The “madness” for Kentucky basketball fans is traditional every March with the arrival of the NCAA tournament. However, for this year’s team and this year’s NCAA tournament, the madness started almost one year ago, on April 1, 2009, when John Calipari was hired to coach the Wildcats at UK.
While no specifics were known at that point about what players would stay or what players he’d be recruiting, even the most optimistic fan could have never guessed what would transpire over the next few months, and how in one year’s time one of the greatest turn-arounds in college basketball history would belong to Kentucky.
Pre-Season AP All-American First-Team candidate? Check: Patrick Patterson. The cover of Sports Illustrated? Check. Actually, a UK player has been on three SI covers total for this season, but who is counting? An almost certain #1 draft pick in this year’s NBA draft? Check: John Wall. Potentially four more first-round draft picks in 2010? Check: Patterson, Demarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe & Daniel Orton. On paper, this team should beat every college team, and maybe even some NBA teams. But, will they?
Some called Calipari’s first recruiting class at UK one of the greatest of all time, while others drew comparisons to Michigan’s “Fab Five” in the early 90’s. However the season finishes up, it has certainly been one for the ages- even for Kentucky’s rich basketball tradition. Coach Calipari’s approach to coaching/recruiting, his personality for the job and his relentless marketing of Kentucky basketball is matched only by the fans undying love and support of its program. It certainly was a match made in college basketball heaven.
Going into the NCAA tournament, Kentucky’s record stood at 32-2. After wins against East Tennessee State and Wake Forest in the first and second rounds, adding an additional 4 wins to win their 8th championship is the goal for this freshmen-filled team. The majority of the roster had never even played in an NCAA tournament game, much less cut down any nets leading to the title (they didn’t even cut down the nets for winning the SEC tournament championship, as those “aren’t the nets they want to be cutting down”). But, expectations at UK are lofty and fortunately for even the craziest of fans, this year’s team is looking ahead to deliver.
The successful core of this team will most likely not return to Lexington next year, yet the players seem to understand not only their unlimited potential as college players, but also the endless love the fans have for this program. They understand how long it’s been and how much it would mean for Kentucky to hang its 8th banner in Rupp Arena. The players, fans AND coach are on the same page. How long has it been since that happened at UK?
The fans would say too long.
The answer is just days away. If Kentucky can beat Cornell and advance in the Elite 8 to the Final Four, one has to imagine the possibilities of how great this team really is.
As one fan said “We may have only had them for a year, but they were ours and they’ll be Kentucky’s forever.” And, no matter what happens from here on out- one thing is certain: **in best Dick Vitale voice** Kentucky Basketball is back, baby!
Photo Courtesy of www.slamonline.com
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