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Kentucky Basketball: The Long Night Ends, the Blue/White Dawn Breaks

Yesterday was a very long day, and I am glad it is over.  Like most Big Blue fans, I am pleased to welcome coach John Calipari to the Bluegrass, and look forward to the expected announcement today at 9:30 AM that he will be the next Head Men's Basketball Coach at the University of Kentucky.

I have been very critical of Mitch Barnhart and fairly critical of Dr. Lee Todd in the handling of Gillispie's firing, I still am, BUT ...  Nobody can deny that this hiring was, as the cliché du jour goes, a "home run."  This is a home run for University of Kentucky basketball, for Mitch Barnhart's career as Athletics Director and Dr. Todd's legacy as President of the University of Kentucky.  Everybody knows it, even the tiny minority of Kentucky fans who are unhappy that Calipari was hired and especially the national sports media.

At this point in the morning, I have not taken the time to look what "they" are saying, but I will in due time, and we'll talk about that.  Right now, I am all about being happy.  What am I happy about?  I'm glad you asked.

  • I am happy that Kentucky did not have to spend two months waiting -- I didn't really like the way the process went down last time, and I thought the long wait for Donovan's final "No" was too long.  I think the administration learned the right lesson from that situation, although I don't necessarily blame them for it.
  • I am happy that this is one of those unambiguous hires -- there will be no questioning Calipari's experience, or his gravitas for this job.  He has both in spades.  There will be, and should be, questions about his NCAA compliance and recruiting methods.  I am comfortable that both Barnhart and Dr. Todd understand the seriousness of those issues, and would point to our unblemished track record since Barnhart has been AD and Dr. Todd has been president as evidence that they get it.  I also have faith in Sandy Bell.  I hope to be laughing at all these concerns in a few years as Calipari proves that he gets it as well.
  • I am happy for the positive press this will generate -- The hiring of coach Gillispie had some laughing up their sleeves last time.  Nobody is laughing now, except maybe rivals chuckling nervously.
  • This will give rise to another round of "UK fans are completely nutso" articles.  Good.  Embrace the hate.
  • I disagree with Matt's hyperbole that UK is suddenly a Final Four team.  No matter what happens, I do think that UK has the players and now the coach to be a top 15 team next season, but the top ten looks a little iffy to me.  We are bringing back some seniors (finally) and look to have enough talent, depending on what shakes out over the summer, to be very good.

    But no matter what, UK will not be playing in the NIT next year.  I would feel comfortable betting my life on that.  More, I think the 'Cats will be quite formidable, and a Final Four run is not out of the question.  I just don't think it's likely.

  • I am pleased to see that this hire has pretty much united the fans -- Years of backbiting and fracture have made being a UK fan more work than fun, and I have never had a blog during an era when the fan base was largely united.  I'm sure Calipari will have his detractors (it seems that every coach does, and Calipari has made plenty of enemies), but I expect the will be few and far between, at least for a while.
  • In reading Matt's post linked above, I see that there will be no pep rally.  Good.  We don't need one right now.  UK fans are so wound up that to whip them into frenzy is to add to a perception of insanity.  Besides, they might have to hold the thing at Commonwealth Stadium to prevent a backlash from lack of ticket availability, and even that might fail.  There is also the fact that this is spring football season and baseball season, and I think it is very smart of Barnhart not to overwhelm fan interest any more than it already will be.
  • Calipari's hire proves that UK is still, in the words of a former UK coach, "... the Roman Empire of college basketball."  If that doesn't make you feel good, then you are too young to know what it means.
  • Coach Calipari is, if not the best, certainly one of the top two or three recruiters in all of college basketball.  He has all the things the top recruits want -- flash, an NBA-friendly system, NBA connections from former coaching there and now, one of the great brand names in all of college basketball on his apparel (and I note for the record that he didn't need a major brand to recruit great at Memphis).  If that does not translate into major recruiting success, I don't know what will.
  • Next season will be a paroxysm of joy unlike any other in memory.  You will have to go back to 1996 to even come close.  The Calification of UK will be big news now, but even bigger news in October.

There is no real way to gage the impact of this hire -- it requires something like the Richter or Fujita scale to measure it.  The aftershocks from Calipari's coming to UK will be felt for months, and has already eclipsed (if only temporarily) the Final Four itself.  That's because things like this happen so incredibly rarely, and it is so momentous when the perfect coach meets the perfect program.  The last such seismic event was the hiring of Roy Williams by North Carolina, and we saw what happened after that.  This is virtually identical in every meaningful way with respect to its impact on college basketball, and I expect similar results.

So now, UK fans around the world can rejoice -- the Long Night has apparently come to a sudden and joyful end.  All we can see now, in the words of Gandalf the Grey, are "White shores, and beyond ... a far green country under a swift sunrise."

This sunrise was a long time coming.