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Big Blue Nation Exercised its Will

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BBN let a national poll know that recognition for Tyler Ulis would not be denied.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

I've only been a Louisville resident for 10 years. And while I came in predetermined to root for Kentucky – my new wife had been a cheerleader for the 1978 National Champions – I wasn't steeped in the tradition like all of you.

What's more, my early years around UK basketball were sort of tepid, the late Tubby/early Billy Clyde days when you always hoped for the best but kind of expected the worst. Root individually for Rajon Rondo or Jodie Meeks, get stoked over a Patrick Sparks game-winner, but don't always assume a victory was coming. Frankly, in those days, it was more rewarding to root for the football team – the unlikely charisma of Rich Brooks and what he was doing.

That was all pre-Cal, of course. It all changed immediately upon the news that John Calipari was the new coach and that, oh by the way, some kid from North Carolina named John Wall was signing on, too. Suddenly, Big Blue Nation was transformed. Mild-mannered Dr. Bruce Banner was popping his shirt buttons and his eyes were turning red.

Big Blue Nation can be a sight to behold, filling Rupp on a snowy Saturday afternoon, showing up at visiting gyms with its blue shirts and "Go Big Blue" chants, dominating everyone else's turnout at tournament sites, whether across the river in Indianapolis or across the country in New York.

So, have I become a believer? Sure. All you have to do is read the smart, knowledgeable string of comments that follows most posts on this website.

And here's something else: espn.go.com hosts something called the Capital One Cup Impact Performance of the Week survey, and this week fans were invited to submit their votes for either:

  • Buddy Hield, Oklahoma, 27 points and a game-winning three over Texas

  • Anthony Barber, NC State, 38 points against Wake Forest

  • Devonte Graham, Kansas, 27 points, including six three-pointers, against Oklahoma

-or-

  • Tyler Ulis, Kentucky, "career-high 27 points, 12 assists in 89-62 win vs. South Carolina."

Sure, we all love our little point guard, we know what he brings every time out and we know what he meant in the emotional South Carolina game after his coach got bounced from the club.

But Buddy Hield, he's the favorite for national player of the year, and his club beat Texas. Devonte Graham, that's Kansas, and it was a win over Hield and Oklahoma. All these teams are clustered near the top of the rankings. Kentucky and South Carolina are over in the kiddie pool. What chance does Ulis have in a national poll?

Sure enough, early on, Graham's way out in front. Ulis is second, but it's like 60 percent to 20 percent.

My wife got on Facebook and started texting people, all her UK acquaintances: "Do you know about this poll going on? We have to vote!"

And over the next hour, Ulis' number crept up – 24 percent, 28 percent, 32 percent.

By Monday morning, Ulis was at 74 percent! Graham had dropped to 22 percent and National-Player-of-the-Year Hield was at 2 percent.

Does it mean anything in the national scheme of things? Not much. This is not about whether Ulis does or does not deserve whatever comes from that poll (though, yes, we all know he does deserve it, and more).

What it shows me is the power of Big Blue Nation, perhaps the third or fourth most powerful nation on the planet. When it wants to exercise its will, whether showing up for a series of exhibition games in the Bahamas or filling the stands in New Orleans or Atlanta or Indianapolis for the Final Four, it simply cannot be stopped.

Too bad the real National Player of the Year awards are not based on fan write-ins. For that matter, too bad we can't all just get online and vote for the NCAA championship. Is there any question who would win that??