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Big Blue Madness Day: Living In The Moment

ESPN's Dana O'neil has a very good piece on Kentucky basketball today.  It demonstrates that while she may not "get" the Big Blue Nation, she recognizes that John Calipari does.  The whole "players first" thing seems to contradict what Kentucky is about, and even though Calipari made multiple references to that slogan, O'Neil says that's honest:

On the surface, what's wrong with that? Nothing. The NBA, not the NCAA, insists that kids intern in the college game for a season, so why shouldn't a coach turn around and help the kid a year later? Heck, it's nobler than 90 percent of the student-athlete-first mantra that's being shoveled around these days.

That's exactly right, and it's something that we've harped on here at A Sea of Blue.  It is noble to want to see kids stay four years and get an education.  But it isn't realistic, or in any way noble, to ask them to bypass millions of dollars in income, risk injury, and even risk their future in the NBA if they have a bad season or something else goes sideways in their lives.

The school of thought that neither Kentucky nor any school can win national championships with players that often stay only one year has still not been dismissed.  That meme is still out there, and even though Calipari did much to dispel it last year by getting to the Final Four, it cannot be completely swept away until a freshman-dominated team wins the NCAA Tournament championship.

I still receive emails from naysayers, self-proclaimed Kentucky fans all, assuring me that it can never happen, and most in the basketball media are skeptical of the concept.  As a result, O'Neil wonders how this can be logically tied together with the "get them in the NBA as soon as they are ready" idea:

Ask him which is more important -- six first-round draft picks each year or a national title and the smart politician will reply both. "Why shouldn't we want it all?" he said Thursday.

Ask Joe from Versailles or Erma from Paris (the Versailles and Paris in Kentucky, that is) and they will tell you give us our title, please. With another one to go.

There is no doubt that there's a bit of a conflict of interest here, but it's easily resolved by just facing reality.  The reality is, if you're going to bring in the best players, you have to embrace "one and done," not lament it.  You have to put the player's interests before your own as a coach, or even that of the fans of the program.  Yes, I know that sounds crazy, but Calipari has never been misleading or dishonest about this.  We knew when we hired him that this would be his plan, and there has always been a possibility it wouldn't work out to our collective satisfaction.

What I mean by that is that winning a national championship has a significant component of luck, as well as skill.  The process really boils down to making sure you get a #1 seed in the tournament and that you take care of business in the first two rounds.  From there, unless you are unlucky enough to draw a radically underseeded team or one that is a poor matchup for you, you face your peers from the Sweet 16 on.  That's where the luck comes in, because it's possible at that level to play great and still lose.  Just ask the Ohio St. Buckeyes about that.

When we embrace Calipari, we embrace his untried system.  When we stand off from the system, we risk losing the enjoyment (and sometimes pain) of living every moment completely in the "precious present," in the now, in the today.  When you embrace it all completely, you are going to get treated to great basketball, but that 2010 disappointment of losing to West Virginia in the Elite Eight always looms. The reality is, though, that it looms no matter what system you use.  Just ask the Kansas Jayhawks about that.

Finally, you remember that quote by Calipari during the Big Blue Campout that drew such tut-tutting from around the Internet and outrage from Louisville, even provoking Rick Pitino to respond in kind?  O'Neil has something to say about that I think you'll like:

"It's a unique thing," [Calipari] said. "There's no other state, none, that's as connected to their basketball program as this one. Because those other states have other programs. Michigan has Michigan State, California has UCLA, North Carolina has Duke. It's Kentucky throughout the whole state, and that's what makes us unique."

Geographical indifference to Louisville aside, Calipari isn't entirely off base. There is no other state so breathlessly in tune with its college basketball program than Kentucky. This is, after all, where a brouhaha erupted after the school paper deigned to contact the walk-ons without permission.

Think about that. Who else knows or cares who their walk-ons are?

Heh.  Kind of puts all this in a different perspective, doesn't it?