“Everyone appreciates each other, everyone has their own unique traits both on the court and off the court. It’s been a joy to be a part of.” – Kellan Grady
The holiday season for the University of Kentucky basketball team might be summed up best by the quote from Grady above.
This season, after the disastrous campaign of the previous year, found a Hall of Fame Coach rolling up his sleeves and rebuilding a team in a way that he never has had to try before. Changes in coaching staff, five-star recruits, working the transfer portal, revamping how to keep a program healthy in a coronavirus era, and trying to keep the Kentucky fan base pumped meant one of the most difficult off seasons ever for John Calipari.
As the new season began, expectations were through the roof, perhaps a bit unrealistic…let’s be honest, how often does a team go 9-16 one season and then begin the next year with an unseen team ranked in the top ten in the nation?
Rarely – but that is what it means to be a part of Kentucky Basketball.
But as we arrive at 2022, we have moved through the holidays and watched a team come together, as Grady noted, and find themselves. This is what you have to know about this team. It is the real deal! How far will they go? Time will tell, the real grind begins now as the SEC season is here – but in spite of the growing pains the meshing of this team has been fun to watch and has been one of the most enjoyable teams to watch in recent memory.
The offense – it is different. Not just the dribble-drive, but a variation of the dribble-drive with new wrinkles. Long and athletic is still part of the team makeup, but his blend of newcomers and veterans has given Coach Cal the chance to build, reshape, and remold the players into a team that without a doubt, must be considered a contender to go deep into the year. There are going to be more moments of frustration, to be sure… there will be unexpected twists and turns, if there were not – it would not be basketball. But any Wildcat fan must be excited about the start of the last 2/3 of the season.
The WOW Factor has been amazing. The combination of Washington, Oscar, and Wheeler have claimed as their own the middle of every hardwood court they have played on and have dared people to take control of it away from them.
AirCal has unleashed an outside game that continues to get stronger. The team is firing flames from outside in a way that past Cats teams has not done. Grady, Washington, and Mintz have managed to not only score but be so threating that other teams must open up the inside to put better coverage on them.
The Run and Run Faster Cats are all over the floor with rebounding, outside shooting, and inside dunking with Brooks, Toppin, Ware, and Hopkins taking advantage of every minute and allowing their depth and pressure to cause the other teams to crumple. You can’t help but find yourself smiling as the team races up and down the court.
Perhaps the holidays showed us what is happening in Big Blue Nation, this team has heart. There is hustle and everyone appreciates each other and the effort that is being made. Everyone is finding their role on the court and doing their job. They seemed to have found their roles off the court and creating a spirit of team. Unselfish camaraderie accents the way this team carries itself. Calipari said it this way, “There are not many teams that I have coached that get along like this team.”
Looking down the long few months ahead, the best and only place to be right now is where Cal summarizes his team. “That means we’ve got a chance. We’ve got a chance.”
He is right – they have a chance – and time will tell… but what a time we might have!