With the wound still fresh, those words probably ring a little hollow, but I do believe them. The heartbreak we all felt will never disappear, but let's not allow it to overshadow what has been one of the greatest regular seasons in the modern era of college basketball. Let's not allow one misstep to tarnish the legacy of this amazing group. Some final thoughts on the 2014-2015 Cats.
This is the team everyone will remember from this season, not Duke or Wisconsin
No matter what happens tonight, this group, partly because of Cal and partly because it's Kentucky, will be the team history remembers. Like Georgetown in 1985. The story isn't that Villanova won, but that Georgetown lost, and that's not all bad. Of course winning is better, but what Kentucky accomplished despite not winning a national title will live on and is the kind of thing that could directly or indirectly lend itself to future success. Why? Because we were the story. For eight months (if you go back to the Bahamas August), Kentucky was the only team on the lips of casual fans. Kentucky transcended. Kentucky paid ESPN's bills and gave the SEC Network something besides Nick Saban to talk about in its inaugural basketball season.
Don't take that lightly. Kentucky has nothing to prove in terms of its place in history, but this team, despite not winning a title, has earned its place among the loftiest of Big Blue Perches, and should be remembered in the same breath as our greatest teams. And, buddy, our greats are greater than most. Our perches are higher than most. Our history is still the envy of college basketball, and this team only enhanced it.
It's been a privilege to watch this team
Forget about this team's place in history for a moment. For a moment, forget about what it all means. Did you have fun watching this team this year? I did. Did this team fill you with pride? Did they make you glad to be a Kentucky fan? Yes? And yes? Me, too.
This team provided everything that any reasonable person could ask for from a college basketball season. Then, they did a helluva lot more. From Willie's dunk on America to Willie's other dunk on America, to Aaron Harrison's three (again) against Notre Dame to Tyler Ulis's complete indifference to the taste of his own blood (in a rivalry game where said rival's PG is flopping more than that catfish I hooked but set said hook too late and he swallowed it and I had to get pliers to get it out and then it barbed me in the hand and there was my blood and his blood and when I finally got the hook out I sent him back on his way with my sincerest apologies), this has been one of the greatest journeys I have ever been privileged to witness--and, buddy, this ain't Louisville; we've been blessed with a multitude of amazing Big Blue Journeys just in my lifetime.
On top of all that, these kids are amazing. I outlined it a few posts below, but this was a group that was so easy to root for. No bad apples. Unlike that time Louisville fielded a team (pick a year).
I hope Cal retires here
I said Saturday night that I thought Cal had coached his last game here. Again, I have zero inside information. I don't even have any outside information. This is just my opinion; but, it's my opinion based on context clues--clues such as his demeanor during and after the Notre Dame game. He looked fried, tense, nervous. You saw it, I'm not going to dwell on it, but the guy looked like a guy who had had all that he could take from coaching Kentucky. And that's okay. It just means maybe he's reached his natural stopping point here, which, after this season, after being under this microscope for so long, after losing possibly seven guys off of this team, I'm not sure there would be a more logical time for Calipari to leave (more on this tomorrow).
When he came, I think he said something like he had ten years here. Ten years here was like twenty somewhere else. He's right. This is not a twenty-year job. It just isn't. We will never have a Coach K, a guy who spends his entire career here (besides, we already had him; he won four titles, and we named the arena after him). In part, this is because our fans are just too passionate. We put too much pressure on the team and the coach. That's never going to change, nor should it because that same passion is the reason players want to come here and coaches want to coach here. You come here and win, you're not only a Kentucky legend, you're a basketball legend. You come here, it's easier to win. The support is built in. We're not going anywhere. I don't just mean emotional support. Because here's what the Kentucky fan does.
The Kentucky Fan spends an untenable amount of his/her disposable income on tickets.
The Kentucky Fan spends an untenable amount of his/her disposable income on merchandise.
The Kentucky Fan spends an untenable amount of his disposable income on travel with the team.
The Kentucky Fan spends an untenable amount of his/her time freaking the fuck out about what is happening with "The Guys."
That's what makes you special. You make the program. That's why they come. And that's why, if Cal does leave, we'll fill the position with another great coach.
I want Cal to retire here. Let me take this opportunity to back off--some--on my position that he's leaving. I'm going to go into more detail about this tomorrow, but for now, let's focus on what he's done since Saturday. He's told Tyler Ulis he wants to build a team around him (I'm all in for that). He's said he won't shy away from trying to make another undefeated run next year (this, I love. It's what I love about Cal. He never stops. He doesn't take vacations. He doesn't get sick. He is a jackhammer).
These don't sound like things that would come out of the mouth of a man who is leaving. But time will tell. I'm gonna try to put up another Smart Guy, Blogger conversation tomorrow which goes into more detail about this, covering the decision from every possible angle. Let me just say this, though. I don't think there is a more perfect job in the world for John Calipari than to coach basketball at the University of Kentucky, and I don't think there is a more perfect person in the world to coach basketball at the University of Kentucky than John Calipari.
They still hung a banner
Let's not forget that. They still added one to the rafters. That alone fulfills the criteria required to be considered one of our great teams. Combine that with all the other stuff I just mentioned, and we can--and should--look back on this team and remember the journey, not just the unfortunate final destination.
For now, spring has sprung. Go outside. Take your dog to the park. Hike. Read a book. Recharge. Because being a fan doesn't stop with heartbreak. This heartbreak only hardens the hearts of The Kentucky Fan. This heartbreak makes the successes that follow that much more satisfying.