HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!
Well, it's the end of a decade. A decade of great games, great individual performances, and great seasons ... A decade sprinkled with the seeds of disappointment, and a feeling of longing ... A decade full of athletes who sacrificed, worked, and played with full effort every time they stepped on the field of play ... A decade littered with bad actors who let us all down, as well as themselves ...
In other words, we've seen a lot over the last ten years. Good things, bad things, and just plain insane things. For my A to Z take on the decade, follow me after the jump:
A is for All-America -- The Kentucky Wildcat basketball program produced three All-America's in the 2000's, beginning with Tayshaun Prince in 2001 and 2002. Keith Bogans was next, earning the honor in 2003. Newly departed Jodie Meeks closed out the decade, being named an All-America in 2009.
For a historical perspective: The 1920's saw three UK players named All-America -- Basil Hayden ('21), Burgess Carey ('25), and Carey Spicer ('29). The '30's produced eight UK All-America's -- Carey Spicer ('31), Paul McBrayer ('30), Forest Sale ('32, '33), Ellis Johnson ('33), John DeMoisey ('34), William Davis ('34), LeRoy Edwards ('35), and Bernard Opper ('39). The 1940's were responsible for another nine UK All-America's -- Lee Huber ('41), Milt Ticco ('43), Bob Brannum ('44), Wilbur Schu ('45), Jack Parkinson ('46), Jack Tingle ('46, '47), Ralph Beard ('47-'49), Alex Groza ('47-'49), and Wallace "Wah Wah" Jones ('47-'49). Yet another eight UK All-America's were produced in the 1950's -- Jim Line ('50), Bill Spivey ('50, '51), Frank Ramsey ('51, '52, '54), Cliff Hagan ('52, '54), Robert "Bobby " Watson ('52), Bob Burrow ('55, '56), Johnny Cox ('57, '58), and Vernon Hatton ('58). The 1960's, when college basketball began to experience a wide-spread change, produced five UK All-America's -- Billy Ray Lickert ('61), Cotton Nash ('62-'64), Louie Dampier ('66,'67), Pat Riley ('66), and Dan Issel ('69). The 1970's generated six more UK All-America's -- Dan Issel ('70), Mike Pratt ('70), Kevin Grevey ('74,'75), Jack Givens ('76-'78), Rick Robey ('77, '78), and Kyle Macy ('78, '79). UK in the 1980's, delivered five All-America's -- Kyle Macy ('80), Sam Bowie ('81, '84), Melvin Turpin ('83, '84), Kenny Walker ('85, '86), and Rex Chapman ('88). The 1990's were littered with four UK All-America's -- Jamal Mashburn ('92, '93), Tony Delk ('96), Ron Mercer ('97), and Scott Padgett ('99).
UK football All-America's for the decade of the 2000's are: Defensive end Dennis Johnson ('01), punter Glenn Pakulak ('01, '02), all-purpose player Derek Abney ('02, '03), and corner back Trevard Lindley ('08).
B is for Bowl Games -- The football 'Cats set a school record by playing in four straight bowl games in the 2000's, which also represents the most bowl game invitations UK has received in any decade -- The '40's ( 2 bowl games); the '50's (2 bowl games); the '60's (Zero bowl games); the '70's (1 bowl game); the '80's (2 bowl games); and the '90's (3 bowl games).
C is for Championships -- The hardwood 'Cats produced numerous championships in the 2000's: In '00, UK shared the SEC regular season championship; In '01, UK again shared the SEC regular season title, and won the SEC Tournament championship; In '03, Kentucky won both the regular season and SEC Tournament championships; '04 saw UK win the SEC Tournament championship; In '05, UK won the SEC regular season championship.
Of course, much to the chagrin of UK fans far and wide, the 2000's failed to propagate the (ultimate) NCAA championship ... but, I strongly sense that negative run coming to a violent end, sooner, rather than later.
D is for UK Basketball Team of the Decade -- Here are the five best Wildcat players of the decade, regardless of position: Tayshaun Prince ('98-'02) -- Prince scored 1,775 career points (8th all-time at UK), good for a 13.1 career scoring average. In Prince's junior year, the gangly forward averaged 16.9 points per game, and his senior year, he averaged 17.5 points per game. He was named an All-America and SEC Player of the Year in 2001. Prince also garnered First Team All-SEC, All-America and All-NCAA Regional Team honors in 2002. His sophomore year in 2000, Prince was named Second Team All-SEC: Keith Bogans ('99-'03) -- The sharp-shooter from ACC country (Maryland), scored 1,923 career points (4th all-time) in 135 games (14.2 career average). Bogans, in his sophomore year, averaged 17.0 points per game, and 15.7 points per game in his senior year. He was an All-America and SEC Player of the Year in 2003. Bogans was also named to the NCAA All-Regional Team in 2003, as well as Second Team All-SEC in 2001: Chuck Hayes ('01-'05) -- Hayes scored 1,211 points (37th all-time) in 134 career games, leaving him with a 9.0 scoring average. Hayes also averaged 6.8 rebounds per game for his career. His senior year, 2005, Hayes averaged 10.9 points per game to go along with 7.7 rebounds per game. His junior year saw Hayes average 10.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. In '04 Hayes was named Second Team All-SEC and All-SEC Tournament. He followed that performance up with a First Team All-SEC selection in 2005: Jodie Meeks ('07-'09) -- Meeks scored 1,246 points (34th all-time) in 81 career games, for a 15.4 average. In his junior year, Meeks averaged 23.7 points per game, the highest scoring average posted by a Wildcat since Dan Issel's 33.9 points per game in 1970. He also set the single game UK scoring record with 54 points, on the road at Tennessee in January of '09. Meeks was named First Team All-SEC and an All-America in 2009: Patrick Patterson ('07-Present) -- In 73 career games, Patterson has scored 1,253 points (32nd all-time), good for a 17.2 average. He has also averaged 8.6 rebounds per game in his career. Patterson was named Second Team All-SEC his freshman year ('07), and First Team All-SEC in 2008.
E is for Early Entries to the NBA Draft -- The University of Kentucky basketball program produced several players who opted for a taste of life in the NBA, rather than finish their college basketball careers at UK: Marquis Estill, who redshirted his freshman year in '00 due to a knee injury, could have stayed at UK for one more year, but chose instead of make himself available for the 2003 NBA Draft, even though he was on-target to graduate in four years (which made him eligible for one more year); Kelenna Azubuike left for the NBA after his junior year ('05) to help support his family after his father was sent to prison; Rajon Rondo declared for the Draft after his sophomore season ('06); Randolph Morris declared for the Draft after his freshman season, only to go undrafted. He returned to UK for one-and-a-half seasons (he had to sit the first half of is sophomore year as punishment for allowing an agent to arrange and pay for travel related to his Draft preparation), leaving for the New York Knicks after his junior year ('07); Jodie Meeks declared for the NBA Draft after his junior year ('09).
F is for Football Relevance -- Although the UK football program is still relegated to the bottom half of the SEC, great strides have been made in the programs growth, particularly over the last four years. Producing records of 8-5 ('06), 8-5 ('07), 7-6 ('08), and 7-6 ('09), Rich Brooks and staff have generated as much excitement in the football program as the Big Blue Nation can muster. A win over No. 1 ranked LSU in 2007 (first win over No. 1 since 1964), three straight victories over rival Louisville, the first road win at Auburn since 1961, two wins over Georgia in four years ('06 and '08), and three straight bowl victories over Clemson, Florida State, and East Carolina, have rendered the 'Cats a force to be dealt with. Although their 12-20 SEC mark over the last four seasons isn't sparkling, progress within the toughest division in college football has clearly been made.
G is for Gillispie, as in Billy -- Not one to kick a horse while its down, let's just say the experiment didn't work.
H is for High Expectations -- As the Kentucky basketball program enters the next decade, the expectations of fans are at an all-time high ... well, maybe not an all-time high, but as high as expectations have been around Lexington since at least 1996. The hiring of John Calipari, and his innate ability to recruit the top performers, along with the tradition, facilities and fan support the University of Kentucky offers, leaves most thinking/hoping that the good times will be returning to the Bluegrass in short order.
I is for Intellectual Dishonesty -- In 2008, Dick Vitale castigated Billy Gillispie and the University of Kentucky for offering scholarships to those not yet old enough to drive. Vitale, in his ESPN column, attempted to paint Gillispie as a cradle robber of the highest degree, only to, less than a month later, profusely praise Florida's Golden Boy (at the time) Billy Donovan for his incredible recruiting acumen, because Donovan secured a verbal commitment from high school freshman Austin Rivers. Praise for the flavor of the month, derision for the evil empire who ran off Tubby.
Vitale's response to the "wait a minutes" received from the UK camp, "You can't please everybody." -- Genius Dick, simply genius.
J is for Junior College Transfers -- The 2000's saw UK invite several JUCO transfers to campus, with varying degrees of success -- Antwain Barbour (Wabash Valley Community College), former star at Elizabethtown High School, played for UK from '02-'04. Barbour averaged 4.2 points per game for his career: Rekalin Sims (Salt Lake Community College) came to UK for the '05-'06 season. Sims averaged 4.4 points per game in his one year in a UK uniform, and later transferred to Fresno State: Josh Harrellson (Southwestern Illinois Junior College) came to UK in 2008, and continues to contribute to the 'Cats cause. Harrellson, thus far in his Big Blue career, is averaging 3.0 points per game: Kevin Galloway (College of Southern Idaho) also came to UK in 2008, playing only one year. In his short time on campus, Galloway averaged 1.9 points per game, and then transferred to Texas Southern: Mark Halsell (Southwestern Illinois Junior College) played only six games for UK in the '08-'09 season. He averaged .7 points per game: Darnell Dodson (Miami-Dade Junior College) was brought to Kentucky by UK assistant coach Orlando Antigua, who originally recruited Dodson to Pittsburgh. In his short time in Lexington, Dodson is averaging 8.7 points per game, and proving to be the outside shooting threat he was advertised to be.
Point of interest -- Bob Burrow, a two-time All-America ('55, '56), is the only JUCO transfer in UK history who went on to become an All-America at Kentucky.
K is for Kentucky Mr. Basketball's who Attended UK -- '01 Josh Carrier (Bowling Green HS) became the first Kentucky Mr. Basketball since Richie Farmer in 1988 to attend UK; '02 Brandon Stockton (Glasgow HS); '08 Darius Miller (Mason County HS); and '09 Jon Hood (Madisonville-North Hopkins HS).
L is for Louisville Cardinals -- In the decade of the 2000's, on the hardwood, UK posted a 5-4 record versus their reviled rivals. On the gridiron, the 'Cats won four of 10 games, but they have of course prevailed in three straight to end the decade.
M is for McDonalds All-Americas -- Kentucky fans have always used (since the inception of the designation in 1977, anyway), rightly or wrongly, the number of McDonalds All-Americas as a yardstick by which to grade any given recruiting class. The 2000's saw UK's share of the elite recruits dwindle. Here is a rundown of past decades' Mickey D Boys, as well as a look at UK's more recent success.
The '70's produced six McDonalds All-Americas; the '80 generated 13 high school All-Americas; the '90's provided UK fans with eight All-Americas; and finally, the decade newly past gave us six McDonalds All-Americas -- Rashaad Carruth ('01 Oak Hill Academy), Joe Crawford ('04 Detroit Renaissance), Randolph Morris ('04 Landmark Christian, GA), Rajon Rondo ('04 Oak Hill Academy by way of Louisville Eastern), Patrick Patterson ('07 Huntington High School, WVa), DeMarcus Cousins ('09 Leflore High School, AL).
N is for Naughty Boys -- Then UK basketball head coach Tubby Smith was the unfortunate recipient of some bad behavior by some of his early 2000 recruits -- The aforementioned Rashaad Carruth, Jason Parker, Cory Sears, and Adam Chiles were all unceremoniously shown the proverbial door by Smith after a myriad of problems with the quartet during the 2002 basketball season. Their combined bad behavior, and resulting chemistry issues, forever dubbed that edition of the 'Cats as Team Turmoil, a team that never-the-less made the Round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
O is for Ooooh No -- Which is the thought that came to the forefront of most UK basketball fans' minds when U of L athletic director Tom Jurich hired former UK coach Rick Pitino to lead the filthy Cards in 2001. But alas, the trepidation was unfounded, as Pitino has been unable to recapture the magic he perfected while leading the 'Cats from 1989 to 1997.
Pitino's record at U of L is a solid 210-75 (.737 winning %), and his NCAA Tournament record is an acceptable 12-6 (.667 winning %), but neither number represents what most U of L fans (as well as UK fans) anticipated with his hiring. Louisville's post-seasons, the season that matters most, have looked like this -- '02 NIT; '03 Lost in second round of NCAA's; '04 Lost in first round of NCAA's; '05 Final Four; '06 NIT; '07 Lost in second round of NCAA's; '08 Lost in the Elite Eight; '09 Lost in the Elite Eight.
Pitino has split his games with UK, 4-4. De-cipher that.
P is for Probation -- The football Wildcats entered the decade of the 2000's under the "leadership" of coach Hal Mumme, and the unscrupulous methods of recruiting coordinator Claude Bassett, which resulted in a loss of scholarships and bowl bid ban (which cost the 7-5 '02 'Cats a bid). The consequence; a severe downgrade in talent, and a near evisceration of the program. Thanks, guys.
Q is for Questioning Authority -- If the Billy Gillispie regime taught us one thing, it is to keep in mind that just because someone is a coach or a representative of UK, doesn't mean they are always right.
In hindsight, the words and actions of Derrick Jasper, Dusty Mills, and Alex Legion seem understandable considering what we now know. There were those who questioned the methods and ways of Gillispie before it became vogue, but many, if not most UK fans, shouted-down those who dared wonder if all was kosher within the program.
Cheer leading is fun, but sometimes one must dig below the top soil to find the truth.
R is for Rival Games -- In the decade past, Kentucky basketball fared ... well, you be the judge: North Carolina - 5-5; Indiana - 8-2; Louisville - 5-4; Tennessee - 14-5; Kansas - 0-3; UCLA - 1-2; Notre Dame - 1-1; Duke - 0-1. That comes to 34-23 (.596 winning %).
In football, the news is not as pleasant -- UK is of course 0-10 versus Tennessee over the past decade, 4-6 versus the Louisville Cardinals, and 4-2 versus Indiana. That's eight wins, and 18 losses.
S is for Strafing the Stratosphere -- As in Tayshaun Prince dropping the trey bomb with impunity on North Carolina over the first three-minutes and forty-five seconds of UK's game versus the Tar Heels on December 8, 2001. Prince, who took five threes, and made five in the opening minutes, was simply in a shooting zone rarely encountered ... the basket must have seemed as wide as the Pacific Ocean he grew up visiting. Then-UK head man Tubby Smith, in a rare bout of verbosity, put it like this:
"That was unbelievable. I have never seen anyone do that. He was possessed. Where he was shooting from was unbelievable. If I'm on the Carolina bench, I'm wondering what's going on."
UK's 79-59 victory over the Heels is merely a footnote. Tay Tay, emphatically, made sure of that.
Continuing the Strafing the Stratosphere motif -- In what I consider the greatest individual achievement of the decade: Jodie Meeks doing his own sortie run against a helpless Tennessee Vol squad on January 13, 2009. Scoring a school-record 54 points, Meeks bombarded the Vols by making 10 of 15 three-pointers (66.7%). He made an astonishing (for a guard) 15-22 shots on the night (68.2%), and he was 14-14 from the free throw line, making him 29-36 (80.6%) for every shot he took that night.
Watching his magnificent performance compelled me to pen a piece in his honor. It was entitled, "Simply the Best." And the best it shall remain, at least until the unforeseeable happens.
T is for Team of the Decade -- The 2002-'03 Kentucky Suffocats. Ending the season with a 32-4 record, the '03 'Cats became one of the most dominating group of defenders in recent memory.
The 'Cats began the year with an 11-3 mark through the first 14 games. But, on January 14, 2003, at halftime of UK's road game at Vanderbilt; down 36-28 to a pedestrian Commodore squad, Tubby Smith boisterously encouraged is troops to freakin' guard somebody. Keith Bogans seemingly took Smith's words to heart, and took it upon himself to demonstrate what defense looked like. His teammates followed along, and history ensued.
Winning 26 straight games, UK swept the SEC regular season and Tournament championships, winning the SEC Tournament by an average of 15 points per game. And they did it with defense.
Prior to the paint peeling at the half of the Vandy game, UK opponents were averaging 70.1 points per game, after Tubby's eruption, the 'Cats held their opponents to only 60.2 points per game. Wow! What a difference effort makes.
Keith Bogans, the heart and soul of that team, unfortunately suffered a high ankle sprain versus Wisconsin in the Round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament. The UK medical staff did a heroic job in just getting Bogans able to play in UK's next game, two days later against Marquette. The effort, though, went unrewarded, with UK losing 83-69 behind Dwyane Wade's 29 point outburst. In the previous 19 games, UK, with a healthy Bogans, had not once given up over 69 points in any game.
U is for the Unbelievable way the 2009-2010 Wildcats Have Started the Season -- Honestly now, how many 'Cat fans thought this team would be 14-0 and ranked No. 3 in the country? I sure didn't.
John Calipari, although he has tremendous talent on this team, has done a marvelous job of melding the talent, and urging growth. All of the players have improved as the season has progressed, and their ceiling is currently, literally, out of sight.
We are in the midst of a resurgence of sorts. I encourage all to enjoy the moment, history is at hand.
V is for Vitale and Others Like Him -- The talking heads have had a grand time bad-mouthing UK, and UK fans over the last few years. Well, where are their quick quips, and smoothly crafted put-downs now?
It just proves that, as a society, we love to build people up, and then tear them down. We love the spectacle of it all. Sports are no different. The late-2000's have proved that.
W is for Woodson, as in Andre Woodson -- The North Hardin product adeptly led the re-invigoration of the UK football program. The recipient of one of the first few recruiting phone calls Rich Brooks made as head coach of Kentucky (Jacob Tamme was the other), Woodson became the leader of two 8-5, bowl victorious teams in '06 and '07. In his final two years at Kentucky, Woodson passed for 7,224 yards and 71 touchdowns. He completed 63.0% of his passes and tossed only 18 interceptions. Woodson also set an NCAA record by throwing 325 consecutive passes without an interception.
With victories over Louisville, Georgia, Clemson, No. 1 LSU, and Florida State on his resume, Woodson stands out as the best UK football player of the decade. He changed the program, what more can one ask?
As I mercifully end this post, I look, not to the decade past, but to the here and now ...
X is for Xavier Henry -- If Henry had opted to follow Calipari to Kentucky instead of going to vile Kansas, an undefeated season might be worth talking about.
Y is for Yentl -- Typical Card fans' favorite movie. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Z is for Zero -- Which is how many losses the 'Cats will have after they play Louisville on Saturday in EruppT Arena.
I would like to wish everyone a Happy, Safe, and Prosperous New Year!
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!