For the last 3+ years, I have had to watch a certain segment of Kentucky fans, and many TV announcers, argue that Tubby Smith and UK made a mistake by not offering Chris Lofton a scholarship. Joe Crawford, Ramel Bradley and Patrick Sparks were evidently listening, too, and it hurt them -- apparently more than we will ever know:
"It hurt a lot," Crawford said of the longing for Lofton. "I'm human. I thought I was a better player than him, and things like that. So it definitely hurt. I felt I was deserving of a scholarship."
Chris Lofton is an all-American, a great college player who happens to be playing in a system that gets the absolute most out of his incredible shooting talent. But given our needs and scholarship situation at the time, there is no doubt that Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford were the logical choices, and virtually any coach in America in Smith's shoes would have done the same thing under identical circumstances. Lofton, to his credit, gave us all a reason to regret not recruiting him, but that happened way, way after the fact. Nobody recruits a 3-star Kentucky Mr. Basketball over a McDonald's All-American. It isn't done, and never will be. I absolutely guarantee, with all the authority such meaningless and unknowable speculation holds, that Gillispie would have done the same thing had he been the coach at Kentucky instead of Smith.
I am proud to have been firmly on the side of decisions we made back in 2004, with never a moment of angst. Joe and Ramel took a long time to reach their peak, but late is better than never, and right now I wouldn't trade either one of those young men for two Chris Loftons and a player to be named later. Ramel and Joe have lead the charge of the Wildcats as Kentucky has bounced back from a dismal pre-conference schedule to contend for an SEC championship, a feat nobody, and I mean nobody would have predicted three months ago.
Now, Crawford and Bradley have a chance to do the even more improbable -- send Lofton and his talented teammates back to second place in the East. To do that, though, they will have to do the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest without oxygen, and beat the angry Vols at home. Last time we tried to do that to an SEC team, the Cats got embarrassed by 41 points in Nashville. This time, I think they will appreciate the magnitude of what they are about to attempt, and come correctly into Thompson-Boling on Sunday.
It isn't likely, but I think that given the history of the debate about Lofton and Kentucky's two seniors, it is worth speculating how sweet it would be if they managed to defeat the Vols at home. They say that revenge is a dish best served cold, and sweeping Tennessee would be pure icy-cold sweetness over those who had wished Lofton at Kentucky and either Bradley or Crawford elsewhere. If the Cats are then able to pull off the hat trick by winning the remaining two games, it would be thunderous revenge against all this teams' detractors, and place the SEC on notice that the window of opportunity for supplanting Kentucky at the top of the league has been closed, barred, shuttered and padlocked.