As an avid Kentucky basketball fan, I guess it’s about time for me to weigh in on this year’s season. What better time than after a spectacular win against a solid Creighton club (that jumped on all of our idiotic mistakes)?
Ironically, we have more wins right now than we would have had if we’d made the NCAA tournament. And I’m OK with that–to me, the longer the season goes, the better. The NIT has given our young guys like Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins a chance to mature, and stars like Patterson and Meeks a chance to experience the glory of collegiate tournament basketball, which, if you ask me, beats the hell out of an early exit to the NBA any day.
A lot of people in Lexington have been blaming Billy Gillispie for our recent woes. I haven’t watched enough of UK’s games this year to comment on his coaching style, which has earned the disdain of many a basketball expert, but I can’t say I have a problem with the guy. The problem with UK basketball transcends Gillispie and even the players themselves. Rupp Arena, these days, is basically a stinkhole of old farts (and old money) and useless, pathetic fans. Coming to Illinois and watching a season in Assembly Hall has proven this to me.
Imagine coming from Lexington, Kentucky, and watching a talentless squad struggle against Lewis University (who?) in their second exhibition game of the season. Sounds like a long season, right? Basketball was supposed to be one of my few releases from chemistry, and at that point, it was looking like just another chore. And yet, four months later, that same talentless team finished second in the Big Ten and earned an NCAA tournament berth, which is more than Kentucky can say. And I give just as much credit to the fans in Assembly Hall as I do to Bruce Weber and the team for their impressive year. The team came together and they learned how to win in spite of their weaknesses. They played fierce defense and made shots when they mattered…and behind them every step of the way was another chorus of “Oskee Wow Wow” or a rousing “ILL-INI” cheer. Coincidence? Absolutely not!
Contrast this scenario with the situation at Kentucky, a squad jam-packed with basketball talent but lacking the passion, chemistry, and desire to win basketball games. That all starts with the fans. Although the astronomical expectations in Lexington have not changed, the average fan’s relationship with these expectations has: raucous cheers have been replaced by groans and whining. The players and coaching staff can sense that, and it rubs off on them. The whole “southern basketball tradition” bullshit is getting old, and it’s certainly not winning basketball games!
All that said, I’m pleased with how the season’s gone overall. It seems to me the entire team and coaching staff just got lazy towards the end of the season–the team peaked early. That happens. But as the talent level at Kentucky continues to rise (thanks to Gillispie’s superb recruiting, which is something BG haters should consider), seasons in the upcoming decade like ’08-’09 should be (and will be) considered intolerable. No reason to worry about the future til it gets here, though!