Kentucky Basketball: A Season to Embrace

With the official start of the Kentucky basketball season now less than 36 hours away, the sense of anticipation among Big Blue backers is palpable.  Found on message boards, blogs, sport's pages, and Starbucks throughout Kentucky, are opinions (some good, some lame), prognostications, and some downright emphatic enunciations about the prospects of UK fans witnessing a gloriously historic season.  And really, who can blame them?

For a program and fan-base accustomed to Final Four runs, SEC championships, national accolades, and local adulation, the previous four basketball seasons have been the equivalent of an unwanted killjoy.  We've seen two coaches depart, one of his own volition (sort of), and the other of his own hand.  We've seen bad basketball, bad decisions by those trusted to make good decisions, and generally an unsettled feeling within the basketball program.  It hasn't been fun, regardless how one may choose to spin the distaste-full events.  And if sports are supposed to provide a fan with one thing, that thing would be enjoyment ... an escape, if you will, from the every day problems and trials of life.  We don't want to be made to lament the state of the program.  We want to celebrate victories, and discuss how much enjoyment we derived from our 'Cats schooling the Gators, Vols, and Cards on the art of winning, and winning decisively.

But through a series of unfortunate choices, we have had four years of enjoyment pilfered from under our noses.  We've witnessed embarrassing losses to rivals Kansas, Indiana, Louisville, and North Carolina ... We've witnessed ESPN glorify Gardner-Webb and VMI, while at the same time de-glorifying the most tradition-rich college basketball program in the nation ... We've witnessed Rupp rumble with displeasure, dissatisfaction, and an inordinate amount of disharmony ... We've filled out NIT brackets for chrissakes.  Yes, Kentucky has been the reluctant, yet cooperating whipping boy of UK wannabes since Kelenna Azubuike left for the Association ... it's been a long and frightful journey.  But, like a Jeff Goodman column, we can now rejoice that it's over.  

So, how should the average Kentucky basketball fan respond to this felonious four year theft?  Simple, by enjoying, and reveling in the season ahead.  Fight off the temptation to dissect every substitution, and every missed or made shot.  Let's not bemoan a margin of victory not as substantial as we thought it would be.  Let's not decry the freshmen when they make freshman mistakes.  Push back the urge to criticize that which we don't understand.

After four years of purgatory, shouldn't we be able sit back in our easy chair, or our uncomfortable Rupp Arena seat and bask in the sunshine of certain victory?  Shouldn't we be able to, with wonderment, nod our heads approvingly at the cumulative talent playing in our hallowed hall?  Players such as Wall, Bledsoe, Patterson, Cousins, Orton and Dodson displaying their considerable skills for our viewing pleasure is not a sight often enjoyed at the collegiate level.  So my advice is to take it all in, and TiVO the show if possible, because this season will be a singular sensation not seen again for who knows how long. 

I know, I know.  I hear UK fan now, "Well, wait a minute, John Calipari is a recruiting genius, what, with his dribble-drive as dangled bait.  What recruit wouldn't want to play for him?  And he's so darn nice." 

Yeah, all that's probably true, but an accumulation of talent as rich as this Kentucky squad is indeed a rarity.  Oh, it's happened before at UK ... 14 looong years ago.  And like the 1996 team, this team will lose early, and lose late, but they'll have a chance to be great.  Our Italian friend residing down I-64 had it right when he implored, "Embrace the precious present," because we don't know when it will again be this good.

The empire will not always glisten with a gilded glow, this we should know.  So don't take for granted the spectacle of Big Blue's superior athletes running roughshod over the competition, for this is a time to enjoy and praise, after so much heartache, the team of elite achievers dancing across our screens.  Will UK be good over the next several years?  I would think so, but what we have awaiting us this season is a tonic which is intended to vanquish forever the bitter after-taste of four years wasted.  It's a tonic not often prescribed by the basketball gods, so it's intended to be cherished, not picked apart by the masses.

Am I saying the gods have opted to bless UK and its fans with a championship?  No, that determination will be made on the hardwood.  But, whether a championship is forthcoming or not shouldn't be the all-consuming, overriding theme of this 2009-2010 season.  This season should be an exercise in enjoyment, something that has been absent from the experience for far too long.  It's been Kentucky fans' nature to allow the enjoyment of the game to be corrupted by expectations, and although this team is talented in a scary sort of way, I choose to not expect, only to watch in anticipation of seeing something I've never seen before.  That's how special this group is.  And like the shooting stars of the past, players like Ron Mercer, Antoine Walker, and Jamal Mashburn, they'll bless us with their presence for only a short period of time.

So, when John Wall, Patrick Patterson, and DeMarcus Cousins suit up to please you, I, and Calipari, remember the clock is ticking.  The hour glass has been turned upside down as of tomorrow night, and no amount of pleading will stop the sand from obeying gravity.  This is a one year deal, with no option for a second.  Cheer hard, and cheer often, keeping in mind the cheering only goes on for so long. 

Of course, if the 'Cats don't beat the Cards, all bets are off.

Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats! 

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