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UK Basketball: Defining Greatness

What makes a player or team great? Is it solely the W-L record that defines history?

This young man is great, right?
This young man is great, right?
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

There are a lot of ways to define a man. Character, stability, wealth, stature, presence -- these are all in one way or another defining characteristics of great men. While watching a History Channel event called "The Men Who Built America" I got to thinking on the subject. These men, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Mellon, and a host of others were risk takers. They were hugely successful in finance and philanthropy. the built empires that still exist today in one form or another. Unfortunately they also have as part of their legacy, the fact that they built their empires on the backs of the common man.

This leads me to believe that there are always going to be sacrifices that have to be made. Someone, somewhere has to pay the price for someone else to become great. Sports is really no different. Coaching reputations are built on the success of young men who have no real grasp at times of their place in history. Oh, they know they can play ball, and they know that playing ball can lead to fame and fortune, at least in today's society.

I have to ask this question, though. Do they really understand what is happening? Do they understand that putting on that uniform with all of their abilities and flaws, they have now become part of something bigger? Do they know that from that point forward, once they have become a member of the fraternity that is Kentucky Basketball, or even college basketball in general, that their lives are no longer 100% their own?

There are a lot of different definitions of greatness. Perhaps the most famous quote on the subject is by one of the most famous people of all time. William Shakespeare stated that "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them". No truer words were ever spoken.

So what is it that makes a Kentucky basketball player great? As an example, I always thought Rodrick Rhodes was a spoiled and undisciplined player at UK. He just did not grasp the team concept, and was never able to live up to the "greatness" that was thrust upon him. Then, about a year and a half ago, I met him in person. He was coaching his Cordia team at a tournament here in my hometown, and we met in Wal-Mart of all places.

He was not only a nice guy to talk to, he was truly enthusiastic when he spoke of everything that a UK fan could want to discuss. Not only was he appreciative of his time at UK, he was thankful for what he learned, and for how he was treated. And he was a basketball genius. I watched him take his team, which was outmatched and outmanned, and give every opponent they played in that tournament fits. They didn't win, but they were impressive to say the least.

In my mind, that gives him his own level of greatness. He took an opportunity and made something worthwhile out of it. Was he great while in UK blue and white? When you look at the stats, you can say yes and no. When faced with the sum of the man's life, however, a different view comes into focus.

As fans, members of the almighty Big Blue Nation, we set our own standards. We set the bar as high as it can be set, then we raise it a little for good measure. We put time into analysis and breaking down performances like our careers depended on it, and then we determine what we like and dislike. Should we allow that to determine how we then perceive and then portray those young men?

Please understand that I have no delusions about why they are here, mind you. They know that Kentucky is the Mecca of college basketball. They know that there are no shadows here, it's all spotlight. They understand coming in that they have opened themselves up to a world that they truly have no idea about, yet they come because they want everything that being here has to offer.

These young men come in already great at what they do, but they are also great at being who they are. You don't come to Kentucky by accident. You don't put that uniform on because we had an extra one. You may be great, but we are going to force that next level of greatness upon you. Like it or not, it will determine how you continue on in life.

They may not be the next NBA star. They may not be able to even remain after coming here. They will, however, take a piece of Kentucky with them on their journey. That piece may even be able to nudge that young man into the greatness that we have thrust upon him. Will it be while he is here? Who knows? It might come later. It might be in a small gymnasium in Eastern Kentucky, or it might be in politics, or on a movie screen. Once you don those letters K-E-N-T-U-C-K-Y, however, the greatness is yours. What you do with it is what will determine what makes you great.