’ve been through together.
We have some very special members of our family here tonight. The great Adolph Rupp began this tradition and tonight we’re going to celebrate 1948, 1949 and 1951. The first three banners that started it all. Come on out here guys.
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) October 13, 2018