Every year there is a feverish effort to give that year's teams a nickname, this season was no different. The fact of the matter is that this group of young men are beyond nicknames, they have earned more than a simple catchphrase to summarize their time on the court this year. This is why I chose to simply call them the 2013-14 Kentucky Wildcats. While that decision is simple, what is not so simple is how they were able to stir the type of emotion in Big Blue Nation where people lined the streets to thank them for being a runner-up.
These guys have moved me to the point where I feel inclined to thank them all personally. This was a season where we lost 10 games, a season where we were not even SEC regular season or conference champions, and a season where we were the consensus preseason #1 team that finished #2. Having said that, this season was awesome, and I am not sure I would have wanted it to play out any other way (other than actually winning NCAA Tournament championship #9, of course). My reasoning for changing nothing about the 10 losses is because who is to say that the loss to South Carolina was not a factor in the run we had? What if UK would have squeaked out a few more wins but it never got them or Calipari to that pain point causing a call to action?
Prior to the national final we were all witnesses to a transformation of a coach admitting his mistakes so late in a season that it could have derailed the run before it even started. We witnessed a coach who loathes running a zone switch to it, pride be damned, in order to try to bring the BBN championship #9.
More importantly, we were all witness to the development and maturation of a group of young men into leaders who were unfortunately privy to a lot of noise claiming they were just biding their time until draft night. We were all witness to a group of young men who came together and collectively showed a nation that they cared more about the name on the front of the jersey. So I want to take the time to personally address everyone who contributed to this year's amazing run.
- Julius Randle - Julius, thank you for the motor you have, thank you for the passion you display. Thank you for the double doubles, thank you for transforming into the player we needed to even have a chance at this thing. Good luck next year as you likely move onto the biggest basketball stage and carry on the success and love. Oh, and please thank your mother for the way she raised you, it was a pleasure, and you will be missed.
- James Young - James, thank you for your absolutely fearless attitude. While at times it was maddening, it is a bigger blessing than a curse and BBN loves you for it. We knew you were always a candidate for a big shot because we knew you wanted to take the shot and would likely hit it. Oh, and thank you for that filthy dunk against 60% of UConn's lineup.
- Willie Cauley-Stein - WCS, did you by chance play wide receiver in high school? Seriously though, thank you for these past two years, you had the misfortune of following Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel, so your phenomenal shot blocking skills were undervalued. You went from near anonymity early in the year to what was essentially the lynch pin for this team down the stretch. We all hated you were not able to play in the final four, and I think speak for all UK fans when I say we would LOVE to see you again in Blue and White. Oh, and thanks for not keeping the blonde hair.
- Aaron Harrison - WOW, what else is there to say, "This is the point where he always hits it... oooooohhhhh." Thank you for having the cojones to take this team on your shoulders in those three straight games, take, and make the shot that ultimately turned us from a so-so team to a feel good story that stirred emotions in the lovers and the haters alike. With those three shots, you really have no idea the lasting impact that will have on this University and this fan base. Thank you.
- Andrew Harrison - Coach Cal admittedly did not position you properly early on; I just want to say that we saw the transformation first hand. You were able to morph into the leader of this team and we watched you grow up right in front of our eyes. It was a joy to see you improve so much in such a short time. Oh, and we are all looking forward to you and Aaron coming back next year, right? (*Really hopes this not so subliminal message works)
- Dakari Johnson - Man, what emotion you brought to the floor! Your pure, unadulterated joy was such a pleasure to watch. We all saw your conditioning pay off as you went from a lumbering struggle early on to a strong low-post presence that was rarely stopped when you got good position. Your joy and passion are infectious, and hopefully as a leader of the team next year, you will have as much of an impact on them as you did the fans and your teammates this year. I have a feeling it will be renamed the Dakari Double instead of double-double next season.
- Alex Poythress - Sir, we all applaud your filthy, freaky athletic ability. Some of those unexpected moves you pulled had us jumping higher than a good horror movie scene. You turned into a strong "finisher" and became the epitome of how a player can transform his game for the betterment of the team. Without that transformation, we do not make this run, so thank you for that.
- Dominique Hawkins - Mr. Hawkins, you really came through down the stretch for us and showed flashes of defensive brilliance, we have the feeling that you are going to end up one of the more adored players to wear Blue and White. We cannot thank you enough for passing on other schools to stay home and be a Wildcat.
- Jarrod Polson - What a story, thank you for your career Jared, there were times last year where you were the most important person on the court for us and you saved our bacon in a few games as well. You became a contributor and an important cog in our team and I am guessing you faced a lot of doubts that you would ever even see the floor at UK, much less contribute. Thank you for proving people wrong and becoming a lifelong BBN memory and not just a trivia question.
- Jon Hood - Jon, thank you for staying true blue through and through, and for sticking with Kentucky. For that, I can guarantee you that Wildcats fans will always stick with you. I know numerous residents of Madisonville who could not be prouder to have you represent them these past five years.
- Marcus Lee - Marcus, thank you forgiving us a preview of the excitement we can expect next season from you. To say you are a human pogo stick would be a huge compliment to pogo sticks. I know there are a lot of printing companies in Lexington who are terrified of you next year as they may run out of poster paper on a regular basis.
- Derek Willis - There are many comparisons floating around trying to peg you into a carbon copy of someone from years past but the truth of the matter is, we want you to be Derek Willis and turn into the fearless sharpshooter you have given us glimpses of.
- Sam Malone, Tod Lanter, Brian Long and E.J. Floreal - While we did not get too much time with you guys on the court this year, we can thank you enough for bringing it every single day to get these guys better. To be in a thankless position and working as hard as you did simply to improve the team is something few people could do and even fewer understand. Thank you gentlemen for being an unspoken cog in the wheel.
- Orlando Antigua - Coach, we wish you luck and cannot wait to see the history you are going to accomplish in your new position, you will be missed by Big Blue Nation and it is certainly bittersweet to see you go.
- John Calipari - Coach... what more can we say besides "Thank You?" You have cemented UK's position as the top team in the game the last five years and further cemented our place atop college basketball's royalty. You have been real and honest with us and your players every step of the way, and I can not tell you how much we appreciate that. You have done more for people outside of basketball than I am guessing most "top" coaches have done combined. You have embraced your mission to turn these high school students into men, and into their brother's keeper. You are changing these young men in a very positive way. John Wall and DeMarcus "Boogie" Cousins gave a million dollars away each, for cripes sake. Thank you for being our coach and we hope you roam the sidelines in Lexington until you decide to hang up your whistle.