With finals ending at Kentucky this week, it’s safe to say that we’ve hit the doldrums of the 2015-2016 college basketball season. But the good news is, with a little downtime we decided to give you a bit of an exclusive here at "A Sea of Blue."
We went ahead and tracked down Aaron Torres, the author of the new book out on Kentucky basketball titled "One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats." ‘A Sea of Blue’ got an advanced copy of the book, and it really is a behind the scenes look at John Calipari’s first team in Lexington, the 2009-2010 squad, with John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and others.
The book is available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon, with more details and a full list of stores where the book is available for purchase at KentuckyBasketballBook.com, and we’ve got to say, it really does make the perfect gift for each and every UK fan in your life this holiday season.
Still, don’t take our word for it, we’ll let Aaron tell you himself.
He sat down with A Sea of Blue to talk about why he decided to write the book, why the 2010 team might be the best of the John Calipari era, the response from UK players and fans about the book, and why you need to pick it up for your loved ones this holiday season.
Give us a quick rundown of the book, and what went into writing it?
AT: Jason, first off, thank you for allowing me the platform to share information about the book.
So to give quick background (and I apologize to those who have heard this story 1,000 times, please forgive me), but this was never intended to be a book at all. Not even a little bit.
Instead, it all started out as a story idea for FoxSports.com last year.
Coming into the season, we all knew that the 2014-2015 Kentucky Wildcats (with Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl-Anthony Towns, the Harrison twins etc.) were going to be good, so I said to my editors at FOX: "Wes know Kentucky is going to be good. Why not do a story on the team who started it all at Kentucky? The team that laid the groundwork for all the success that the program has had since? Why not go back and try to track down as many former players from that 2009-2010 season as possible, and write a story about it." How cool would it be to see Coach Cal, John Wall and everyone else talking about that season?
Pretty cool, right?
Well, that’s exactly what I did and last March, when I wrote the "Oral History of the 2009-2010 Kentucky Wildcats." As you might imagine, Kentucky fans loved it, and the feedback I got was overwhelming.
At the same time, when the article was finished, I also felt like there was something more to do. That somehow, my work wasn’t complete. And that as good as the original story was, there was so much more I could write, so many more details I wasn’t able to include.
So I decided to write a book. Easy enough, right?
Well, ok, it wasn’t "easy" per se, but thankfully I already had hours of interviews from the original story, so ironically, the hard part was done. From there it was about organizing my thoughts, organizing chapters and writing.
Roughly six months later, I came out with the final product: "One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats."
How has the response from fans on the book been?
AT: Honestly, the response hasn’t just been good, it’s been overwhelming.
From a fan’s perspective, I can honestly say I haven’t had one person reach out with negative feedback. I’m not arrogant enough to think that everyone who purchased the book loved it, but at the same time, every single response so far I’ve gotten back is positive.
Now in terms of what those responses have been, they’ve centered around two major themes. Just about every response I’ve gotten has said one of the following things:
1) The book really does take them back to 2010, to that moment in time, when that team arrived and took the college basketball world by storm.
2) The book really is a "behind the scenes" look at that team, with details that fans had never heard before. I can’t tell you how many times someone has told me "I’m a diehard UK fan, and even I learned something that I didn’t know before."
That is easily the biggest compliment an author like me can receive.
How about response from the players that you actually interviewed?
AT: As far as the players, coaches, managers and others, that’s been overwhelming too.
Of course, when recounting a season like I did, you want to make sure and get every detail right. When you’re telling someone else’s story --- not to mention the story of people that you genuinely like --- you just want to make sure every fact is perfect and every anecdote is 100 percent correct. I knew that I had done that, but to hear it from the players and coaches who lived through it was a completely different, and equally cool feeling altogether.
So far every single guy who has read it has told me that they loved it, and that it perfectly captured that season and their memories of it.
Is it safe to say this was not only the team that made the one-and-done approach a viable way to win big, but also paved the way for freshman-heavy teams like 2011-12 Kentucky and 2014-15 Duke to win titles?
AT: Yes. Honestly, this is one of the biggest themes of the book: That the 2009-2010 ‘Cats helped change not only the Kentucky program forever, but college basketball as well.
The simple truth, is that before these guys arrived, the reputation of "One and Done" guys really wasn’t all that positive. A lot of folks in the media --- not everyone, but many --- had this preconceived notion that anyone who was a one-and-done was a bad kid, who didn’t care about school, and was only using the system of college basketball to their benefit. We all heard the stories that one and done kids didn’t even go to class after their first semester.
Well, I can’t speak to any other school, but what I can say is that John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe changed that. They proved to be great players on the court yes; but they also broke down every "one and done" stereotype as well. They were great teammates, great students and good role models in general. Many Kentucky fans know this, but John Wall actually had the highest GPA on the team his second semester at UK, this despite the fact that everyone in the world knew he was going pro.
Now in terms of those other teams (2011-2012 Kentucky, 2014-2015 Duke), the 2010 team proved something completely different. They proved that you could build a team around one-and-done freshmen, and they could be National Championship contenders.
No, the 2010 team didn’t win the title, but they did put the program on their backs (with help from veterans like Patrick Patterson, Darius Miller and others), and take Kentucky straight from outside the NCAA Tournament (like they were in 2009), all the way to the No. 1 ranking in the country.
As a matter of fact, one thing that John Calipari told me during the interview process is that nothing that UK has accomplished since (including the 2012 title) would be possible without the 2010 team.
Also, as I’ve said in other interviews before, nothing proves the "Calipari way" works, quite like Coach K embracing it at Duke, and riding it all the way to a title last season.
Though they didn't win it all, was this still John Calipari's best UK team, and how would you rank Cal's UK teams?
AT: So it’s funny, when I was down in Kentucky promoting the book in October, I had someone ask me an interesting question about the 2009-2010 club: Has any team in college basketball history have three separate players who went on to sign max NBA contracts like Wall, DeMarcus and Eric Bledsoe have? Honestly, I don’t think there is.
When you think about it like that, you’ve got to think that the 2010 team might be the best team in Calipari era, right? If you needed more proof, one of the coaches from that team actually told me that he thought the 2010 team would beat the 2012 club if they played in a seven-game series. Which coach? Well, you’ll have to wait and read!
Now, with all that said, I would throw in one caveat: I think when it’s all said and done, last year’s team, the 2014-2015 might ultimately end up as the best team of the Calipari era.
That debate is years away from being settled, but think about it like this: Last year’s club (2014-2015) was the first team ever to have seven players declare early for the NBA Draft, they had the No. 1 overall pick in the draft (Karl-Anthony Towns), another guy who I think can be an All-Star (Devin Booker), a couple more who should be in the NBA for a decade (Trey Lyles and Willie Cauley-Stein) and another three who ended up on NBA rosters. Oh, and that doesn’t even include the guys who are still currently in Lexington, which includes one who could be an All-American this year (Tyler Ulis) and another who should be an All-SEC type player (Marcus Lee).
When it’s all said and done, I really do think we’re going to look back at last year and say "My God, that was a special season!"
(One and Fun, Volume II maybe?)
Getting to talk with so many different players, coaches, etc., who was the most fun and interesting to interview?
AT: This is going to sound like such a corny, cop out answer but I’m going to say it anyway: Everyone who I spoke with was incredibly gracious with their time and didn’t hold anything back. I can honestly say that I interviewed like 20 people affiliated with that program (and many more overall), and not a single person refused to answer any question.
With that said, a couple people stand out.
I thought all the veterans on the team (Patrick Patterson, Ramon Harris and Mark Krebs) had really interesting perspectives. Remember, they were there for two and in some cases three (if you include a few who played for Tubby Smith) different coaches, and just had a really interesting perspective on how the program changed and evolved when Coach Calipari arrived.
Obviously, the freshmen on that team like John Wall and Eric Bledsoe had interesting perspective as well.
In terms of one, single person, I have also said this a lot before, but DeWayne Peevy, who was Kentucky’s sports information director that year was really, really fun to speak with. He was on the ground for that entire season, and had memories that no one else could have, or did have. There are a few especially spectacular excerpts where he just straight out stole the show.
If you’ve read the book, then all I have to say is "Popeye’s Chicken" or "The Hit Maker" and you know exactly what I’m talking about.
And for those who don’t know what I’m talking about, well, you’ll just have to read.
Calipari's famous quote "This is the greatest day in the history of Kentucky basketball" drew a lot of scrutiny locally and nationally. However, not only did that change college basketball, but it helped pave the way for four Final Four berths in a five-year stretch, something the program has never done in addition to the 2012 National Championship and a host of Wildcats now in the NBA. Was Calipari right with his statement, in your opinion?
AT: Ask a lot of people about this, and you get a lot of different answers.
Some, say that in hindsight, they agree with the assessment. On the other hand, many still feel to this day, that it’s simply not the case. That no draft night could be bigger than a title season.
What I will say about it is this: If you think about the quote, in the context of what John Calipari is trying to accomplish each year at Kentucky, then yes, the 2010 draft night was the biggest night in the history of Kentucky basketball.
What do I mean by that? Well, Coach always says that he’s trying to accomplish more than just winning titles, but fulfilling kid’s dreams. He hopes to use Kentucky --- and everything that it provides a basketball player --- to help kids help their families, and hopefully, eventually accrue generational wealth.
Because of that --- and this is something that many people told me throughout the process --- I think it’s safe to say that he was right, that the night of the 2010 draft was the biggest night in the history of Kentucky basketball. Not only did five players reach their dreams (four of whom are still in the NBA to this day), but also that night laid the groundwork for everything else that came at Kentucky since. Within a few months, Brandon Knight committed, which led directly to the 2011 Final Four, and so too did Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis, the two biggest pieces on that 2012 title team. And from there, the ball has continued to roll downhill.
Therefore, I think that Coach Cal was right.
As one person told me, what Coach Cal was trying to say with that statement (regardless of how it was perceived)was that although Kentucky didn’t win a title in that 2010 season, when they did win a title, it would be because of those five guys.
I think that was proven correct in 2012, and has been proven even more correct since then.
If I'm a UK fan who doesn't have this book or even someone who's a fan of college hoops but not UK, what makes it so special that I should get it?
AT: To answer the second question first, one thing that I want to make really, really clear is that I don’t believe that this is a book that only a Kentucky fan can enjoy. As a matter of fact, I don’t just think it, I know it. If you read the reviews on Amazon, a handful are from people who aren’t Kentucky fans, don’t root for the team, but enjoyed the book none the less.
Now, to the second part: If you’re a Kentucky fan, or if you need a last minute gift for a Kentucky fan, this is the perfect gift.
It takes you behind the scenes of a season and team that UK fans will never forget, with one of the most dynamic and exciting groups of players that have ever worn a UK uniform. It tells stories that you’ve never heard before, and helps you re-live one of the most memorable seasons in Kentucky basketball history.
This is an absolutely perfect book for anyone who is a UK fan, and as I said, even those who might not be.
Is there another book in your future? (UK or other school)?
As soon as UK fans got their hands on this book, the immediate question was "When are you going to do the next one!" Like Coach Cal says, Kentucky really is different than any place else, isn’t it?
With that said, I wouldn’t be surprised if another one comes across the assembly line at some point. To my surprise, more people are clamoring for one on last year’s team, than the 2012 title team, and I think it’s for a lot of the same reasons that "One and Fun" has been so successful. That 2015 team had so much personality and was so much fun, they were impossible not to love.
Still, for now I’ll just focus on this one.
"One and Fun" is a book I believe should be on the coffee table in every house in Kentucky.
Once I accomplish that goal, I’ll move on to the next book!
How can fans get this book and follow your work?
AT: To reiterate from the top, the best place to get it is Amazon, where it is available in both paperback and Kindle. It’s also worth noting that the Kindle version can be "gifted" to other people as well.
Furthermore, it’s not too late to get personalized, signed copies for your friends, families and loved ones this holiday season. You can do that by ordering straight through the order page KentuckyBasketballBook.com.
Also, KentuckyBasketballBook.com also has a full list of all the stores in and around Kentucky where the book is available for purchase.
Thank you again for the time Jason.