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The Final Days with a Great Group


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Last week, I was on a radio show in Omaha, Nebraska talking about this UK team and one of the hosts asked me a rather basic seeming question: “Are Kentucky fans more into this team than others of the past and if so, why?” I thought about it for a second and then suggested that this could be the most passionate I have seen UK fans about a team since the Unforgettables. That opinion probably isn’t unanimous, as we have seen a number of teams be embraced fully. The 96 group was idolized for their dominance, the 98 group for their ability to comeback from the brink, the 03 group for their teamwork, the 10 group for their rock stardom, the 12 group for their return to title glory and the 14 group of their postseason moments. But this team has something else. This team isn’t just celebrated for their amazing run to 38-0 and the quest to make history. We love this team because of something else that is more difficult to quantify. This team is just special.

Today in the Herald Leader, John Clay wrote a great column suggesting that fans should really take a moment to enjoy the last couple of games with this group. He is exactly right. After this weekend, we will never see these players together on the same floor. Karl, Willie and the Twins are almost certainly gone and it is likely that 1-3 others will make the jump to the NBA with them. Of course we are used to a mass of players leaving the program early every season in the Calipari era, but when this pack departs, it will mean a little more. In some ways, this is the closest to a group of beloved Seniors that we have seen since Calipari has been at Kentucky. Willie and the Twins may be a Junior and Sophomores respectively, but they feel as if they have been around a lot longer. Add in the fact that we watched the team through a long postseason run last year, a Summer trip to the Bahamas this year and now the tension of every game mattering during a quest for perfection and you get a team that feels like it has been with us much longer.

But even more so than the sheer longevity of our time watching them or their greatness on the court, this team is special because of the quality of the players on it. In my ten years of being around UK basketball in some form, this is by far the best group of young men that I have seen wear the uniform. If any one of these guys were to date your sister, you wouldn’t mind because you would know they would treat her well and likely would also be fun at holidays. Willie Cauley-Stein is as interesting a college basketball player as you will ever see, with interests that span far beyond the basketball court. The Harrison Twins are reserved kids with big hearts, who have overcome outsized and unnecessary criticism to rise to the top of college basketball together. Karl-Anthony Towns is so nice that at times he doesn’t even seem real, always looking to brighten the days of others no matter their status in life and doing so with a perpetual smile on his face. Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee are big-hearted Sophomores who reach out into the community and have given more to the city of Lexington off the court than they even have on. Alex Poythress was as loved as any player on the roster, and after his early season injury, his status in Big Blue Nation has only risen as fans clamor to see him return again and overcome his unfortunate adversity. And the Freshman, Devin Booker, Tyler Ulis and Trey Lyles have had the burden of the UK spotlight lessened by the veterans, but have still risen to the stature of the uniform with great play and ever-improving skill. Throw in two Kentucky kids who love representing the state (Hawkins and Willis), a California leaper who brings together the social aspect of the team while also killing them with his athleticism (EJ Floreal) and a group of walk-ons that have become cult figures (Long, Malone and Lanter) and you have a group that is almost perfect in its makeup.

Now here this group sits on the precipice of history. An idea that was hatched by fans two years ago (40-0), crushed after the first difficult challenge, dismissed when brought up for a second go-around and then rekindled after the enormity of this team’s potential was fully comprehended, is now before us only two games away. If it is reached, this team vaults into college basketball royalty, going down as one of the best groups to ever put on a uniform. But even if the unthinkable happens and Kentucky falls to either Wisconsin, Duke or Michigan State this weekend, the pride the Big Blue Nation has in this group will not dissipate. This has been an unbelievably special ride, one that has been magnified due to the daily tension of staying perfect, but also enriched by a group that has not only embraced the challenge of history, but has made the fan base proud by their daily demeanor. There will be other great teams in the future and as long as Calipari is in Lexington, the pursuit of titles will never end. But there will never be another team like this, spectacular in their performance, but equally as impressive in their makeup. Enjoy this weekend. These are the glory days of UK fandom.

Article written by Matt Jones

18 Comments for The Final Days with a Great Group

  1. JLTCatFan
    3:52 pm April 2, 2015 Permalink

    I would have never imagined that there would be a situation in which we would enter a Final Four with an undefeated record and I would feel sad. But when I think about having less than one week left with this group, it truly pains me. To say this season–this team–is special just doesn’t do it justice. But then again, no words do. I for one am going to embrace this weekend wholeheartedly. There will never, EVER be another team, another season, another moment in Kentucky basketball like this one.

  2. MikeUKFan
    4:13 pm April 2, 2015 Permalink

    I hope they complete the task at hand. Not only for selfish reasons as a fan. But for what has been stated here. These kids are amazing. The things you see with Willie and the kids make me even a bigger Willie Cauley fan. They are all special in their own right. Go Cats get your celebration on Monday night on the big stage. Then come home one more time and let the BBN let you know how much we Love you!!!!!!!!!

  3. AZBlueCat
    4:19 pm April 2, 2015 Permalink

    Great post Matt. Really sums up how a lot of us feel about this group.

  4. J-Dub421
    4:22 pm April 2, 2015 Permalink

    This team is so special. I really want them to win the title because I feel like they deserve it.

  5. secrick
    4:22 pm April 2, 2015 Permalink

    Great post. I have to admit i am nervous as heck already. Proud to be with the BBN.

  6. RealCatsFan
    4:34 pm April 2, 2015 Permalink

    Great post, Matt, and I agree with everything that you wrote with the exception of one statement. You said as long as Cal is here, the pursuit of titles will never end. Cal is probably the most perfect fit for the position of Kentucky basketball coach since Rupp held the helm, but even after he is gone there will be more titles. That is truly what makes UK the greatest basketball program in the land. There is not one or maybe two coaches responsible for our 8 (hopefully 9 soon) titles. Instead, it is shared by FIVE coaches over a span of nearly 70 years of sustained excellence. There is not a single other program that can boast that!

  7. lilWildcat
    4:49 pm April 2, 2015 Permalink

    Well said Matt. I think you have just said what most UK fans feel. The ride this group of young men have provided both on the court and off the court will be remembered forever. Their passion as brothers has not been witnessed since the 2012 National Champions. I hope and pray the the Big Blue Nation will rise and praise this team for all of their accomplishments no matter the outcome of the Final Four games. As for me, we are bringing home #9! GO BIG BLUE!

  8. inside info2
    5:12 pm April 2, 2015 Permalink

    Matt, while I and almost everyone of BBN agree with the subject of your post, please delete the thesaurus app on your phone.

  9. Wildcat13
    5:25 pm April 2, 2015 Permalink

    Okay … there are tears in my eyes. I will miss these guys so much and wish them all the very best in their future. I’m sure they know they will always be welcomed back home in Kentucky! After all, they are all brothers … and they are our brothers, as well.


  10. msnthrop
    5:25 pm April 2, 2015 Permalink

    the Twins are almost certainly gone! Really?

    • inside info2
      5:30 pm April 2, 2015 Permalink

      yeah, twins are gone. won’t do them any good to come back. their draft stock is as high as its going to get this year. the team will be Tyler’s next year. Willie is the one i’m not 100% sure is gone. he loves college life and doesn’t seem like going pro is a huge concern to him.

  11. K-fed-up
    6:15 pm April 2, 2015 Permalink

    I have to say the writing on this site has gone waaay downhil with the exception of Matt’s columns and this was another 5 star one. Exactly on point. This ride is like something I thought I would never be on. I explained it to a friend the other day with saying it was like started with a ten dollar bet on roulette and being forced to go double or nothing every spin. The tension builds. You are up to $30,000 and you spin. You win now you have $60,000 riding. You hit and it is a great feeling until the next spin now you have $120,000 on the line. Sure it is house money but you have came this far. Spin. Hit. $240,000. How the f#ck did this happen. I have a quarter of a mill, yup but is time to spin. Win as the ball bounces off of double 00 onto your color. You are kidding me I am up to $480,000. This is unbelivable. Two more spins to go. Let’s get this…

  12. Melvit
    6:59 pm April 2, 2015 Permalink

    I figured the twins would stay. I believe their stock could go up.

  13. Ken Grizzle
    7:08 pm April 2, 2015 Permalink

    Great Article Matt. As a long time fan I hold a lot of past UK teams in an endearing way. There are some of them that I have placed in my memory Hall of Fame- The Fiddlin Five, my first ever to see on live TV when they hung banner #4. Rupps Runts, A team that played like DaVinci painted-poetry in motion. The Issel, Casey and Pratt teams that suffered three unbelievable NCAA up-sets, The ’75 team that kicked Knight’s ass, ’78 National Champs-Team Automatic, The un-forgettables, their hustle and heart overcame all obstacles except Pitino’s blunder. ’98 champs, 2003 Cats, The 2012 National Champs but this team has set its self apart from all others. In ’48/49 we had The Fabulous Five(the real one)This years team is un-describable with their team play, and poise. Thanks 2015 Cats

  14. BMT
    7:51 pm April 2, 2015 Permalink

    I, too, am confused by the claim that the twins are “almost certainly gone”. The highest I’ve seen Andrew projected is mid to late second round while Aaron, in many cases, is projected to go undrafted. If that’s remotely accurate, it seems like they’d be better off coming back again?

  15. Willy
    9:45 pm April 2, 2015 Permalink

    Great, great article.

  16. Leuther
    10:12 pm April 2, 2015 Permalink

    Don’t understand your assertion that the Twins are gone – particularly in light of their current projected draft status and their cult following in this state…

  17. Texas Cat
    12:01 am April 3, 2015 Permalink

    Great article Matt. On and off the court, a fantastic “team” for sure.

    (I do, however, think all the shock of the twins likely not coming back from several commenters is hilarious. Living under a rock folks…)