It’s been weeks since Kentucky basketball fans saw their favorite 2016-17 players get whisked away to various NBA teams and summer leagues. If you’re one of those fans, chances are you still feel empty, and you’ve found yourself wandering aimlessly, softly humming the Wildcats fight song as you try to fight back the tears.
OK, that’s a bit dramatic ... but indeed, some sadness is understandable.
Over the past eight seasons, head coach John Calipari has sent 31 players to the draft. At an average of almost four players per draft, that’s not including transfers and seniors who don’t play professionally.
As a fan, you spend roughly five months, 30+ games and at least a few match-ups in postseason (except 2013… we don’t talk about 2013) getting to know these young, outstanding freshmen. And you’ve already developed a strong bond with the seniors. But then, a heartbreaking loss in the NCAA tournament closes out the postseason run, and you have to face the harsh reality --- not only is the season over, but much of the roster won’t return next year.
This year hit fans hard. The Wildcats are losing eight players — three freshmen, two sophomores and three seniors — whose combined time played totals more than 6,700 minutes. That’s at least 1,500 minutes more than the prior season’s players lost.
But have no fear. You can cope with this, and these tips might help.
Appreciate the good times from last season.
My oh my, what a season 2016-17 was. Who could forget that last second three-pointer from Malik Monk that helped Kentucky defeat North Carolina in December? Or when the ‘Cats got revenge on UCLA, Lonzo Ball, in the Sweet Sixteen, with the help of De’Aaron Fox’s career-high 39 points?
Moments like these are good for reminiscing. Scavenge through the Internet, watch these videos and relive the excitement.
(Is the blue blood pumping faster now?)
Find one or two players to follow in the NBA.
You loved their styles of play when you watched them in the Big Blue uniform, so you’ll surely enjoy keeping up with them in the big leagues.
Pick a former player and keep track of him. Better yet, find a team with multiple former players on it. Watch some of their games.
Know that there is at least a discussion about a rule change to keep them longer.
As Silver discussed, one option would be to bump the minimum age from 19 to 20. Currently, the rule states players must be 19 years old or one year removed from high school before they are allowed to enter the draft. Increasing the eligible age could either encourage these athletes to skip college altogether or provide extra experience to those who do choose college.
Of course, whatever the rule change could be, it surely won’t happen immediately.
But how nice is it to know this is a possibility?
Recognize that the one-and-done style isn’t just a Kentucky thing.
The one-and-done idea seems to be connected to Calipari, but remember, it’s not connected to Kentucky basketball overall. While the Wildcats claimed three of this year’s record-high 16 freshman draft picks (which was incredible), that also means 13 other players from other teams followed the trend.
And finally, no matter how many players we lost, know there’s always next year.
You’re going to find the players who mirror your favorites from last year, maybe even some you like better. Team USA’s recent success in the FIBA U19 World Cup is a good sign, given the roster includes multiple Kentucky commits. Plus, Wenyen Gabriel will be back, as will Tai Wynyard, who has performed well for New Zealand in this same tournament.
(And hey, with more one-and-dones, that just means Kentucky has more great players to claim!)
So, good luck, Kentucky fans. Hopefully this guide can get you through to next season!