UK Athletics: Stoops, Strong, and hating to lose

The 2012-2013 Wildcats need Michael Kidd-Gilchrist heart - Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE

I don't often write stream of consciousness posts, but with so much going on in and around the Big Blue Nation, making the Bluegrass State a target rich environment, I felt this an appropriate time to play catch-up on the events of the last few days, in an off-the-cuff manner.

1) Newly hired Kentucky football savior Mark Stoops' introductory press conference, detailed in fine fashion here by A Sea of Blue's Alex Scutchfield, was just what a formerly apathetic UK football fan base needed. It had pageantry, it had the UK band, it had average, every day fans, it had well-heeled boosters, but most importantly, it had Stoops.

And not Bobby Petrino.

Ahh, Bobby Petrino. Never in my memory has a single Wildcat football figure so divided the BBN. Roughly half of UK fans wanted him as their next head coach, and the other half wanted no part of him -- On John Clay's outstanding Sidelines Blog, he polled the BBN on whether they supported Petrino to UK or not, and the final results showed, with 1,135 people voting, 574 pro-Petrino fans with the anti-Petrino contingent checking in with 561votes.

Thankfully, though, and speaking well of those who preferred Petrino, is the fact that the hiring of Stoops has been met with an almost exclusive thumbs-up from those who follow UK football (various unscientific internet polls show Stoops garnering 85-90 percent approval). Petrino supporters most definitely included.

The BBN is now unified behind a coach, ready to back the program any way they can (football season ticket sales have been booming, by the way), thanks to those who have chosen to support Stoops even though they preferred another. Which is how it should be.

2) In his weekly press conference on Monday, Louisville football coach Charlie Strong all but says the words, "I'm leaving Louisville to take a much better job (after Florida emasculates the Cards in the "Sugar Bowl"), with much better fans, in a much better conference."

(And yes, I know the Cards are making the move to the allegedly superior Atlantic Coast Conference, but in football, the ACC is only a bad coach or two away from being the Big East.)

As a UK backer, it's difficult to watch Strong's presser and not, at minimum, roll on the floor laughing hysterically (although my innate dislike of the Cards may be more distinct than some). It seems Strong, unlike many coaches, has an excruciatingly difficult time telling a lie, particularly when he's asked by members of the media if he's thinking about leaving UofL for a more lucrative opportunity. Strong stutters and stammers around the question, before finally espousing he'll "say that at the right time." Which is of course, code for see ya.

But better even than Strong's deer-in-the-headlights response to the are-you-leaving query, he neatly puts a bow on his presser by encouraging UofL fans to be more like Kentucky fans after Card followers failed to fill-up Papa John's Cardinal Stadium this season (even with a 10-2 team), and greet the squad as it made its pregame Card March stroll into the Pizza Pit.

Strong says the Kentucky fans travel well and "take over" whichever city they invade. And yeah, Strong refers to UK fans as the "Big Blue Nation!" As John Calipari is fond saying, "Whaaaat?!"

Yep. It's true, and I'm certain Louisville football fans (of which there are literally dozens) couldn't be more welcoming and appreciative of Strong's sage advice.

The unfortunate downside to Monday's events, is that future Mondays won't seem like Mondays anymore without Strong promoting Kentucky Wildcat fans, as he stands at a podium, with, positioned behind him, a Louisville Cardinal backdrop. Oh well, we'll have to persevere.

Beware, though, UK fans, of having too much fun with the sure-to-come resignation of Strong (90 percent he leaves, 10 percent he stays), for UofL athletic director Tom Jurich has an outstanding track record of making good hires -- with the exception of Steve Kragthorpe, and I'm not including Petrino as a bad hire because didn't become known as a less-than-forthright individual until after he arrived at UofL -- so it shouldn't come as a surprise if Jurich selects another on-field winner.

Say, Derek Dooley. Or is that too much to ask?

3) It seems the basketball 'Cats lost a home game for the first time since Calipari burst onto the Rupp Arena scene. To unranked Baylor, sending Kentucky's record to 4-3 (and leaving the Wildcats on the outside looking in, in this weeks AP poll).

I give UK basketball fans credit for knowing that the 2012-2013 Wildcats are not last season's nearly unbeatable bunch of freakishy athletic, mature uber-stars. It's tempting, I know, to wish this year's team was that good (and therefore complain about this team because of their shortcomings), but UK fans, for the most part, have successfully beat-back the impulse to over-hype this year's three losses.

Everyone now knows, the list of areas in need of improvement is lengthy for this year's club, and that is understandable, but, one aspect of the squad's play that is forever unacceptable to most Kentucky faithful is a noticeable lack of all-out effort every time each individual player steps on the floor.

What that tells me, is that at this point in the season, this team doesn't hate to lose. And to be great (or to even border on being great), one has to hate to lose.

One unnamed Wildcat, asked after the Notre Dame loss if he was mad, responded "No," he wasn't mad ... instead it was; it's a long year, etc, etc. This said, after the 'Cats played possibly the worst all-around game in the Cal era. When I finished cringing, I thought, well, that's one problem that needs solving.

Calipari talks often about the will to win and how important having that resolve is, relative to the success of the team, and yes, it's a cliche, but it's also very true because a legitimate competitor hates to lose. In anything, whether it be Monopoly or a game of "21," losing simply is not an option.

Until the current group of Kentucky players come to that realization, even after solving its schematic issues, they will struggle to beat great teams, and will never taste greatness themselves.

Which leads to this: Michael Jordan became the best basketball player on the planet through hard work. Every day, taking hundreds of shots. Taking shots from all around the perimeter, taking shots from inside the lane, taking shots from mid-range. MJ worked and worked some more, and after he morphed into the greatest hoops player of all time, winning title after title, he worked even harder.

Calipari, in his press conference on Monday, said that he hasn't noticed anyone on this squad at the Craft Center putting in extra work. That's all I need to know about this team (at this point).

Nothing will be given to this, or any other Kentucky squad. Last year, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist knew that, before him, Patrick Patterson knew it. Greatness is earned. It isn't bestowed simply by putting on the Wildcat jersey. Greatness isn't even guaranteed if one puts in the work, but what is guaranteed is mediocrity.

The quicker the club learns that undisputed fact, the quicker they will understand what it means to play for Kentucky, and the more likely they are to enjoy the extraordinary benefits of being a Wildcat.

4) Kentucky big man Willie Cauley-Stein has deleted his Twitter account after being on the receiving end of a bit of unpleasantness, cyber-space style. It seems some (alleged) UK fans aren't happy with the team's recent two-game losing streak, and took to Twitter to vent their frustrations in the general direction of WCS (which, by the way, is an inexcusable, cowardly move).

My advice to WCS: Don't fret, not all UK fans are idiots -- and not all "UK fans" on Twitter, are actually UK fans. As a rule-of-thumb, if offending remarks are fewer than two syllables, there is an excellent chance the 140 character diatribe is coming from just west of Lexington -- plus, I'm proposing to computer makers from Dell to Microsoft to please install an IQ test one has to pass in order for one's computer to turn on.

That would solve so many problems, although, I might have to resort to my nine-year old turning on my machine.

Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!

To follow me on Twitter: @KenHowlett

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