One thing I seem to have done precious little of this season is the "soft" analysis of the basketball team; where we look at people, how they feel, what they think. By now we are just beginning to get a good sense of this team, and it's time as a team is almost over. It's something that's more or less unique to Kentucky with the culture we have here of players moving on to greater things so soon after matriculating to Lexington.
If you asked 100 Kentucky fans if they would prefer a team that stayed around all four years, I suspect you'd get greater than 95% of them saying they would prefer that. I know that I would. But what we've all come to understand over the last five years is that getting to know the players is something that we have to do much faster than other fan bases in America. Time here is sped up. In a little more than six months, our teams must be born, grow up to full maturity, deliver on whatever promise they are able in terms of basketball accolades, and they perish in a blaze of glory called the NBA Draft. It's a short life, but often, a very sweet one.
We get this basketball team for two more days. No matter what the outcome for this child of the Commonwealth against the Connecticut Huskies, midnight strikes for them tomorrow. After the game, win or lose, the team will begin preparations for its end. Like the Phoenix of legend, it's feathers will become too bright to continue living, and it will consume itself. Seven months from now, the new young Phoenix will rise from the ashes, ready to live it's short, but hopefully brilliant life with a few pieces left from the old one.
This time has become bittersweet for Kentucky fans. We feel the glory and pain perhaps a bit more deeply than other fans, because we know that continuity is something that is not given to us. Continuity is for other programs, and that's not a knock on them — the Calipari Way is not the only way to run a successful basketball program. In fact, nobody else in America does it that way, although it looks for all the world like Bill Self will be giving it a try at Kansas. It has its joys, to be sure, but also its sadness.
Tomorrow, we begin saying goodbye. It's not "Until later," like most fans do, but "Farewell and Godspeed." That's hard to do. No matter what America thinks, it's hard to say goodbye to a team you are only coming to know, to players who know, unlike so many of their older scolds, that opportunities have a time limit, and must be seized when they present themselves. While some look down on choosing the NBA's millions, that is the career path many of these young men have been on since early in their lives, and when they come to Kentucky, that is a validation of their efforts. We would never complain about a pianist who had been learning the piano since his youth getting a nice offer to play for the Boston Pops or Philadelphia Orchestra and leaving school early. It's his dream. Kentucky fans understand this better than anyone.
The world turns. Another season comes to an end, perhaps in the ultimate blaze of glory, or perhaps as an almost. Either way, this has been a wonderful season and a fabulous team, even if the growing pains have been excruciating at times. The circle of life will begin again, as it has for the last five years under Calipari. Succeed and proceed, if you will. Six months from birth to demise.
Yes, it's different here in the Commonwealth. As slow as life is around the state, it's really fast for the legendary basketball program Adolph Rupp built. It takes some getting used to, and it's all too short a ride.
But worth it.