Kentucky: Thanks for a memory
NEW ORLEANS - Here’s hoping the Big Blue Nation enjoyed this whole experience, because it may be a long time before anyone, anywhere, sees anything like this again.
Wednesday’s dialogue should be about the future achievements of this sensational group of young Kentucky players. Could they possibly become more than just a One Year Wonder? Could they become one of the great college groups of all time?
We should be thinking about their chances of being discussed with Bill Russell’s 1954-55 and 1955-56 San Francisco Dons, who went 57-1 as they won back-to-back championships. We should be discussing their chances of matching the Cincinnati Bearcats, who won titles in 1961 and 1962, before losing an overtime thriller to Loyola in the 1963 title game.
We should be wondering what their chances are of being associated with one of the great UCLA Bruins clusters, whether it would be the Lew Alcindor-led group that swept to three straight titles between 1967 and 1969, or the (Bill) Walton Gang that ran over everyone to win it all in 1972 and 1973 before losing a memorable overtime game to North Carolina State in the 1974 national semifinals.
Whoa. Almost forgot the Florida team that decided how cool it would be to go for two, after winning the championship in 2006, and then accomplished their mission by winning a second title in 2007.
We should be doing all these things, because this Kentucky bunch is that good.
But we know better. The Kentucky Wildcats will be breaking up that ol’ gang of theirs after one glorious season. Prepare yourself for the announcements: Freshmen Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, along with sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb, will declare for the NBA draft. Freshman Marquis Teague will very possibly go with them. An unfazed coach John Calipari, who has already signed three blue-chip prospects (for all I know that’s an outdated term), will head out on the recruiting trail Friday to locate the latest batch of highly talented players who will be coming to play for him because the NBA won’t accept them right out of high school.
The players will be good, and Kentucky will once again be in the championship mix. It’s what he does. He is the master of the One-And-Done.
People everywhere have formed their opinions of John Calipari. Does Kentucky flat-out buy players? I have no idea. If they do, they’re hardly the only ones. Does John Calipari have strong associations with a variety of sleazy AAU coaches, as well as a relationship with a notorious power broker known universally as “World-Wide Wes?’’ Why, yes, he does, and so do many other coaches in their semi-sordid world. That’s how big-time college sports folk conduct their business.
So we sure would like to be a fly on the wall when coaches around the country discuss Coach Cal and the Kentucky program. That would be very enlightening.
But there is another aspect of any discussion his peers might be having about what has just taken place in Lexington that would likewise be enlightening. I rather doubt that Kansas coach Bill Self is alone when he lavishes praise on what John Calipari and his staff have done with the players he’s had on this particular edition of the Kentucky Wildcats.
“They’ve done a great job,’’ Self declared. “They’ve done a fabulous job coaching their team . . . I don’t think their staff gets the credit sometimes they deserve on how well they coach, because they’re so talented.’’
The talent was rather obvious, perhaps more so on defense than anywhere else. It starts, of course, with the extraordinary shot-blocking skill of Anthony Davis, but it doesn’t end there.
Kansas shot 35 percent from the floor. “Most of our misses were probably altered, as well,’’ Self said. “And it’s hard to score over length. Nobody in America can simulate length like that. It’s hard to score over length.’’
But it’s what Kentucky does at the other end of the floor that fascinates the collegiate coaching fraternity. Coaches at the highest level are recruiting the same kids. They know all about them, and what they know above all else is that the garden-variety AAU stud (who may or may not care about his high school or prep school team) has a “Me-First’’ entitlement mentality. Coaches have trained themselves to live with it.
And yet John Calipari has just won a national championship with a team of the studliest kind of studs, none of whom took more than nine-plus shots a game.
Truth is, he has gotten lucky. He can preach all day and all night about how if you come to Kentucky there are no guarantees about starting or playing time or shots, but kids are very good at nodding and then doing what they want to do. Many a kid talks the T-E-A-M, team talk, but has no remote interest in really walking the walk. This Kentucky group is a conspicuous exception.
“We got along,’’ said Terrence Jones, who had the good sense to return for a second year after a freshman season that would not have prevented him from being a high draft pick. “No one cared who got the accolades. The main goal was getting to this point and winning. That’s what we focused on.’’
Well, they did it - once - and now it’s over. They have other priorities that far transcend making collegiate history for themselves.
But here’s the deal. Fifteen years or so down the road, after they’ve experienced the emotional bumps and bruises of both NBA and everyday life, they may come to the realization they never had more fun playing this game than they did with each other. They could have gotten more out of it.
But they’re kids. What do they know?