At long last. Since the April hiring of John Calipari as Kentucky's new basketball coach, the Commonwealth and all its zealous UK contingent have patiently awaited mid-October; the beginning of a new hoops season. Finally, four years of mediocrity are now behind us, and so, in the spirit of celebration, here are my 10 reasons for UK fans to party like it's 1998:
1.Gardner-Webb, VMI, Houston, San Diego, and UAB are off the schedule-- Not only are those teams not on UK's basketball schedule this season, but UK fans, players, and the athletic administration alike should feel comfortable in breathing a big sigh of relief at the thought that the current coaching regime will not sacrifice wins, in order to make a point.
UK losing to teams they are accustomed to punishing (for taking the money and running back home), should be a thing of the past. Not that Big Blue will win every game they play, they won't, but the unhappy circumstance of having to watch over, and over, and over as UK's latest distressing loss to the peasants is endlessly replayed on the World Wide Leader, is now a thing of the past. In five years we'll all look back and laugh, at least that's what I'm telling myself.
2. Rupp will be rockin'-- For the first time in at least four years, Rupp Arena will once again be a destination for the enthusiastic.
Recently, Rupp has been an unpleasant place, filled to the rafters with negativity and condemnation, but that will all change in 2009. Harken back to the halcyon days of Rick Pitino and his Bambinos, remembering the way they shook the foundation of college basketball's most storied arena (at least to us UK fans it is), and now, knowing we are on the precipice of that singular type of exuberance once again, should give the ticket holding fan at least one more reason to be excited about the upcoming season.
No more wishing Bruce Pearl was UK's coach (yes, I've heard that uttered more than once as I ran to the bathroom to regurgitate my Rupp dog), no more, "He (Gillispie) won't last 'til the end of the year," no more, "What in the ___ are they doing out there?" Instead of utterances filled with sarcasm and loathing, shouts of victory, and On On UK will once again fill Rupp's crib.
3. Rick Pitino vs. John Calipari -- Kentucky versus Louisville always has been, and always will be the recipient of much focus and intensity from both sides of the aisle, but adding to the combustible concoction is the apparent disharmony of the state's two major basketball figures. When and why the two coaches decided not to like each other is inconsequential. The only important aspect of their relationship (or non-relationship) is the fact that they don't care for one another. And that's how it should be.
I think the problem stems from the fact that the two coaches are so much alike. Brothers from a different mother, one might say -- Both very charismatic, both very articulate, both very comfortable in front of the camera, both very driven to succeed, both very comfortable with a microphone stuck to their mouth, both recruiters of the highest order, both Italian, and neither lacking in self esteem. The competition, not only on the court, but in the living rooms of the nation's top recruits, should be robust, adding fuel to an already flaming rivalry.
4. March Madness -- The month of March around Kentucky for the last four years has been a time for spring cleaning, instead of springing-up off the couch in jubilation. Dread and the uneasy anticipation of defeat is all that has kept UK fans warm as the March winds have propelled North Carolina, Texas, Michigan State, and a myriad of other programs past UK in the pecking order of college basketball's elite.
Finally, once again, Kentucky will be a "player" in March, and with a little luck, April.
5. Belated punishment-- Florida, Vanderbilt, Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Mississippi State -- As is true with most UK fans, I am thoroughly sick and tired of UK consistently losing to the inferior programs of the SEC. If one desires to froth at the mouth with anticipation of payback, one only needs to think back to the whipping South Carolina game UK last season in Columbia, or the Senior Day loss to last place Georgia, or the Ole Miss loss that began the historic "Slide of '09," or the 41-point vaporizing at the hands of Vandy two years ago. Vandy for chrissakes!
Mel Gibson need not raise a hand to help, this payback will be handled, and handled with aplomb.
6. Patrick Patterson-- UK's All-SEC and All-America candidate will finally be able to show us what he's got. Before this year, poor Patterson was a lone warrior in the paint, left to his own devices to enforce his presence on the floor. This season, though, Patterson will at last have some help in the form of DeMarcus Cousins, and Daniel Orton on the inside, and a host of guards talented enough to consistently get the ball to the big fella.
The most appealing thought Patterson must be experiencing at the moment has to be that he won't be alone anymore; no longer will he be harassed by double- and triple-teams. The opponent will have no choice but to guard him honestly, with no cheating by an off-defender. It's a small reward for the man who chose to stay at UK (instead of taking the $$), but a reward he will reap with gusto.
7. The SEC Tournament -- Over the last two years UK has been in the unenviable position of playing on the first day of the SEC Tournament ... that garbage ends now.
For a program that is responsible for putting the SEC on the college basketball map, having to suffer the indignity of playing on the first day of the tournament has been an exercise in rationalization. It goes like this -- "Well, if they play on Thursday, they have a good chance to get another victory because they'll be playing a weak team ..." Note to self: If UK is playing on Thursday, they're the weak team.
Kentucky shouldn't be worried about getting another victory to pretty-up their resume'. The one and only goal of playing in the SEC Tournament should be to cut down the nets, and solidify UK's ...
8. Seed in the NCAA Tournament-- For far too long Kentucky, and Kentucky fans, have suffered through Selection Sunday with palpable dread at the thought of UK receiving a seed reserved for those lucky to be dancin'. Even worse, we've been left to wonder if an NCAA Tournament seed is forthcoming, and if so, wondering which No.1 or No. 2 seed UK will be saddled with in their second round game. This felonious assault on our nature has resulted in UK fans being sardonic about (what is historically), the most fruitful month of the season
But, now that UK has a coach that means business (and from what I can tell, business is good), March should become much more tasty, even to the most refined palate.
9. Leaving North Carolina in the dust-- Hey, Roy Williams can't coach forever, and with John Calipari at the helm of the biggest, baddest boat in the sea, the 'Cats should continue to hold the distinction of being the winningest college basketball program in the land. Plus, it's only just and right that Kentucky, the original gangster, hold its place at the apex of college basketball's ultimate tote board.
That tote board looks thusly -- UK 1,988 wins, North Carolina 1,984 wins. Beating UNC to the magical 2,000th win is an absolute must. Period. Thankfully the cavalry arrived in the nick of time.
December 5 ... circle it, cancel all plans, and hide the women and children. It will be Big Blue versus "Girly" Blue. Epic.
10. And we're gonna have fun, fun, fun now that daddy took the T-Bird away -- The point of A Sea of Blue, the point of being a fan, is to have fun. And since we UK fans have been predisposed by virtue of our DNA to be hot-blooded Wildcat worshipers, and in order to fully enjoy the fan experience, the fun meter needs to be in the red.
Of course, lately, fun and UK basketball have been battling foes; one wanting to have nothing to do with the other. At long last, though, after what seems like decades, fun and UK basketball will once again be willing partners. At last we can relax, and enjoy the ride, for UK is now back among those who enforce the rules, and not on the business end of the night stick.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats, do yer thang!