It's official -- Kentucky fans are in seventh heaven.
I can't find a single UK fan that isn't elated with the selection of John Calipari as the next basketball coach at UK. He's the most dapper, charismatic stimulus package in the history of bail-outs; I have never seen/heard Kentucky fans so happy, other than after a UK championship, or maybe the signing of Sam Bowie (who like Cal, is from Pennsylvania). I expected a positive reaction, but not this.
Of course, reaction isn't limited to the boundaries of the Bluegrass: Innumerable articles have been written by sport-writers and bloggers all over the country, most praising the hire, while some offered words of caution. But, all admit that Calipari and UK make for a delicious combination.
So, in an attempt at creativity (however feeble), I've decided to offer up the reasons that I feel that Athletic Director Mitch "I Just Saved My Job" Barnhart, and UK President Lee Todd (with an assist from the marvelous Mike Pratt), cleared the bases with this hire. And the reasons start with ...
C. Championships -- With the hiring of Calipari, UK is now in a position to regain what has been lacking to a disheartening degree: Playing for SEC championships.
Most know that Kentucky has won more SEC Tournament titles than all of the other conference members combined. But, UK hasn't won a Tournament final since 2004. That's the longest SEC Tournament Championship dry spell UK has endured since 1980-1983.
Calipari's presence, and all that implies, will renew what once was a rite of passage; winning SEC Tournament championships.
Which lead to ...
A. Automatic Berths into the NCAA Tournament -- And an end to eight, nine or any seed with two numbers.
UK fans have grown so accustomed to one, two or three seeds in the NCAA Tournament, that the last four years have been a shock to the system: I'm ready for the first round yawners ... I will never, ever complain again.
There simply is no debating the fact that the road to the Final Four is much more passable when the first game is against a 13, 14, 15, or 16 seed. Having to play a solid team in the first round, then a #1 seed in the second, is a recipe for Bluegrass belly-aching. That nonsense ended Tuesday.
It will finally be nice to be able to relax on Selection Sunday. Something I haven't been able to do in four years.
L. Louisville -- More pointedly, Rick Pitino and U of L fans.
Deep, deep, deep down inside their hollow souls, Louisville fans, led by Pitino, are hating this hire. They know what's going to happen, and they know it's going to happen relatively soon -- It's not unlike that locomotive heading your way, with no where to run; not a pleasant sensation.
One may read the message boards, and the garbage dump that serves as the Courier-Journal "after-article threads," and come away thinking that Louisville fans think UK will end up -- 1. On probation 2. Looking for another new coach in two years, or 3. On probation.
But their rhetoric is a poor masking-agent for their fear. Their fear that big brother will re-assert itself as the preeminent college basketball program in the nation. This thought drives them crazier than they already are. What is it we say around here? Embrace the hate.
This rivalry just received a swift kick in the pants.
So, please Rick, don't leave ... We want you to stick around for this.
(Editor's Note -- I'm kidding the Card fans. I'm allowed, aren't I?)
I. Image -- The University of Kentucky basketball brand just received a significant upgrade -- Not since Rick Pitino ran off chasing the end of the rainbow has UK been so marketable to the elite high school ballers.
Pitino's signing of Jamal Mashburn signaled the beginning of the go-go '90's for the boys in blue. Likewise, Barnhart's hiring of Calipari is a beacon of light shining brightly into the eyes of the nations top high school round-ballers, beckoning. The allure, like that shiny new car, will be too great ... The Craft Center ... Wildcat Lodge ... Rupp Arena ... 24,000+ rabid Rupp fans ... The banners ...
This is one of the primary reasons Calipari took the job. He knows that the combination of his style of play, UK's tradition and facilities, plus his demonstrable ability to charm in the living room, will lead quite quickly to competing for championships. And that's why coaches, coach.
This is indeed a lethal combination that Barnhart has concocted. An explosion is imminent.
P. Pace -- Style of play is not as important to me as it is to some; I don't really care if UK wins 50-48, as long as they win. But, many UK fans haven't been happy with the pace of UK's offense since Pitino left.
Throw in an old tape from say, '94-'96. It's like watching Marat Safin versus Roger Federer. One wants to shout at the TV, "Slow down!"
Big Blue Nation hasn't enjoyed that style of play for some time now, but ...
That all changes with Calipari roaming the sidelines of Rupp.
The Dribble-Drive Motion Offense has been dissected and discussed on this site, as well as just about every media outlet (with a sports department) within the boundaries of the Bluegrass. So I'll spare the breakdown.
But, suffice it so say that the pace of UK's offense will be picking-up about November, which should be an immense pleasure to those fans who have suffered through the indignity of the 'Cats not averaging at least 75 points per game for, lo, these last many years.
Those formerly unhappy souls can rest assured that the hiring of Calipari, at last, heralds the return of The Fast and Furious Felines, who will once again be scampering upon the hardwood of Rupp.
(Editor's Note -- If Rex Chapman would have played his college ball in this system, I'm convinced he would've had to have elbow replacement surgery after his freshman year.)
A. Adjustments -- John Calipari made perhaps one of the biggest adjustments in the history of college basketball.
How many coaches, after nearly 15 years of head coaching experience, have completely trashed their offensive philosophy, and adopted an untested, unproven method of attacking the basket?
I'll answer; not many. But that's what Calipari did when he made the Dribble-Drive his own.
I know Bob Knight begrudgingly started playing zone after 30 years of coaching, and Eddie Sutton, after 25 years of deliberate offense, actually pushed the ball his last several years at Oklahoma State. But very few coaches, save the innovators of the game (Rupp, Wooden, Iba, Newell, etc), have totally re-written their playbook.
But, Calipari saw an opportunity to improve his ballclub, as well as his chance of winning a National Championship, and he adjusted. How refreshing.
R. Regional Championships -- As in NCAA Regional Championships, which of course means Final Fours.
Any UK fan older than my ham sandwich knows that Kentucky is suffering through their longest Final Four drought EVER. 1998 seems like eons ago.
Even though I think Billy Gillispie had UK on the right track for a return to glory, Calipari and his cache', will more than likely accelerate the process to a high degree. For the reasons I mentioned above, seeing UK in NCAA Regional Championship games will become a familiar sight.
And that's all UK fans really want; a consistent chance of making the Final Four.
I. Indivisible Nation -- The Big Blue Nation is once again whole.
For too many years we have bickered, argued, and debated the direction of the program, the players and coaches within the program, and how much longer will it take North Carolina to pass UK on the all-time win list.
At last the divisive forces have been held at bay. Calipari's signature on his record-setting eight-year contract was, in one fell dash of the pen, the death knell of the conflict which has resided in Kentucky for the last decade. Finally, UK fans can happily return to the long lost days of splendor on the hardwood, discussing which 'Cats (plural!) should be First Team All-SEC, instead of arguing about why UK lost the night before.
Also, coach-envy, which has been prevalent for many years now, should cease to be an ailment for the Big Blue faithful, because most agree; this is the right guy, at the right time
A united Big Blue Nation. At last.
Barnhart et. al.
Talk about a reversal of fortune.
As long as Calipari does "things" the right way, Mitch Barnhart, and quite possibly Dr. Lee Todd, have just executed a fabulous example of how to save ones be-hind from the office shredder.
There's no need to recount the reasons why, so I won't. I'll simply leave it at ... Gentlemen, my congratulations on a job well done.
Thanks for reading, and Go-Go 'Cats!