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Kentucky Basketball: A Bad Fan's Postmortem

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The "good fan," bad fan" debate is just another riff on the "true fan" babble. Can't we all just be fans?

Andy Lyons

I listened to John Calipari’s post game show and the Matt Jones show last night. I usually don’t do that, but felt almost obligated for some reasons that I still can’t put my finger on. Whatever the reasons, I felt compelled to post this.

Cal really didn’t have a lot to say except that he’s shouldering the blame for this team’s poor performance and seeming lack of motivation. He told the audience that he’s done a "crappy job" with this team. On the surface, he’s right. He recruited this bunch. So it does fall on him to some degree.

When you coach at Kentucky, you’re paid to win. Cal has left a lot of money on the table this season – money that he earned last season (with all the bonuses that he received for winning title number eight and a regular season conference title). Did he plan to pass up all that cash? Does anyone believe Cal took the season off to bask in his glory? I don’t. I don’t know what else he could possibly do. In my mind, he tried everything he could think of to motivate these guys.

Cal, and even the players, know that what we’ve seen this year is unacceptable to all but a few fans. They said as much last night in post-game interviews.

There were a lot of phone calls last night and a lot of criticism from the irate fans. There were also calls criticizing the complainers by those I call Good Fans. You know, Good Fans: those who support the Ca-yuts no matter what and blame the Bad Fans for the dismal performances. Bad Fans criticize a bunch of 18 year olds. Such criticism is assailed as unwarranted by Good Fans. Critical thought and words make you a Bad Fan and a Hater. Good Fans are quick to tell you to go support another team. Glenn became a Bad Fan with his postmortem. The shame must be unbearable and the humanity even worse!

If we are allowed to criticize 18 year old "Yutes" when we win, we sure as hell can criticize them when we lose. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was only seventeen at the start last year when he came on board at UK. So, now age is an excuse for failure when it wasn’t for success?

This is the same disconnect of the fanbase that we saw during last year’s football season. Good Fans blamed the Bad Fans who got fed up and not the players or coaches. If you’re getting the idea that I am a Bad Fan, you’re probably right, although I don’t consider that within the realm of reality.

I can honestly say that Rick Pitino’s 14-14 team brought me far more joy than this team. The Bombinos lacked talent but they made up for it with effort and "heart." They didn’t lose for lack of trying. For me, they were inspirational. For me, that was Pitino at his very best. This team has far more talent…supposedly. The fact is they’ve won more than 14 games and they can’t lose 14.

Matt Jones made a couple of good points about Julius Mays. Julius came to UK with eyes wide open. He understood he would not get a lot of playing time. Jones said Cal recruited Mays to be the seventh man. I repeat: Seventh man. He’s played more minutes than any other player on this team. For me, that speaks volumes.

A young woman called the show and said she wanted to continue to support the team, but she didn’t know how or what to do. She was genuinely conflicted. That shows how often (or more accurately, how rarely) seasons like this happen at Kentucky.

We all know there is something wrong here. Everyone has an opinion as to what is wrong. The only thing I can say is I see what my eyes see. I’ve been "listening" to my eyes all season. This team’s failures have been analyzed to death. Statistically, we are not very good. This team is just another team that is woeful following a national championship season. It is a common event in the NCAA.

We can only lose three more games (Florida, SEC Tournament and in the NCAA or NIT) at worst. At best, we can win out the rest of the season. Reality will probably be somewhere between the two extremes. Your eyes do not deceive. "Listen" to them. You know the odds of winning out even if your Good Fan mindset insists it can and will happen. Bad Fans believe it is not likely.

Stuff Happens…or it doesn’t. I don’t know what "support the Cats" means. If it means continuing to cheer them on, then I support the Cats. If it means watching every game from here on out, then I support the Cats. Other than that, I don’t know what else I can do to support the Cats. Cheer louder? Don’t criticize? To repeat, we criticize them when we win. Are we not allowed to criticize when we lose?

I wish a Good Fan would explain what "support the team" means. I’m sure the young lady who asked that question last night would also like to know.

Here’s my perspective.

My son was the State Runner-up in the 1990 KHSAA State Wrestling Championships at 135 lbs. He started wrestling in the 7th grade and made the Woodford County HS team as a 7th grader. He weighed 88 pounds and had to wrestle in the 98 lb weight class.

He never won a high school tournament title until his senior year. He came in second many times, but never won one during the season. From the 7th grade until his final year, he lifted weights every day of the year, even after three hours at practice. After lifting, he would run a mile. He went to wrestling camps at Ohio St., Granby camps in Virginia, and J. Robinson’s, a 14 day camp which is the similar to NAVY SEAL training. The camp ends with a 29 mile run and you have to do it within a certain amount of time in order to gain your camp t-shirt that says you completed and competed. It is a prized possession and marks you as an imposing opponent from the other guy’s perspective.

He wrestled in the off-season. I can’t even count how many off-season tournaments I took him and his buddies to. We went to Georgia several times. We went to the USA Wrestling Mid-East Regional tournament in Atlanta. We went to the Southern Open in Chattanooga at least three times during Thanksgiving weekend. We went to Ohio and Indiana for tournaments.

His first high school tournament victory was the district tournament his senior year. He beat a kid he had lost to three times previously. He won the regional tournament the following weekend, beating that same kid again in the regional championship. In the state tournament he beat two he had lost to during the regular season.

In the championship match he was head-butted in the first minute of the first period. His right eye was swollen shut in a few seconds and he had to wear a mask for protection the rest of the match. Needless to say, the injury hampered him so much that he lost the match. But, he didn’t allow the other guy to pin him.

After the match, I was called to the locker room because he needed me. When I got there, he was bawling like a newborn. All the years of dedication and hard work went down the drain for him. He was a loser. I put my arm around his shoulders and told him I couldn’t have been more proud of him if he had won that match because he refused to give up. He didn’t quit in spite of what happened when he could have.

I just don’t see that kind of dedication and self sacrifice with this year’s basketball team. I suppose that makes me a Bad Fan.

So be it.

Take solace. "Respect our past and fear our future." Go Cats! We Are UK.