Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Where do they go from here? The post championship world of UK (Part I)

We've read the seemingly logical rationales.  

We've heard all the partly rational, partly irrational chest-humping comments from the supposedly greatest  NBA-ready player factory university ever known to mankind as to why "they" are crazy not to take a seat at their beloved big, fat, Cal arranged basketball wedding, and join the Kentucky "family."  Still, the Harrisons may not choose the almighty Cats.

Sure, as a basketball player at the University of Kentucky, they'll recognize you out on the street, because there essentially won't be anyone like you on the street.  And if you snub them, they'll turn their post 2009-onward entitled chins up at you and move on to their next quarry.  If you don't think so, ask Rick Pitino.  They excoriated ol' Ricky right after he left for the Celtics, even before he moved back in state to the hated Louisville Cardinals (in Lexington, at least).  Never mind that Rick felt he had something to prove, some extra glory to possibly attain in the NBA with a lot of "his" guys.  He was bad, "foul," and was sworn to eternal basketball coaching damnation by the loyal fanatical Kentucky basketball "family."

Kentucky's administration was leery of Cal the first go round after Tubby left, so they took a seemingly safe choice that didn't have the lingering stench of players who crossed the wrong side of the NCAA (or "2A" as Tark liked to mockingly call them) rules.  Cal was recognized by many as having performed a nice "reach around" on the rules with the beautifully orchestrated Laurinburg Prep recruit funneling scam.  Little did they know, the charismatic, lock-down recruiter in Billy Gillespie, who like Cal, had a penchant for bringing in top talent, was a functional (soon to be dysfunctional) alcoholic who would derail his fast rising coaching career quick enough.

So in the aftermath of the crash of the BG Express, and with pressure growing from the fan base by the day, they took the plunge.  The next coach had to be able to right the ship, get their guys winning again - fast.  They threw caution to the wind, knowing full well he would immediately inject a group of top recruits he had already secured into his 1st year's squad.  It was now worth the risk.

It played out oh so brilliantly.  This charismatic leader worked the alumni, the fans, the students, like no other coach had - including Rick.  The instant rush of success energized the fan base.  NOW this was their team, a team that was winning.  The disappointments of the past 10 seasons would soon wash away.  He was cleansing the stain of losing.  He now could do things the "right' way, using the drawing power of a school's basketball history to be his leading line when wooing potential "clients."  He could sell anything, regardless of whether or not he previously sold his coaching soul by looking the other way for the many years up until this magical moment of recruiting nirvana.

Forget the statistics, the UNC and Duke dominated top-10 recruiting landscape of the past 30 years.  It was different now, and like a mighty comet, he shined brightly, deftly maneuvering his way through the runners, through the "representatives," through the power brokers who, in the eyes and words of one top recruit, made the recruit feel like they "owned" him.  The recruiting world was Cal's oyster, Cal slurping up every last bit of the gold recruiting juice along the way.  He felt unstoppable, as if nobody could prevent his undeniable recruiting inertia.  The basketball world, including the hardwood, would soon be his to dominate.

All cylinders hummed along, recruiting operating at a peak these last four years like no other school had done since UCLA in the 1960s.  In 2012, it finally arrived.  His long awaited national championship trophy.  It was all worth it.  The grinding at UMass, toiling away to build up the little red fire engine that could; the out of control, paranoid days of trying to manage his dysfunctional organizational set up with the New Jersey Nets; the gamely Laurinburg Prep recruiting approach, building up Memphis to its former Final Four glory during the Keith Lee era.  Yes, it was now all worth it - Cal finally was "king of the (basketball) world."  No one could dispute this fact any more.  The detractors could all now officially stuff it.

The next phase has begun.  How will the recruits respond this year, in ensuing years?  Will they still have the perception and belief that Cal's "system" will get them to their NBA destination, or that playing with other top talent gets them to the pros by a law of increasing returns?  Currently, many say yes, this is the sure way, the guaranteed way to the top of the draft board.  Little do some realize, the fanatical beast is still hungry, wanting to engorge itself on Cal's next recruiting meal.  The family has become greedy, needing to sit at the table for feast after feast, year after year - it is expected.  All is good in their world right now. The late 1990s through 2008 are a distant memory.  But at some point in time, the recruits are going to see it, feel it.  While the coach loves many, the fanatics have conditional love, one based upon winning, and winning alone.  They, like us, are human.  We all want to win badly - it's ingrained in us from a very young age.  At what point will the fan base cross the Rubicon to yearly unrealistic expectations, with the only thought that their "family members" better play beyond good.  What happens when Cal, after seemingly accomplished as much as he possibly feels he can, bolts five years from now to follow Rick's footsteps to wipe the big blemish from his coaching transcript?

Next:  The Up and Comers Try to Spoil the Recruit Entitlement Party



  1. While some were bitter that Pitino left for the Celtics, he wasn't reviled in the manner you describe. Only after he took the helm at Louisville, UK's principal rival, did bad feelings really surface. And come on, who can blame UK fans for that? Coach K at UNC? Izzo coaching Michigan? That just doesn't happen. Still, if you polled most UK fans, despite Pitino's clownish personal life of late, they would express deep gratitude for all that he accomplished during his time in Lexington. If they don't, they're probably too young to remember just how bleak things were before his arrival in the late 80's.

    It's fun to hate the rival and their coach, but most people understand it's a job, and Pitino took it because it was the best one available at that time.

    1. True - it became full blown contempt once Rick took the Cards job. But there were a lot of hard feelings, almost of scorn, that the delusional fan base felt upon Pitino's move to Boston. They basically felt "how could you leave our program when we're doing this well?" Tubby eased the pain a bit with the 2nd Natty two years later, but it set their program back for 10 years thereafter.

  2. You couldn't be more off base regarding UK fans' feelings toward Pitino when he left for the Celtics. Disappointed? Yes, extremely. Bitterness and contempt? Not in the least. In fact, most sort of adopted the Celtics as their NBA team with Pitino, Walker, and Mercer all in Boston, as evidenced by the sold out Celtics pre-season game at Rupp in '98 that I attended. It was not until he opted to take the UofL job that he became thought of as a traitor.

    Also, no one around here is eager to forget the late 90'a: '95 - '99 = 2 Elite 8'a, 2 National Titles, and a National Runner-up.