Somewhere, right about now, while you are reading this piece, the 2031 Kentucky Freshman class is being born. Somewhere a father is holding his son or daughter and dreams of them putting on the Blue and White for the glory of UK, not to mention the millions of dollars that the future may hold for them after they take that Blue and White off in a variety of ways.
Why Kentucky? Why would anyone want to come here when they can go to UCLA and soak up the sun, or go to Duke and it’s favored status among ESPN viewers? Why would anyone want the pressure cooker that is Kentucky basketball, and now UK hoops and soon to be UK football (we hope)? Why not go somewhere that the expectations are less, be a star, and take what the world has to offer at a much more manageable pace? I mean, you can get TV coverage at a community college these days. Is it really that important to be at UK? A recent study says that of 1511 U.S. Universities, Kentucky only ranks 345th in value for dollar spent on tuition, so it’s not that you get a huge bang for your buck … or do you?
If we only look at the dollars spent as a student, UK pales in comparison to a lot of other schools. 344 of them to be exact. Does this, however, reflect everything about the university and what it has to offer? That depends on what you are going to do with an education. When it comes to athletics, the intrinsic value of being at The University of Kentucky is huge beyond measure, and it grows by the minute. Let’s break down what we are looking at, starting with that survey that shows UK at 345th.
First off, 345th out of 1511 is not too shabby. That puts Kentucky in the top 25% of all colleges in the land. For anyone wanting more from a flagship school from Kentucky, I suggest you look no further than little brother who came in at a respectable but lagging 666th. But I digress. We are discussing athletes and their plight. What of the young man or woman that comes and laces up his shoes and walks on to the hardwood?
Scholarship money aside, what benefit is there in coming to UK? When I used the word "intrinsic", it was not in any way meant to mislead or misdirect you. The IS an intrinsic value in coming to UK. It is much higher than most other schools, and is easily valued. Some will say that this is where the "bragging rights" come in, and that would be true, but only to a point.
First and foremost, the UK facilities are the best in the nation. We are second to no one when it comes to amenities for the student-athlete, and we spare no expense to keep them that way. We will bring in horse money, coal money, or any other kind of legal financial support to give the Kentucky kids the best there is. Second, and this one will spur all the debates, they receive the best instruction in all areas of need, from on court performance, to financial advice, to expected behaviors. This stretches from coaching, to handling the press, to general classroom instruction. No one takes better care of their players, within the guidelines of the NCAA’s structure for doing so.
Thirdly, and possibly the most important for the recruits that Coach Cal is bringing in, is the system in which they will learn about what not to do, every bit as much as what to do when they leave Kentucky. Our players leave this system better prepared and more successful than any other in college basketball at the present time. All the headlines are about the one and done player at Kentucky, as though UK is the only school which allows such a horrendous event to occur. What does not get advertised are the three players this year who have already graduated and received their diplomas. They are an afterthought for critics and nay-sayers. This means that the system works if you want a degree, or if you don’t. Best of both worlds.
Is our track record perfect? Frankly, no. We have our Daniel Orton’s who do not use the resources that are provided and try to work their way around the requirements set before every player that walks into Coach Calipari’s office the first time. We are not, however, mass producing illiterates at UK. We are not just a fly-by-night operation waiting for the next NCAA hammer to fall. What we are is the next step in the evolution of college basketball, until the rules change and we must change. Our ratio of true student-athlete to poser is high, very high. We graduate players, we put players in the NBA. And sometimes, when the player wants it badly enough to make the sacrifices that are needed, we can do both. This makes us no different than any other school out there, and better than most.
When the whiners and haters line up to call us out, they will bring up the past. Frankly, because that’s all they have. No scandals in UK’s basketball program since the days when Rick Pitino strolled the sidelines almost 25 years ago. We don’t have employees scalping tickets, even though the UK Basketball ticket is one of the hottest in the country. I have used the term "Showtime" in the past as an homage of sorts to the glory days of the Lakers. When Jack Nicholson and others were seen night after night, watching the greatest show in the NBA. The Lakers didn’t always win, but they won a lot. They have the banners hanging in the rafters to prove it. Sound familiar? The Lakers have enjoyed the talents of many a coaching superstar on their bench as Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, and others have made that court their home away from home. Kentucky also has that heritage. We have seen this program make many a coach household names, from Rupp, to Hall, to Pitino, to Smith and now Calipari. These things all make for a mountain of evidence that there is no better place to be than UK.
When you look around the nation at other programs, there are many really good ones. Kansas, North Carolina, Duke, Indiana, UCLA, Georgetown, and a host of others that can call themselves "Bluebloods". They have a history entrenched in tradition, and have banners hanging in their rafters as well. They compete with us, as well as the rest of the college world, for what is elusive to some, misunderstood by others, and embraced by few. We are the standard by which all other programs are measured. When we fail, the sport fails, and suffers for that failure. When we succeed, there are plenty of opponents to complain, who then go back home and try to figure out what they can do to duplicate our success.
I remember a picture of the great Reds catcher Johnny Bench holding
5 7 baseballs in one hand back in the 1970’s. Five.Seven (corrected as per below) The man had huge hands. He changed the way the position of catcher was played. Yet he was only one cog in the Big Red Machine; and not even the one considered to be the most important on the team. The team excelled because they had a system in place which provided success like no other organization in professional baseball in the 70’s. Kentucky has that type of a system in place. There are checks and balances, there are people and resources that you simply do not get elsewhere.
I guess the real question that we need to be asking here is, "Why go anywhere else?"