Friends, I don’t need to tell you that these days following the NCAA Championship, the trophy tour, the baseball game first-pitches and the NBA Draft declarations are slow-going indeed. Coming down off a high like that is brutal, I think you’ll agree. Just a month ago, we had it all: best team in the nation. glittering trophy, the adoration of sports pundits everywhere. Nothing was greater than precisely one month ago. And yet we are in May, still somewhat glowing, but wondering what to do with ourselves next. It’s a tough spot to be in. And you, like me, are probably going through a disheartening downturn with all this goodness suddenly absent from your lives. That’s why, in conjunction with the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, we’ll take a look at the Seven Stages of Grief for a Kentucky Fan after the loss of our basketball action. We’ll get through this together, everyone. Just hang tight.
1. Shock and Denial
April 2 was a big day for this state, without question. And on April 3 many of us sat at our desks, incessantly clicking on links, still delirious from staying up late watching the game the night before, wondering to ourselves “Did this really happen?” and “Are we really the National Champs?” and “How can I murder and silence the people who took cellphone footage of me lighting that police car on fire?” It would be tempting to imagine it was all just a beautiful dream, but the truth was it happened. There was no debating it. It was on a shirt at Kroger so it had to be true, right? But it was difficult to process.
2. Pain and Guilt
We’d won the trophy. We’d greeted the team at the airport. We’d attended the pep rallies. We’d purchased the gear. And now, this amazing season had come to a close. The starting five declared for the draft, ensuring their absence in the 2012-13 season and beyond, and it was all — for practical purposes — over. It hurt. Some of us cried. Some of us took solace in the arms of loved ones. Some of us drowned our sorrows in a dusty bottle of Rumplemintz we found behind the hot water heater in the basement, beside some old Easter stuff, while we watched The Today Show. Why were they leaving? Was it our fault? What happened? Perhaps we didn’t love them enough, or hadn’t cheered loudly enough. If we had only had the opportunity to talk to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist we could have convinced him to stay. Maybe he hadn’t received all those messages on Twitter or Facebook, or that Edible Arrangements bouquet we sent. There had to be more we could have done.
3. Anger and Bargaining
Then came the acting out. We stopped performing well at work, shaving, cleaning ourselves properly. We drove our cars into the lake, picked needless fights at a Pizza Hut and stopped telling family members we loved them. What was the point? It was all gone next year. This magic could never be again, not like this. We shook our fists at the sky, begging for one more season. We secretly breathed promises to be better people, to change bad habits. Why couldn’t it have been me that will be a first-round draft pick in the NBA? we cried. Take me! Don’t take them! I’ll go play center for the Charlotte Bobcats! We need them here, in Kentucky! Alas, no answer came. Time marched on.
4. Reflection and Loneliness
We thought back to the good times. We started turning on CBS at noon on Saturdays, hoping the Wildcats would be there, but instead finding skateboarding competitions and exercise DVD commercials. We spent hours glued to ESPNU, hoping that at any second college lacrosse would disappear and Kentucky basketball would reappear, gloriously, to save us all. We taped makeshift “IMG” logos to the bottom of our television screens. We walked the streets of our cities at night, in the rain, imagining conversations between Ian Eagle and Bill Raftery and we slept in our clothes, reeking of taco sauce and sweat. Our friends stopped calling, and our utilities were turned off.
5. The Upward Turn
Then, on April 11, a young man named Nerlens Noel took down his hood to reveal a familiar logo shaved into his high-top fade. A glimmer of hope was born. Alongside him was Alex Poythress. Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley-Stein. Sure, each had two eyebrows, and only one had a hyphenated last name, but it was something. Maybe things weren’t so bad after all. After all, these guys were supposed to be good. But would they clinch their fists in referee defiance like Terrence Jones, or have some sort of nation-sweeping finger gesture like Doron Lamb?
6. Reconstruction and Working Through
Maybe all this is manageable, we thought, maybe things are going to be okay. All we have to do is pick up the pieces and put a team back together. So what if we didn’t have Alex Oriakhi, we don’t need him anyway. Never wanted him. Good luck to him, so long. Maybe we have the goods to do this again. We shaved for the first time and opened the blinds, squinting in the bright April sun. Stepping out into the world again didn’t seem so scary anymore.
7. Acceptance and Hope
Nerlens Noel showed up at Keeneland, and a high school prom. Our new recruits started pumping up fellow would-be recruits on Twitter. These new guys, they’re alright. Maybe they’re just as good as the old guys. Maybe life goes on. Maybe it’s time to let these 2011-12 guys go. After all, we want them to be happy. And they deserve to be. And so do we. So maybe it’s time to move on. And, with any luck, we’ll go through all of this again next April.