My (Big) Blue Heaven

Since the end of our glorious University of Kentucky Basketball season, I’ve been jotting down my thoughts on the year from time to time.  Many of you have reveled in the 2012 NCAA Championship, but may feel slightly unfulfilled.   You’ve asked yourself:  “I know I’m happy, but what does HE think?”  Now, you can know.

  • In the span of one year, Anthony Davis was named a McDonald’s High School All-American; NCAA Freshman of the Year; NCAA Defensive POY; Consensus National POY; SEC POY; First Team NCAA All-American; and Final Four Most Outstanding Player.  In addition, he won an NCAA championship; is the likely 1st pick in the NBA draft; and has a chance to play on the Olympic team.  If this isn’t the best year a college player ever had, it’s got to be close.
  • I can’t overstate how impressed I am with the job John Calipari did this year.  It’s tough enough to meld a team of stars and potential stars into a cohesive unit.  When many of your players are straight from high school, it’s even tougher.
  • The post-championship statewide Trophy Tour was pure genius.  Cal knows his audience.  I also really liked including Joe Hall and Herky Rupp.  Hall has become something of an elder statesman of UK basketball, but Coach Rupp has been largely pushed into the background.  The Rupp family has spent far too much time defending his legacy.  It was a nice move to include Coach Rupp’s son in the celebration.  Well done.
  • Speaking of Davis, his high school team went 6-19 his senior year.  I can only assume his teammates were less than skilled.
  • Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is one of my favorite players ever at UK.  He played hard on both ends of the court with the same demeanor at all times.
  • I’m the worst at evaluating NBA potential.  I’m the guy who thought Rajon Rondo would be out of the league in 3 years and that Ron Mercer would be a perennial all-star.  With that qualification–and as much as I like MKG–I really question his NBA skills.  I just wonder if a player his size without a reliable jumper can be a star.  I know he can play in the league, but will he justify being a top 5 pick?  Probably (see my comment on Rondo above).
  • I have the same questions about Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague but for different reasons.  There are players like them in every major basketball conference.  What sets them apart?  I’m not sure.  I hope they have great success, but I will be surprised.
  • Don’t be surprised if Darius Miller plays in the NBA for a long time.  He has the size and skills to do a lot of things well.
  • Eloy Vargas impresses me.  Like a lot of folks, I had hoped he would be a big contributor on the court, but he wasn’t.  Despite attending three colleges, he got his degree.  Plus, by all accounts (including that of my 10 year old son), he’s a nice young man.  A lot of players would have been frustrated with his situation.  He embraced the experience at UK.   I wish him well and hope he gets a chance to play for pay.
  • There has been all manner of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth over the end of the UK-IU series.  Name the most exciting moments from the last 20 UK-IU games.  Ok, Mike Davis’s mental collapse is one.  Watford’s jumper is another, and that just sucked.  For whatever reason, the game wasn’t that important to either UK or IU.  I suspect that it’s because neither school is all that fired up about a tough pre-conference game.  Add to that the obvious close friendship between Cal and Tom Crean.
  • Speaking of schedules, I used to believe that a tough pre-conference schedule was a key to being tournament-ready.  Take a look at other schools’ schedules.  Duke rarely plays a good team on the road.  All its tough games are at home or neutral sites.  The same is true of many top teams.  Teams loading their schedules with killer home and home series are a thing of the past.  Seeding for the tournament is too important to get saddled with 3 or 4 non-conference losses.
  • I suppose it’s a function of age, but the Cats winning the title did not fill me with the unbridled joy of, say, the 1996 title.  I know it had been 14 years between titles, but now 14 years just doesn’t seem that long ago.  Plus, I guess I’ve reached the point where a bunch of children winning a tournament doesn’t REALLY make my life any better.
  • The NBA’s “One and Done” rule is here to stay.  I heard a recent interview with NBA Commissioner David Stern, and he expressed his view that the rule works quite well.  I agree.  It gives the NBA a one year screening tool to weed out those high school players with holes in their games or,  as in Anthony Davis’s case, to discover those who are far better than originally thought.  I don’t see the NBA changing it any time soon.
  • A by-product of the One and Done Rule is that predicting college basketball’s powers year-to-year is now almost impossible.  Right now, most assume that Louisville and Indiana are two favorites to win the title next year.  We’ll see.  Once you mix in all the incoming freshmen, the landscape may change dramatically.
  • People pay too much attention to the RPI during the season.   It’s not a game-to-game measuring stick.  It’s designed to place a value on a team’s entire season.  That’s why looking at your school’s RPI in December is useless.  Now, if your school LOSES to bunch of low RPI teams, you’ll see the difference come seeding time.
  • I guess the big recruiting “get” is Nerlens Noel and his flat top fade.  He seems to be an engaging young man and willing to embrace Big Blue Nation and all its madness.  Here’s hoping that BBN tempers its expectations of him.  He’s not Anthony Davis.  Davis was a once in a generation talent.  Let’s cut this young man some slack and let him develop as a player.
  • I’ve heard a lot of debate about whether Davis and similar short time Cats should have their jerseys retired.    Why not?  If the honor is to recognize great basketball players, it shouldn’t matter if they played one year or four.
  • It doesn’t bother me at all if a student leaves college after a year to play pro basketball.  For most, that is their career goal.  I’ve never known anyone who was harmed by attending college, even for a year or two.  They’re not being exploited.  They are being given a golden opportunity to change their lives and the lives of future generations.  Plus, the education is always available.  Shaquille O’Neal just earned his doctorate.
  • Of course, the downside to winning the championship is that it feeds the beast.  I fear that out-sized expectations have returned.  Remember folks:  Getting to the Final Four is hard.  Winning the tournament is even harder.  Enjoy the ride.
  • It’s hard now to imagine that Billy Gillispie coached at UK, but he did.  He gave me the gift of seeing what it’s like for UK to be irrelevant.
  • I hope our YUM! envy passes soon.  I realize that Louisville plays in a palace now, but I don’t care.  Rupp Arena is the home of the Cats.  Maybe it needs more upgrades and isn’t the prettiest venue, but I like it.  The last thing we need is a white elephant that can’t ever be paid off.
  • Can we stop with the talk that UK spends too much money on sports?  Here’s how it works:  Right or wrong, college sports generate  huge dollars.  The argument seems to be that UK should take all that income and re-direct it to academics.  Now, the football revenue–coming largely from the SEC–could be pilfered for quite a while.  The basketball program would quickly dip into irrelevance without paying coaches top money and spending on top flight facilities.  It doesn’t cost the university a dime.  Get over it.
  • While we’re talking about academics,  I’m certainly no intellectual nor I am an academic snob.  I have two degrees from the University of Kentucky, and I’ve done quite well.  It must not be nearly as awful a university as I hear others complain about.
  • Was the 2012 team the best ever at UK?  I don’t have any idea.  The ’96 team certainly had more depth and experienced talent.  The ’78 team was the only one that I thought would win every game it played.  My Dad would have said the 1948 team.  You can only compare teams and players to the their competition.  In its way, this team was every bit as dominant as UK team I’ve seen.  That’s good enough for me.
  • Calipari is ahead of his colleagues on dealing with modern college basketball.  The top shelf players want to attend college for a year, maybe two.  Cal has created a system to allow them to do that if they have the skills.  Yes, there is a revolving door, but that’s going to be the case with all the top talent.  UK just has more of these players than other schools.  That being the case, the Cats will be a top team more often than not.  I expect this will even out some in the next few years, but for now let’s enjoy the ride.
  • There will be annual speculation about Cal leaving UK.   I think there are a couple of reasons for this.  One, he failed as an NBA coach and the media (especially ESPN) holds to the idea that the NBA is the pinnacle of success.  The other is that UK, despite its success, is just not held in high regard.  There is never speculation about Roy Williams or, rarely, Coach K.  The implication is that a coach would be insane to leave either of those jobs, but equally crazy to stay at UK.  It wouldn’t surprise if Cal did jump back to the NBA at some point, but I don’t see it being the yearly flirtation that it was with Rick Pitino.
  • There’s been uproar over Cal’s views on scheduling.  He’s 102-14 with a title.  I’ll defer to him on that.  Like I said, he’s ahead of the curve.  I’m willing to bet he’s right about this, too.  I’ve heard comments like:  “They can’t expect to keep asking for big money if they don’t deliver a great home schedule.”  Really?  If you have season tickets, turn them in.  I’m pretty sure UK can unload them.
  • The best news since the title has been that a good friend of mine has purchased two seats behind the UK bench.  Sweet.  This fits well with my personal philosophy.

So, there you have it–the random thoughts which bounce around in my head from time to time.  Now, what we will look like next year?

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

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