They little knew of brotherhood,
The faith of fighting men,
When once to prove their lie was good,
Hanged Colonel Jacques Chrétien.
Those of you familiar with the classic Dorsai science fiction series by Gordon R. Dickson will immediately recognize this quote from a song from the novella "Brothers." The story is about the death of Dorsai Colonel Kensie Graeme and the subsequent actions of his identical twin brother, Ian.
Kensie was warm, kind and beloved of his troops, and Ian was cold, analytical and feared. Kensie was assassinated by radicals on the small agrarian world of St. Marie where the Dorsai had been hired to support the government's troops against rebels, and Ian's honor prevents the Dorsai mercenaries stationed there from submerging St. Marie in a bloodbath, a la Rochmont in the story of the song, to avenge Kensie. Instead of unleashing the Dorsai upon the town and taking vengeance, Ian locates the guilty parties with the help of the local authorities and kills almost a dozen armed men with his bare hands.
To me, these words, "They little knew of brotherhood ..." speak of the true faith that was formed sometime in the season for this young Kentucky team. You rarely see it in college basketball. What you often see are conflicting large egos which cannot be contained or controlled, or cocky, arrogant hubris.
This Kentucky team exuded none of those things. They were respectful, they answered all the media questions even in the face of bitter disappointment, and they never once misbehaved on campus or in the media. Think about that for a moment. How many lesser teams have we seen at Kentucky get into some kind of "incident?" All to many, if you think about it. How many times have we seen Kentucky coaches forced to discipline star players? I can't count them all. How many times have we seen, not just here, but elsewhere, prima donnas serving as examples to those who can't wait to find fault with college basketball? Unfortunately, too many to name.
This Kentucky team played with a joy and a passion that will burn in the heart of Wildcats fans for a generation. It may not have been the greatest team Kentucky ever fielded (although it was arguably the most talented), or the most impressive at crunch time. But there was a cohesiveness and zest for success in these guys, not just on the court, but in the classroom.
Kentucky was widely reviled as a team of "one-and-dones," and representative of everything that is wrong with college basketball. Yet the fact that they comported themselves in the highest tradition of college basketball players goes unnoticed and uncommented upon by anyone. To be fair, of course, players are supposed to behave like young men and not animals, so in one sense, it's hard to blame anyone for not complimenting them for behaving like they are supposed to. The biggest reason I mention it is because of all the pixels that have been spilled disparaging them, for which the young Wildcats gave exactly zero justification, on the court or off.
What I saw in these young men's eyes after the loss to West Virgina was a thing I have not seen at Kentucky in a long time -- genuine, heartfelt sadness, not at just losing the game, but the ending of something so rare and pure that they had all come to love it. A kind of brotherhood, not unlike brothers-in-arms. Their tears bespoke the depth of the friendships they had formed, tempered in the white-hot flames of invective, dishonest loathing and elitist disgust from their detractors, and intense athletic competition.
Unfortunately for them and for us, this wonderful season ended too soon, not because of any tragedy or misjudgment, but because this Kentucky team finally ran into a better, tougher, and more experienced basketball team in the West Virginia Mountaineers. As much as we would like to believe otherwise, that is reality -- and reality bites. Their brotherhood must now be dissolved, and even if all of them who could stay did, it would not be the same -- those that are leaving were a critical part of this team's chemistry. That isn't to say that these young men could not be even better without Perry Stevenson, Ramon Harris and Mark Krebs, but this feeling, this brotherhood is now a matter for history.
But whenever a really great thing like this happens, it has repercussions. In the case of Kentucky fans, it brought us together like no time since the Unforgettables. It isn't quite as intense, of course, because the emotions surrounding that team in 1992 was driven by true despondency and shame, whereas when John Calipari took over this team, Kentucky fans were merely mired in misery and disappointment. They are similar, but they are different because the circumstances and intensity of the emotions involved.
I hope you will all read this article by Aaron Torres, a Connecticut Huskies fan, who became interested in this Kentucky team after they went up and played UConn in Madison Square Garden. One of my best friends sent me this piece, and I immediately wanted to share it with the rest of the Big Blue Nation who might not have had a chance to read it.
Apparently, some Kentucky fans were nice to Aaron (I know this will come as a surprise to the haters, but that is the rule, not the exception), and he was impressed by the level of support the Big Blue Nation provided at what he called a "seemingly meaningless, non-conference game." Aaron manages, in an analytical, non-partisan way that is difficult for a passionate blue-blood fan like me to emulate, to expose some interesting and meaningful perceptions of the final game of Kentucky's season. If you don't read anything else today, read this article. I promise you, it will make you feel better.
Brotherhood. It's a word that gets bandied about so much that it becomes meaningless. But it meant something to these guys -- probably more than we will ever know. But from the brotherhood of this Kentucky team, fans of the Big Blue around the world have found themselves again, as if mutually locating a quiet oasis in the middle of the desert of desire. Hopefully, we can stay here a long time.
And for Kentucky's detractors? They little knew of brotherhood ...