By Willie Sawyers
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Well, at least I won’t be at risk of a heart attack this March. I won’t have to sit in one spot for hours, afraid that if I move I may break the Kentucky Wildcats’ mojo and they will lose. I won’t be wearing my UK blue, yelling or screaming, or having any fun.
Last year, we were the number one seed in the tournament with a team that had great players, but one that also worked hard and was proud to wear the Big Blue.
But this year, the NCAA is having a big dance, but the Wildcats are not invited. We are on the outside looking in as arch rival Louisville becomes belle of the ball. Instead, we get top billing in the Billy G. Invitational against teams no one cares about, and who will probably kick our tail.
This has been the strangest season for UK basketball. It’s like it never started. We kept waiting for the Cats to come together and become like their predecessors that thrilled us with deep runs in the NCAA tournament, and finally, the national championship last year.
But the team never gelled despite John Calipari’s efforts to cajole, threaten, motivate and teach his new crop of freshmen.
I’ve never seen a Kentucky team play with less heart and enthusiasm as this Kentucky team. They were painful to watch most of the season. The players seemed slow and disinterested. They were outplayed, outhustled and outworked in games away from Rupp Arena against lesser teams.
As a result, Kentucky is one of only five times that missed out on the NCAA tournament the year after winning the national championship.
What happened? It was a bad mix of players, along with a devastating injury to the team’s best player, Nerlens Noel.
None of the much-hyped freshmen lived up to their reputation. It was the first time Calipari failed to get improvement out of his young players. In fact, some played worse as the season wore on.
Calipari tried everything with this team but nothing clicked. He finally admitted that he would have to do a better job of recruiting, to get players would take to his coaching.
That was Cal’s way of saying some of the players wouldn’t listen to him. Well, let’s hope those players go high enough in the weak NBA draft that we don’t have to put up with them next year, when a new crop of impressive freshmen arrive on campus.
Even if the Cats win the NIT this year, I’m done with this team. I’m ready to move on. I will cheer for the Louisville Cardinals this year because I like Rick Pitino and I like to watch a team that plays hard and wants to win.
My man cave will be virtually silent this March. I will not stock up on chips and drinks and disappear while watching hours of basketball. We are not part of the conversation this year, and that’s sad. It’s like we’re missing part of our birthright.
For all UK fans, March will be a little less mad this year.