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Can't by me love -- or recruits

Unlike the song that inspired it, I'm not talking about money.  I am talking about that oft-cited intangible, the deepest, broadest, most powerful single thing about Kentucky basketball.  That word which brings a tear to every fan's eye and quickens the pulse in anticipation of the season.  That one word that is often used with such an air of triumphant finality, it might have been forged by the gods of basketball themselves for use only by Kentucky fans -- "Tradition".

When Kentucky fans speak of tradition in basketball, it conjures a vision of an unbroken line of successful athletic competition dating back almost beyond memory, and certainly before the memory of most fans still living.  The days before the 1950's are more legend that actual events, but they represent the continuity of success that stretches back past the days of our grandfathers.

But when we speak the hallowed word of "tradition" to recruits, what do they hear?  Seemingly every young potential basketball student-athlete today hears "NBA", and that is the only "tradition" that matters to them.  But it wasn't always so.

As little as 30 years ago, it was almost unheard of for players to try to leave early for the NBA.  Back then, when you made a commitment to a college, it wasn't just for a year or two -- it was four years at least, and a recruit expected to leave not only covered in the glory of victory, but with an education.

The difference between then and now is the perception of college as a development league for NBA players.  I might have a lot to say on that point, but that is a subject for another time.

"Tradition", as Kentucky fans think of it, probably has very little impact on a recruit's decision in this day and age.  Proximity to home, perception of national attention and TV time, playing time -- these things are what the recruits of today place a priority on.  Tradition, they think, is for fans and a place for them to be enshrined, not a reason to choose a school.

So when I see Kentucky basketball fans start using the "T" word, I think of a Woody Allen quote; "Tradition is the illusion of permanance."  To most modern recruits, college tradition is nothing more than an illusion of permanence, having value only to a program's fans.  Their commitment to college is only as permanent as the time it takes them to have their name called on draft day.

We revel in our players, and love to recall mighty deeds done on the hardwood under the banner of the Blue and White.  But in today's world, the banner of tradition means less that the exposure ESPN can bring -- not half as valuable as being called a "diaper dandy" by Dick Vitale, or have a "dipsy doo dukeroo" shown on a Sports Center highlight reel.

Young men today aren't concerned with tradition, because they don't expect to have the time to assimilate it.  "Tradition" will not buy them that new car, or that bling-bling, or a room at the Ritz for them and their posse.  Tradition is nice -- for fans.  But the "playahz" have important things to consider, and tradition isn't usually among them.