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Youth and the Return On Investment



Don't worry ASOB readers, this isn't going to be a geyser of incrimination - I've given up the volcanic routine. This is Plato's Allegory of the Cave, or something like it. A central character in this examination is "one and done"; tragic flaws include altruism and enthusiasm.

It hasn't escaped my notice that coach Cal, when asked about either his own future or his present motivation comes back time and again to the idea that he is in the best position he can imagine to help kids with their futures. He has never dissimulated about that. He reiterates that when presented with the choice of talent or experience, he will take talent every time. The question is, are we listening? What is Cal saying?

We have made the assumption that he understands the importance of championship basketball to Kentucky fans and has bought into serving the expectations of UK fans in this regard. We took as an article of faith that there is a happy confluence between his methods and meeting those expectations. But is this really true? Cal has said many times that this is a players first program under his tenure. As fans, a result that also met our expectations was assumed to be in the offing. I am beginning to think that we need to turn our heads and look at the mouth of the cave rather than read the shadows on the wall. One and done is not Cal's invention nor is it something he cares for in the least. However, his treatment of it as represented by the declining experience level on his UK teams must be called into question.

That is not to say that anyone, from Cal down through the fan base, is attempting to sneak anything by anyone. Cal's motivations are laudable, and his approach has been forthright. We as fans are simply not listening closely enough. There was a post in the game thread, in fact several posts, that pointed out the inevitable back sliding of youthful players. I agree that this is of course the case -- young players will backslide. A team made up of young players will amplify the effect. There will be no argument on that point from me. These youthful mistakes and tendencies are simply part of the price paid when building a team. That is not in question.

But what about when that team will be decimated and worse by the draft year in and year out? I think it is obvious by now that the team of two years ago was lightning in a bottle. Under normal circumstances, then, where is the return for UK fans and the program? Selfish or not, narrow or not, we expect to see built championship teams that will be a joy to watch. We want bragging rights. We do not ask that these expectations come at the expense of players' futures, nor do we discount the human value of having launched successful careers in the NBA, to see kids with character 'make it' in the big time. That is a worthy result Cal's efforts. But what about us? Must we be asked time and again to invest without seeing the return we cherish -- banners and wins?

One remedy is obvious -- recruit fewer players who are likely to leave after one season, and give the two-to-four year guys more playing time. It would detract not at all from Cal's motivation to help kids with their futures. In fact it would be more noble, given that Cal would be paying more attention to the less gifted players. And we as fans would be able to see a better return on investment in the form of better team basketball. I for one can live with seeing a youthful team develop over a span of two or three or four years, in fact I miss it. What I cannot stomach is the dreadful notion that many of these players will be gone and we'll be starting over, every year.

We as fans must come to terms with the reality that our expectations and tradition are being compromised by both circumstances and Cal's approach to dealing with them. I would remind Coach of his own mantra to his players regarding dealing with adversity and working through it. One and Done is out of his control, and one of the things he as Kentucky's coach must do is bring in a quality basketball product. Perhaps he should reevaluate his handling of that particular adversity.

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