So here we are, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation. The day has arrived. The Kentucky Wildcats are finally at base camp preparing for an assault on the summit of college basketball. The climb from here will be the most difficult, the most treacherous. All of the remaining teams are determined and focused, and there is no room for fear, or hesitation, or poor preparation. This is the home stretch, the final two furlongs, the bell lap.
Kentucky fans have waited a long time, over a decade, for this moment to come. I have received emails and tweets and messages of excitement and angst, but the time for that is past. We have achieved a milestone that has lain beyond our reach for 12 long years. This is not the time to lose heart, or fear the outcome. This is to be relished like 150 year old Grand Mariner or Pappy Van Winkle.
Even though both those wonderful libations were longer in the making, the journey to this point for Kentucky fans has been uncharacteristically painful. Two coaches have come and two have gone since the last time the Wildcats reached this point in the season. There has been more misadventure, disaffection and bewilderment among the Blue and White faithful during this time than at any other time in the history of Kentucky basketball, even the dark times of probation and sanction. Kentucky fans have been sundered by disagreement over Tubby Smith and Billy Gillispie, and brother has sometimes set himself against brother. The last twelve years have been a difficult and often agonizing time to be a Wildcat fan.
It is a testament to the greatest fan base in all of college sports that despite all the tribulation and finger-pointing, it only took one thing to heal the hurts and bring the universe back to order -- the return of good basketball to the Bluegrass, and a culture that gives Wildcats fans hope for the future that is based in reality rather than fantasy. How fitting then, that the team to lead us back to this hallowed place was not at all expected to be able to do so.
It makes no sense to rehash what the media have talked about all week. We all know by now about Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins and Brandon Knight, as they have been focused on and deconstructed hour by hour, day by day in this interminable seven days. Forget individuals: This team got here as a team, and will succeed or fail as a team.
Nobody wants to say it, but I will -- failure is an option here. The Connecticut Huskies are a very good basketball team, and they have done amazing things to get here, just as amazing as what Kentucky has done. It's fun to think that Kentucky is unbeatable and will win because they are Kentucky and are destined to do so by Divine Right, but you know as well as I do that the teams in this tournament feel just as deeply and passionately about success at this level as anyone else. They are not going quietly into the good night. They are not rolling over for once-mighty Kentucky.
Once-mighty. Yes, that's what we are. Once, over a decade ago, Kentucky was the envy of every college program in the nation, having been to the national finals three consecutive times and winning two. They were the team who's success that even the other bluebloods like Duke and North Carolina envied. Summoning those halcyon days to the present is what every Kentucky fan has wanted for every waking and even dreaming moment of this long interregnum, and we now stand on the threshold of realizing that which has been thwarted so many times in recent history.
Like the battleship USS Missouri, "Big Mo," in thie 1980's, John Calipari has called forth the Wildcats out of mothballs, refitted her with mighty weapons, and set her to wreak havoc among the Great Powers of college basketball. That they have done, and no more so than this year, where they have avenged every loss made available to them. They prepare now to sail into battle again against a foe who once bested them, ready to throw them down into ruin on the way to a championship.
Whether they succeed or not, my brothers and sisters of the Big Blue Nation, enjoy this ride. We have waited too long to get here not to savor every single minute of it that we can. So roll it around on your tongue, and chew very, very slowly. Breathe deep the sweet aroma of success while it lasts, and do not fear failure.
Just like Brandon Knight does not fear to miss the last shot, we must not fear the dance, even though we may be undone by it. Enjoy the Final Four. This has been a fantastic trip.