For those Kentucky Wildcat basketball fans who have come down from the euphoria created by UK's eighth national title run in school history, it's time to reload your energy and passion. For those fans who are, six months later, still floating through life after the latest Wildcat championship conquest, brace oneself for impact, the madness is about to begin again.
The 2012-2013 Kentucky Wildcats, a team filled mostly with supremely talented question marks, with a few known commodities sprinkled in the mix, is poised to defend its title with the same vigor with which they ran roughshod over the college basketball nation in 2012. Sure, the 'Cats lost a lot of talent, but if head coach John Calipari has taught the Big Blue Nation only one thing in his three glorious years in the Bluegrass, it's that he has patented the formula for team-building; morphing high school super stars into a cohesive unit, more concerned with the squad's achievements than their own personal glory.
Through his outstanding coaching, Cal has taught his teams this one simple principle: With winning comes the ultimate glory; everything else is for suckers.
So as Kentucky Wildcat basketball fan anxiously await the dawn of a new college basketball season, I give you my reasons Kentucky basketball is, and will continue to be, the undisputed king of the hardwood:
- U = Unbelievable talent: Calipari has absolutely redefined what it means to be a great college basketball recruiter. Cal has notched (keep up if you can), three straight No. 1 recruiting classes, followed by the nation's No. 2 class, with the 2013 class shaping up to be one of the beastliest recruiting hauls of all-time. Everyone associated with college basketball knew the marriage of Cal with the 'Cats would be a lethal combination, but the growing enormity of the gap between UK and everybody else is surely surprising, in a lovely kind of way.
- N = Nerlens Noel: The 6-foot-10 heir apparent to Anthony Davis is positioned to dominate the middle for the 'Cats in 2013. A shot-blocker who gets to the ball with cat quickness, and with burgeoning offensive skills, Noel will greatly benefit from working with UK assistant Kenny Payne on his post moves and defensive technique (for proof of Payne's superior teaching skills in individual workouts, see: Davis, Anthony & Harrelson, Josh). Although Cal has intimated that Noel will occasionally take a play off, something not foreign to many top flight players who are oftentimes playing against inferior competition, it's only a matter of (practice) time before Noel learns aggressive play from whistle-to-whistle is the only way to survive playing for Calipari.
- D = Defense: All of Coach Cal's teams have a common thread running through them; defensive tenacity. Regardless of UK's offensive prowess, the 'Cats will always defend with passion, giving Kentucky a chance to win every time they grace the playing floor.
- I = Instruction: Calipari's staff, John Robic, Orlando Antigua, and Kenny Payne have succeeded in the most important element of coaching: making players better. Every team Cal has coached at UK, has gotten better. Every team was better the last six weeks of the season than they were the first six weeks. Has Cal brought to Kentucky uber-talented players? Certainly, but Cal and his staff have been tireless instructors, teaching the nuances of the game, turning talent into team, and enabling individual players to get the most out of their gifts. I don't imagine that Cal philosophy will change any time soon.
- S =Staying power: So as not to over-indulge in UK's glory-filled history, let's leave commentary on Kentucky's staying power as the nation's elite basketball program to former Marquette coach, the late Al McGuire, who stated his case this way when he said about Kentucky basketball, "My genuine opinion of the Kentucky basketball program is that there is only one, and it is top drawer, Park Avenue, and that all other basketball programs in the country think they are, but they are not. They had it before you, they had it during you, they'll have it when you're gone." Whether Kentucky is down in the polls or perched atop the nation, UK basketball will always be a whisper away from wreaking havoc. It's been that way for over 70 years, and isn't likely to change anytime soon.
- P = Point guard play: For the first time in six years, Cal with have a non-freshman running the point in 2013. Ryan Harrow, a transfer who performed admirably in his rookie season at NC State, has spent a year in UK's system, learning precisely what it is Coach Cal is looking for in his point guard. This will pay huge dividends early for the 'Cats, and as Kentucky becomes comfortable with one another as the season progresses, look for Harrow to lead the Wildcats to another title run.
- U = Unequaled fan support: It's no pop secret that the UK basketball fan base borders on being insanely passionate. It's the power-plant that drives the program. It's what lifts the program when its down, it's what envelopes all of college basketball when the 'Cats are on top of their game -- It's Blue Mist and The Kentucky Effect, all rolled into one. Unlike any other locale, 'Cat fans make players feel like "rock stars," all the while filling Rupp Arena, and turning road game venues into a sea of blue. It's what made Atlanta, 'Catlanta, and New Orleans, Blue Orleans. And while other schools vie to match the intense emotion and fervor of Wildcat followers, there is simply no imitator who can match the original. It can't be manufactured. It just is.
- T = The Joe Craft Center: With college basketball's state-of-the-art training and practice facility, Calipari has the equivalent of Megan Fox on his arm as he recruits the cream of the crop, while in comparison, all others boast Ugly Betty. Furthermore, with iconic Rupp Arena as its home court, and the newly redesigned Joe B. Hall Lodge as its player's headquarters, Kentucky has up its recruiting sleeve a group of facilities unsurpassed in quality, appeal, practicality, and comfort.
- E = Eye-on-the-Prize: Not long after winning the national title, Calipari said that Kentucky was now "Chasing UCLA." As in chasing UCLA's 11 national titles (UK of course has eight), the most by any Division I school. Hearing Cal utter those words brought to life what me, my friends (and I expect, thousands of other Kentucky fans), have been privately yearning for, lo these many years -- To catch and pass UCLA. It's not that I am steadfast in my belief that Calipari will catch the Bruins in his remaining years at UK (although it's certainly a possibility), rather, it's knowing Kentucky has a coach totally focused on bringing championships back to Lexington, that's most important. It should be comforting to UK's fan to know the 'Cats have a leader, who despite accomplishing so much, remains fully engaged and motivated to further enrich the Kentucky basketball tradition.
- D = Doughnuts: As long as the Kentucky basketball program is seen by the elite high school players in America as the place to go to quickly get to the NBA, UK will be successful. Zeroes on paychecks are a great attention-getter and motivator, especially to the young and talented. Couple that player financial desire with the good will Calipari has fostered with his ex-players through his sometimes brutal honesty, and one has to believe Kentucky will continue to benefit from the nation's best athletes selecting Lexington as their college destination. Nothing nor anyone recruits to Kentucky more proudly or profoundly than Anthony Davis, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Brandon Knight, Eric Bledsoe, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones and Marquis Teague, among others. Their mere presence on the NBA stage as ex-'Cats speaks louder and more to the point than any recruiting pitch a rival coach might throw at a would-be Wildcat. The simple fact is, if Kentucky continues to create millionaires, the talent will come.
Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!