As Santa readies his reindeer and fills his sleigh with goodies for all the good boys and girls who find themselves on the North Pole Nice List, it's time to reveal what I requested from the bearded one this year. Keeping in line with my extremely unselfish nature (that's my wife laughing hysterically in the background), I opted to not ask for stuff for myself, instead, I chose to ask Santa to bestow his good will upon those who go to battle for the enjoyment of others. Most notably, those who wear Kentucky proudly and loudly across their chests (with a few requests thrown in for those poor, non-blue-wearing souls).
So in the spirit of the season, and without regard for myself (wink, wink), all I want for Christmas is:
For Terrence Jones' dislocated finger to become located -- Sure, against middling competition the 'Cats are 2-0 since Jones' injury, but his team needs him to fully recover and be the Jones we all know and love if the Wildcats harbor any hopes of bringing Kentucky, and its title-starved Big Blue Nation, an eighth national championship banner.
For Kyle Wiltjer to continue to display the confidence he's shown over the last few games -- Hesitant and unsure is the best way to describe how Wiltjer has at times played this season (actually typical for a non-freak freshman), but the 'Cats, needing another outside shooting threat to go along with Doron Lamb and Darius Miller, will be a much better team with Wiltjer playing at a fully confident level (and fully engaged defensively).
For Bob Knight to accompany his son Pat to Rupp Arena as the 'Cats take on the younger Knight's Lamar Cardinals -- Why? So the elder Knight can apologize, face-to-face, to John Calipari for the inaccurate, disparaging remarks he made about the Kentucky basketball program last year. C'mon General, show some guts.
For the passion and hustle of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to rub off on his teammates -- Not that the rest of the Wildcats play don't play hard, but Kidd-Gilchrist is a non-stop, hustling machine with a Secretariat-sized motor. He simply possesses that extra gear highly sought after by coaches far and wide, especially at the defensive end of the floor. If his fellow Wildcats were to take a defensive cue from the freshman, as they have with their modern-day Breakfast Club, this UK team would be nearly unbeatable.
For Louisville's Chane Behanan to keep talking the talk without walking the walk -- You'll remember Behanan is the guy who earlier this week boldly predicted the "number one team in the nation" Cards would go undefeated. Predictably, in the days following his pronouncement, the Cards struggled at the Yum? Center to beat one decent team (College of Charleston), and one lower-level DI squad (WKU), while their full-of-bluster power forward went scoreless against his adopted hometown team (WKU), who started four freshmen against the Cards. Yeah Chane, glimpses of greatness.
For Marquis Teague to continue to get better -- Struggling to start the season, Teague is doing what most John Calipari point guards do: improve as the season progresses. Teague has nearly all the qualities a coach desires in a point guard; quickness, great floor vision, and the ability to take over a game (see: Indiana, second half), all he needs now is a dollop of experience, as well as an improved free throw stroke, and Teague will then be ready to lead to the 'Cats to the Promised Land.
For Twany Beckham to quickly learn the point guard position -- Calipari said upon Beckham's returning eligibility that the Mississippi State transfer had no clue how to play the point guard position (the way he, Cal, wants him to). Considering Beckham brings size, athleticism, strong defensive abilities, and a high basketball IQ to the UK roster, hopefully he will accept Cal's rather public challenge and quickly adjust his play to exactly how Calipari wants him to perform.
For UK walk-on Sam Malone to quickly recover from his knee surgery -- This is the fourth time Malone has gone under the knife, furthermore, this is the fourth time Malone has gone under the knife for surgery on his knees. Yet he continues to fight and persevere, not because he seeks an NBA payday, but because he possesses a real passion for the game of basketball.
For John Calipari to take the final Big Dance step, which until now has eluded him -- Saddled with the "can't win the big one" stamp like so many before him (Rick Pitino, Dean Smith, Lute Olsen, and Jim Boeheim come to mind), Calipari is due to cast aside the unfortunate loser-of-the-big-game label for the more deserved title of national championship winner.
For Darius Miller to understand he's very good -- Deferential (to a fault) to his more lauded teammates is the best way to describe Miller through his first three years on campus, but now is the time for the Mason County star to be consistently beastly.
For Jon Hood, a healthy return to the playing floor after knee surgery.
For Rick Pitino to continue to crack under the pressure -- Obviously unhappy with the way his criminally overrated Cards have recently played (and really, who can blame him), and with Big East foe Georgetown, followed quickly by a Big Blue freight train heading his way, Pitino lost his grip on decorum in his post game media op after Louisville narrowly escaped the aforementioned Toppers on Friday night. Funny? No. Freakin' hilarious!
For Anthony Davis' freaky long arms to continue to block and alter shots in the paint -- On pace to absolutely shatter the UK single-season shot block record, Davis is quickly separating himself from those who consider themselves merely mortal shot blockers, by becoming the most intimidating paint presence in college basketball. Once he learns the nuances of the game (staying planted on the fake), Davis will terrorize Kentucky opponents to a degree even the terrifying Stephen King would be proud of.
For Doron Lamb to continue doing what he's been doing for fifty games in a Wildcat uni -- And that is make shots, baby. Cold-blooded in a Michael Jordan sort of way, Lamb's stroke most often brings a tickle to the twine and a trey goggle to his deadly eye. Keep it up young man, and Wildcat greatness will be your destiny.
For the Eloy Vargas improvement arc to continue along its current path -- From the beginning of last year to now, Vargas has gained upper body strength and confidence to the point of being a competent relief player in the Wildcat effort. He aids the 'Cats with rebounds and defense while scoring the occasional basket, and considering where he started from (struggling would be understating the matter), kudos should be given to the coaching and weight lifting staff for not giving up on the big man, as well as Vargas himself, for executing the art of getting better.
For Jarrod Polson to get more playing time -- One, because he practices just as hard, and sacrifices just as much as the 'Cats destined for pro pay days, and two, when he hits the floor, good things usually follow ... if you, dear reader, get my drift.
For walk-on Brian Long -- See Polson, Jarrod.
For the Big Blue Nation, a Holiday season full of family, great friends, great food, and a satisfying New Year's Eve sated with despondent Cards and joyously victorious 'Cats.
Thanks for reading, Happy Holidays to all, and Go 'Cats!