Kentucky Basketball: No Fate

The past.  The future.  They stretch endlessly in both directions, but the only direction in time that we mortals can truly see are are backwards.

We often use the past to prepare for and even predict the future, but that's not the purpose of this essay.  One of the great uses of what has been is to remember our feelings at various waypoints along the timeline, and compare them to where we are now -- in the "precious present."

I know Kentucky fans are enjoying this season immensely, and even though we rightly have some nervous trepidation about tonight's second-round NCAA Tournament game against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, this game brings us to a nexus in the timeline which begs for a brief trip into what was, both for context and for inspiration.

So, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, join me on a brief odyssey into the past.  We'll be visiting various points along the the road which led us to today, visiting some old friends and enemies along the way, and remembering ...

Let's set the time displacement equipment for January 7th, 2006.

As the veil of time travel lifts, we find the Big Blue Nation in misery.  Why?  Because Kentucky had just made a visit to Lawrence, Kansas, and the visit was not a happy one.  Kansas prevailed over Kentucky in the most brutal beating since Rick Pitino's first team was massacred in Allen Fieldhouse, 73-46.  Matt May of The Cats Pause remembered it this way:

Kentucky strode onto the Allen Fieldhouse floor named for the inventor of basketball and promptly performed as if the game was a foreign concept, likely causing James Naismith to roll over in his grave.

The halftime score was particularly memorable -- 41-19, and our beloved Wildcats were not the team with 41.

On Bogans' Heroes, the progenitor to A Sea of Blue, JL Blue (then writing as Agonica) waxed philosophical about the debacle:

One myth that really must end is the idea that subjective opinion can be equated with truth, even if it seems consistent with reality. Opinion is never truth. Opinion can be proven prescient, sure, but cannot be truth. Opinion, like anything subjective, requires context and nuance, whereas truth lives in fact. And any concept of the Kentucky program sliding off the map, becoming a "midmajor" team, losing its luster with recruits, is not fact. It is opinion, which anyone is certainly entitled to.

Although we could not see it then, JL was reminding the Big Blue Faithful, without being explicit, that you cannot transform a Ferrari into a Volkswagen by simply saying it is so.  Even though that Kentucky team may have been equivalent to a Ferrari with half its cylinders disabled, it was still a Ferrari.  But so unhappy, so distraught were Kentucky fans over this embarrassment (and rightly so) that this was among the most miserable days in Kentucky history.

Let us not forget, even though that day is but a dream and a hope at this point, that Kansas lies athwart the Wildcats' plans for their eighth national title as of this moment.  I think, should that matchup ultimately become reality, that Kentucky will remember this day in 2006.

Now, we move the dial a few months later to November 22nd, 2006 -- Kentucky Wildcats vs. Memphis Tigers in the Maui Invitational -- and engage the time displacement device.  Once again, we turn to Matt May's article on the game memorialized at BigBlueHistory.net:

"This offense is different because it spreads you out so wide and people aren't used to playing it," Memphis coach John Calipari said. "(Smith) had an hour to prepare. If he had three days he would have been able to defend it. It's who can you beat off the dribble? We picked a guy and tried to beat them off the dribble."

This was the second year that John Calipari had been running the now-famous (and little-utilized this year because of incompatible personnel) Dribble Drive Motion offense.  The DDM completely caught Tubby Smith off guard, and shredded Smith's then-more-famous Ball Line defense.

Who among you could have imagined then that the innovator of the offense that so dismantled Kentucky in Maui would wind up at the head of Kentucky as a Final Four contender and, ironically, isn't even running his innovative offense for this year's Kentucky team?

Finally, we set the machine dial all the way back to March 24th, 1996 -- the last meeting between Kentucky and Wake Forest, led by Demon Deacon and NBA great, Tim Duncan.  The Los Angeles times wrote about the game:

Whom could the Wildcats depend upon in the clutch?

The answer, Tony Delk, came sweeping around a screen at the top of the key wearing uniform No. 00. The senior guard scored 18 of his game-high 25 points in the second half, 13 in the last 10:17.

How fitting is it that Tony Delk will be back with his old team tonight, but this time on the bench as part of the coaching staff?  Another nexus in time.

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As we return to the present, the past helps us to remember how we got here -- the elation of 1996 as Kentucky defeated Wake Forest on the way to their sixth national championship, the last meeting with John Calipari prior to his hiring as coach at Kentucky, and the debt that the Kansas Jayhawks have accrued at the expense of the Wildcats.

As John Connor famously passed through the years to his mother, Sarah, in the Terminator movies, "The future is not set. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves." The second part of that was added after the first movie, but it is unquestionably the most important.  The Kentucky Wildcats have a chance to make their own fate today -- one path leads to Syracuse and possibly winds up in Indianapolis, the other back home to Kentucky.

There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.  What fate will the Wildcats make tonight?

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