I was born and raised in western Kentucky. I have been a Big Blue fan all of my life. As I grew up and attended college, it was at Kentucky. I was in the marching band and sat through some awful seasons so that I could be in the basketball pep band and go to all of the home basketball games. I had the time of my life watching the program that I love. I look back fondly to those years.
Today I find myself seriously reconsidering the time and effort I still put into following Big Blue. Times have changed, and so have I. Over the years I have learned that there is more to life than just winning and losing. Competition is supposed to build character in both the athlete and the fan. I no longer feel that the world ends when Kentucky loses a big game, it is merely a part of life, and I know that I will still have things to do and work after a loss.
As much as I want to like this year’s UK basketball team, I just cannot do it. I suppose that what makes me tired of the current basketball team is just the lack of chemistry. For all of the talent that these young men possess, they merely are a collection of talent that has not worked together as a real team should. The problem with turnovers is just beyond me. It seems like such a fundamental issue that should not be a concern at this level. I am not an expert on coaching basketball, but I wonder how a player can be considered so talented when something as fundamental as ball possession remains an issue.
Part of this is the fact that the UK players were so much better than their high school competition that they could play without as much discipline or fundamentals, and that these bad habits catch up to them immediately when they get to college where the players on the other team are older and much more experienced. It seems like the logical answer, but again, I am no expert. Speaking of experience, the fact that so many players come to Kentucky to only play for one year seems to produce a stunning lack of consistency for the program. The wins are there for the most part, but the program lacks a real identity and consists of continually changing players with little or no experience to guide them through the season and into March Madness.
We all knew what we were going to get when Calipari became the basketball coach at Kentucky. Coach Cal is a guru at attracting talent that rarely stays at school for more than a year or two. I believe that what has happened at Kentucky is that the name on the jersey and the allure of the program has allowed Calipari to merely load his entire roster with players that won’t be around that long. In the past, when Coach Cal was at Memphis, he would have a solid core of players who stayed for 4 years, and this made a difference in how the team came together.
This brings up one criticism that I have against Coach Cal and his style. I think that when a player decides to come back for another year at Kentucky, that Calipari almost punishes them by not giving them any reward for loyalty. He seems to view returning players as practice squad material because he recruits to put an entirely new team on the floor each season. I note the year when multiple players returned, and the team was so good that Kentucky could put two complete teams on the floor in rotation. I understand that level of talent was a once-in-a-lifetime event, but it does make me wonder what would happen if returning players were viewed as something other than failures because they were not projected as first-round draft picks for the NBA. I appreciate that Coach Cal wants each player to be the best they can be, but at the same time, loyalty does count for something more than a spot on the bench for returning players.
I know that Calipari cares about his players. I have never doubted that. However, his defense of them does seem to cause problems at times. When he criticizes the officials, it comes across as sour grapes. It gives Kentucky basketball a bad name. Coach Cal also seems to relish controversy at times. His recent remarks about a top recruit who chose to attend Duke University does no good for anyone. It makes him appear to be a sore loser. He should keep his mouth shut more often.
This brings me to the Kentucky fans. I mentioned growing up and moving on with life earlier in this post. Sadly, there seem to be too many UK fans who have not accomplished this yet. Even when I was a student, we picked on the officials, but it was always in a way that never involved threats to someone’s life or career. In the last year, some Kentucky fans have decided that it is OK to threaten officials and this is unacceptable. I understand that this is only a small percentage of the fans argument that is always the first response when this is brought up, but the glossing over of the problem disturbs me. Someone is going to get hurt before the issue is genuinely addressed, and it will have been preventable.
Whenever Kentucky loses an NCAA tournament game, the first headlines involve riots breaking out. People make fun of Kentucky for many reasons, but this one hurts because I am from Kentucky and I would never act that way over a basketball game. Don’t blame alcohol for these problems, alcohol only lessens inhibitions, so that means that this behavior was lurking in these people and the basketball game just provided an excuse for them to act out.
With all of the things I have mentioned, I have to step away from Big Blue Nation for a while. Life is too important to allow a game to get in the way of enjoying it. I wish the team and the young men the very best, but I cannot make the emotional investment any longer. This might change in the future, only time will tell.