Of course there has been lots of grousing about this year's UK team. This team is well, unsatisfactory, particularly after the glory of last year's (in a phrase I proposed that never caught on) play fast/slow National Champion. Nonetheless the title of this post is intended to convey that Coach Cal, that son of Western PA, has returned glorious summer to the BBN.
It was only four years ago that we were suffering through the second, and mercifully last, year of BCG's ill advised appointment to the throne and those two years followed several years of general decline under Tubby. Want a reminder of the UK teams during, say, the last five years of Tubby's coaching tenure? Watch Minnesota play a game . Well coached, hard working, tough, but the individual players only have one, or in a couple cases, two well developed skills. Which means that Minnesota will beat less well coached teams, on a good night beat more talented teams, on a bad night lose to lesser teams and from time to time beat well coached and more talented teams, but at the end of the year the Dance will be short.
This is our Glorious Summer and each season has brought forth a spectacle of beauty. The first year was amazing youth with remarkable individual skills undone by one night of playing against grown men and the inability to make unguarded shots from 15 feet. Then that incredible work ethic of the second year where Jorts got in shape and Liggins worked as hard as any player that ever played. Last year's team followed and, in my opinion, had the work ethic of the second team and the talent of the first. At the end of the Dance that team was deservedly crowned King.
Unlike many I am enjoying this year's Glorious Summer and think it a thing of difficult beauty. This team reminds me of that very rainy summer a few years back here in Colorado. Summer in Colorado is always beautiful, but for the first time in my memory, Colorado resembled Kentucky in the shades of green one could see from my deck, while walking or camping. It was unusual, it was humid, it was rainy, it was beautiful, it was different, but it was challenged expectations. Like that summer this team is beautiful, but challenging to watch. Challenging because everyone (with eyes) can see what needs to be improved, everyone can see the breakdowns, everyone can see the gap in talent between this team and the last three and yet, the beauty is there. What is lacking is the joy, the sheer joy of playing. When that arrives the beauty will be there for all to see.
All this is to get to these points. I am enjoying watching Cal coach as much as ever. He can see what can be, but struggles to pull it out. That saying on the wall in his office, "Coach your team" was never more true. No one ever says, leadership is easy.
I am enjoying watching very young men figure it out. Both on the the court and off. A game in a gym in Alabama is very different to a game in Little Rock or Clarksville or Portland or somewhere Massachusetts. It is tough, gritty, and lots of folks don't like you. Guess what? Learning that is part of growing up. This team is growing before our eyes. Remember when that were dominated on the boards? When that had no idea how to rotate defensively? Defense must always come first for those that want to Dance Yes, they have a long way to go in order to make it to the Dance and Dance awhile, but they are on the path.
A month or so ago someone ripped on KW every chance he had. I hated that because if you watched you could see the unquestionable skill and sparks of the desire. Coaching could and it did turn those sparks into a small fire that may just may grow into a large flame.
In the last game AP seemed to have had the light turn on. I suspect tonight it will become brighter in spots, but also suspect foul trouble looms. I had hoped in the last game that AG would be "a fifty watt light" and he was more of a 25 watt, but tonight he steps forward big time. Or so I believe. Fewer shots, more makes and good defense. Cats beat Ole Miss tonight.
Enjoy this rainy, but still Glorious Summer. For winter was with us not that long ago and, as night follows day, will surely come again.