UK Basketball: Expectations delayed ... thanks, NCAA

Go here for John Calipari's latest LexyCast -- The coach talks about the team getting better, and Tuesday's practice.  Also, Glenn has put a permanent Cal LexyCast widget just underneath his Twitter feed on the right sidebar.

The first week of November is usually when expectations among Kentucky basketball fans for the upcoming season are just hitting their preseason peak.  Coaches are talking about player potential, fans are talking about potential greatness, and rivals are trying to ascertain how to beat the SEC juggernaut wearing blue and white.  Preseason rankings and ratings are set in concrete, prognostications are on record.

Not so this season, though.  No, this season Kentucky fans, media members, and rival programs alike are left to preface everything they say, write, and think about the 2010-2011 'Cats with that indeterminate word, "if."  As in, "if" Enes Kanter plays ... or more unpleasant to the Big Blue faithful, "if" Enes Kanter doesn't play ...

Because, after all, how good this edition of the Wildcats can be will be determined by what the NCAA, in all their delayed "wisdom," decides on the Enes Kanter eligibility issue.  So muddy is the water, that UK coach John Calipari (in November!) is surely struggling with how to best prepare his players for the season.  Should he coach as if Kanter won't be playing with the 'Cats, or should he prepare his team as if Kanter will gain his eligibility at some point in the season?  Or is there some happy marriage of the two possibilities that allows Calipari to competently prepare his team without having the benefit of knowing if the best teenage center in the world will be wearing "Kentucky" across his rather broad chest? 

Kanter, possibly the most dominant big man to ever come out of Europe, originally gave his verbal commitment to the University of Washington on November 22, 2009.  That's nearly a year ago.  Nearly a year that the NCAA has known that the young man planned on playing college basketball in the US.  Nearly a year in which to investigate, and determine whether Kanter is indeed eligible for collegiate competition in this country.  An entire year.  Shouldn't that be more than enough time, even in a matter as potentially complicated as this, to rule on one kid's eligibility?  I don't care if Kanter previously played with the Polar Ice Cap Pirates, a year should be ample time to make a ruling. 

For a body that proclaims to be interested in fair competition among its members, the bureaucratic behemoth, because it is taking such an inexcusable amount of time to come to a decision, is putting UK in a most unfair position.  Unfair to the players, unfair to the coaches, and unfair to the fans.  The very fans, coaches, and players who fill the NCAA coffers to the brim year after year with their attendance at the NCAA Tournament (or by their participation), their purchasing of apparel (or their wearing of it), and their tuning into televised games (or their playing in such), producing revenue which brings the NCAA literally hundreds of millions of dollars every year. 

To his great credit, John Calipari is saying all the right things -- Because of the change in the NCAA's foreign player transfer rule, this is a monumental, precedent-setting decision (not that precedents mean anything to the NCAA) which will impact future European transfers, and they, the NCAA, need to get this one right. 

Well, in my mind, the NCAA has already gotten this one wrong.

Due to either incompetence -- well, yeah, incompetence, no need for an "or" here -- the NCAA has unfairly (there's that word again) held hostage an entire basketball program.  If asked, I am sure the NCAA hierarchy would offer excuses by pontificating about the need to investigate financial documents, the necessary travel time, and the difficulty in dealing with foreign clubs.  All true and real reasons for such an investigation to take longer than normal.  But, a year?  As my wife would say, "really?"

(And if the NCAA did not begin their investigation into a known foreign commodity, a known big time big man, until he signed with Kentucky ... well, that's a different post for a different day.)

Currently, what the fans, coaching staff and players are left with, as they await in NCAA purgatory for a ruling, is to prepare for the soon-to-start season as if Kanter won't play.  How can one prepare any other way; it's not as if Kanter is allowed to practice with the team.  What option has the NCAA left Calipari with?

So, as the UK coaching staff instructs their team on the intricacies of the dribble drive offense, man-to-man defense (or some type of zone), and how to become a cohesive unit, the fans must also prepare to watch a squad short on height, and long on inexperience.  A team full of talent, but missing the link which could make them great.  Remembering that there is no John Wall -- a player with enough talent and confidence to literally will Kentucky to victory in a closer than expected game -- there is no Patrick Patterson -- a beast on the boards, a beast with the ball, and a beauty to behold in a UK uniform -- there is no DeMarcus Cousins -- a freakish 6-11 athlete who scored points and grabbed rebounds like his next meal depended on it.

What there is, though, is an accumulation of young talent collectively rated the most outstanding rookies in the country, along with a couple of experienced juniors (Darius Miller, DeAndre Liggins) itching to carve out their place in UK lore, and a senior (Josh Harrellson) ready to take advantage of his opportunity.

As we anxiously watch this young team develop (and, yes, lose from time to time), we must remember they aren't the 2009-2010 'Cats.  But they practice just as hard, they sacrifice just as much, they want success just as much, and they are focused, not on what they are not, but instead, on what they currently are.  A mindset the massive UK fan base would be wise to emulate.  For opining about the "ifs" will only lead to disappointment, and an unpleasant season.

So, like the "hate," we must embrace what this team is.  For until the NCAA finally delivers a verdict, there is no other choice.

Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!

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