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Charting Kentucky Success: Letting Failure Define You

"Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up"- Batman Begins

Success is that way guys!!
Success is that way guys!!

Have you ever been knocked down? Had everything taken away from you and had no control of how or why it happened? I have. More than once. For various reasons. Thomas Edison, when asked about his many failures in his attempts to design the electric light told the group he was talking to that he had a conversation with a colleague who claimed after one of their experiments that it was a complete failure in a long line of failures. Edison responded with "I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that do not work." Shortly thereafter, the incandescent light bulb was invented.

How great was Edison's invention? 100 years later it is now going to become obsolete and no longer used. The incandescent light bulb, which ushered in a technological wave unlike the world has ever seen and which is still going on today, is no longer going to be manufactured. So what does all this have to do with basketball, and more importantly Kentucky basketball? Plenty.

Both the Kentucky men's and women's basketball programs have suffered some crushing defeats in the last few years, all while experiencing a wave of overall success that has been amazing to watch. And yet, we seem to be fixated on the mistakes. The failures. The inexplicable happenings that occur when teams that should succeed do not. There is no rhyme or reason to these things. We analyze and we show that due to this number or due to that number we failed where we should have succeeded. But why did this player have a "bad night?" Why was this player "off their game?" How does one honestly answer that question?

It's important to remember that perfection is an illusion; there's no such thing on the mortal plane. You may have a perfect record, you may have a perfect game. But in all honesty, no one can play every play perfect. That is why we have coaches. That is why we practice. And those things can only help players develop good habits, good tendencies and good work ethic. All of these things aid the process, but they cannot prevent breakdowns. They cannot make the future predictable or every Kentucky fan with a bookie would be rich. So what's the real reason here?

The real reason is simple. There is no level of preparation that can guarantee success. Anyone think that Nick Saban did not prepare Alabama for Oklahoma? On paper, they probably should not have been on the same field. Oklahoma was a really good team. But Bama should not have lost that game. They definitely should not have lost back to back games. There is no way that with the current state of competition in collegiate athletics that a coach can prepare a team for every possible situation. We have two of the best coaches in the country in charge of these basketball programs. They have a proven track record of success, they have shown that their approach to the game with their teams can achieve at the highest level. They are not, however, infallible.

John Calipari has charted a course that no one before him has ever tried. As of yet, none of his peers can match his current level of recruiting success either. Combine that with the success level on the court and it makes for a very impressive, if not shining example of his abilities. And yet, as of today, Calipari has failed 166 times to achieve the level of success expected by those who want to see that before-mentioned perfection. 23.6% of the times that John Calipari has prepared his teams for battle, they have failed. Does that mean he has not succeeded in accomplishing what he set out to do?

Matthew Mitchell has had a comparable career to Calipari at the same stage. Entering his 9th year at the helm of a program, Mitchell has failed 91 times to accomplish what he set out to do. He has shown himself 91 times that his preparation of his kids was inadequate. Or were those teams inadequate? Is Mitchell not a successful coach? Has he not shown that his methods are not just good, but intimidating to his opponents? He has the best players the team has ever had, but they still lose. Their last loss was to a team that was measurably inferior. But that team came to Lexington and defeated his talent-laden team in their own domain, where they were previously considered practically invincible.

Each and every year the rosters change. The staffs may change. Eventually even the head coaches change. The one thing that remains constant is that there are no guarantees. Expecting perfection is a fool's errand. Expecting perfection from young men and women who have not yet learned the ways of the world, and where the pitfalls lie along their path, is inexplicable. But we do. We sit there and watch over and over and we cringe at the mistakes, exhalt the triumphs, and look to our physicians to control our blood pressure along the way. And we love every minute of it.

I read an article last night about how Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals had received such ugly Twitter messages about his lack of performance against San Diego in their NFL playoff game that he finally just stopped reading them. The same people who were chanting his name in the prior weeks as he set team record after team record, are now sending him messages which, if came to fruition, would usher his existence off this mortal plane.

That amazes me. If your life is so empty that you have no more common decency in your character than to send death threats to athletes, you desperately need help. The failure in that formula is with the fan, not the athlete. And showing your abject failure to develop as a human being by putting it out there for all to see is ludicrous. Expressing emotions concerning success and failure is just being human. Expressing ignorance and stupidity is beneath common decency. If you think your life is destroyed by that game, try being the guy in charge. How do you think he felt?

Since coming to Kentucky, Calipari and Mitchell have experienced defeat 88 times combined. And yet 267 times coming into this season they have succeeded. Looks like they know what they are doing in my opinion. Maybe some people need to learn a new definition of winning?