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Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: Prelude to the Leave-Taking

Mission accomplished.  Make your decision with the eternal thanks of a grateful Big Blue Nation.
Mission accomplished. Make your decision with the eternal thanks of a grateful Big Blue Nation.

Today is the day, the one we have all been waiting for, and in many ways, dreading. Today at 2:00 PM 7:00 PM, in a press conference at the University of Kentucky, will come the next necessary step in what has become the life cycle of Kentucky basketball -- the leave-taking.

At today's press conference, the five underclassmen that represented, for the most part, the starting five of the Kentucky Wildcats for this entire wonderful year will declare their intentions for the future. None of them are expected to have an immediate future in Lexington.

That sounds sad, even tragic, but it isn't. It's the circle of life shrunk down to a tiny slice of life, a period that is limited to a maximum of four years of playing time. But lately in college basketball, that slice has been remade in to something even shorter than that. If all five of the 2012 Kentucky Wildcats underclassmen declare their intentions to enter the NBA draft as expected, the most experienced among them will never see their third fall as a Wildcat. All too short a time, really, but that is the reality of major college basketball in the 21st century.

For three of these guys, barring a surprise, it figures to be around eight months from hello to goodbye. I remember a time when that was almost unimaginable at Kentucky, an extreme rarity. Nowadays, it has become an annual ritual as regular as the migration of the Canadian geese across the Commonwealth. With the coming of summer, we will get new faces, new names, new gods of the short days of fall, winter and early spring. With the coming of fall, the Kentucky Wildcats will take the floor renewed with fresh faces, fresh skills, and fresh hopes for another unforgettable season.

College basketball was not meant to be this way, but we all know the reasons why it no longer conforms to its original design. Kentucky fans have come to accept this reality, and in the last three years, have learned to immerse themselves in the players while they are here. Their lifetime as Wildcats is all to often very brief. But as these three young freshmen have proven, in eight months, you can live a lifetime's worth.

How many players and teams have passed through the hallowed halls of Rupp Arena only to have the season end well before the last weekend in March? How many have had to find solace in the possibilities of a championship at the next level, never reaching the mountaintop while wearing the Blue and White? But this team, by both their actions on the court and off, have redeemed so many of those shortcomings, tied up so many loose ends, and brought to fulfillment fourteen years of work and the effort of many who left with unfulfilled dreams.

No matter what happens today, the legacy of this team will not only be greatness, but redemption. The naysayers are now mumbling and gnashing their teeth. The faithful have been redeemed not only by this team's skill, but by their humble nature and maturity far beyond their modest years. Rarely, if ever, has a national championship team been more deserving of the honor than this one.

If all five of these young men declare their intention to depart the Wildcats for NBA riches today, they will leave behind a legacy that will inform every team that follows -- a legacy of hard work, sweat, unselfishness, and gratitude. They leave behind a banner and a trophy to be piled on the mounds of greatness that is this Kentucky program, but in doing so, they have forever changed the definition of sacrifice and teamwork. This was truly a great team, and these five young men were the foundation upon which its greatness rests.

Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb: This is a roll call of heroes, and names which will be indelibly etched into the vast edifice of the Big Blue Nation. If one of them surprises us and returns, that fact will not change. To me, they will forever be part of Team Perfection. Kentucky Wildcats 2012 was the perfect college basketball team, a team with no weaknesses whatsoever. That circumstances dictate their breakup at a such a tender age is regrettable, even sad.

But it is the circle of life.

[Editor's note: I have not forgotten Darius Miller, Eloy Vargas, or anyone else on this year's team, but this article is for these five, who will be announcing their future plans today.]