When John Calipari brought in this recruiting class, many of us thought — no, were sure — that this was the team. This was the year. This was worth suffering through 2013's disappointing NIT run. Most of us in the Big Blue Nation were completely invested in the success of the 2014 Kentucky Wildcats before the season even started. The greatest recruiting class ever. No obvious weakness — this team would have size to burn, depth, athleticism, shooting — everything. It was a masterpiece, the magnum opus, possibly a 40-0 basketball team.
Remember those days? I know, most of us rejected the 40-0 stuff right away, and some of us various parts of the rest, but what most Kentucky fans didn't expect was to find ourselves at 20-6 on the ides of February, having lost to every top team we'd played this season but one.
And yet every one of us thinks we know that Kentucky stands on the brink. In my minds eye, I can see exactly where I think Kentucky is right now. Remember this?
If you can imagine the point where Morpheus presents the pills to Neo, there is that hesitation... that point of indecision. That's where Kentucky stands today. Consider this from Jason' King's recent article linked in the Quickies yesterday:
Calipari says he calls his advice "bitter medicine."
The players need it, but it’s often difficult to ingest. Instead they often choose the "honey" offered by those closest to them. Usually it’s a high school coach, a parent or a hanger-on telling a player he’s being wronged by the coaching staff in regard to playing time, that everyone else is the problem—not the player himself. Calipari says those people stunt a player’s growth.
"So who do they want to hear from?," Calipari says. "Me, or that person on the phone, the one with the honey? If they chose the person on the phone, they’re not ready to change."
In this story, the role of the blue pill and the red pill are, of course, reversed — we can't have the blue pill representing the undesirable outcome, n'est-ce pas? For the entire season, the team has struggled with the decision of which pill to take. They prefer the red pill with it's nice taste, filled with the cream of sweet nothings whispered in their ears by their friends, family, and acquaintances. They know the red pill. They love the red pill.
Then there's that blue pill, the one that will show them just how deep the rabbit hole goes, the only one that leads to the promised land of NCAA Tournament success. It's so easy just to refuse it, to take the red pill, ease on through the season and move on to the NBA's millions. After all, they've lost a few games, maybe it's just time to give up and let a team with more character win the NCAA Tournament. It's easier to stay right where they are, win 25 games and bow out in the first or second round. Some of them will still be rich next year no matter how the Wildcats finish.
But then there's this — all their lives, they've won at the highest level in front of them. Success has been their birthright. These players have known so little actual failure, let alone failure at one of the greatest basketball programs in America, that you have to believe — nay hope — it galls them to the depths of their souls to even consider surrender. Players don't get to be as good as Kentucky's by simply taking the easy way out. Talent will only get you so far.
What we have seen so far this season perfectly embodies their indecision; their reluctance. They know what they should do, what they really want to do, but ... it's just so much more difficult. It is in the nature of human beings to take the path of least resistance, but at certain points in everyone's life, that path leads to a less desirable place, sometimes dramatically so.
The path to mediocrity is always easier than the path to greatness, and paved with soft, honey-sweet whisperings of "It's okay, you tried your best." The majority of teams never get offered a chance to grasp the brass ring because their arms simply aren't long enough — they don't have the talent to get there. This Kentucky team has more than enough, and yet the decision to do what it takes to reach it is just so difficult to make, so hard to commit to.
Envision, if you will, Calipari standing before them in a trench coat and reflective sunglasses, holding the blue pill in one hand, the red pill in the other. All he's offering them is the truth — can they handle it, or does it just require them to give too much, to jump too far out of their comfort zone, to walk too far out on that limb? Kentucky cannot win it all without taking the blue pill, and still may not even if they do, and the moment of decision has now lasted for 26 games.
So what'll it be, Wildcats? Blue, or red? Your choice, but choose wisely. You have five games to make up your mind.