April 2, 2014

Direct Kick: Patience was all that was needed with this young group of Wildcats

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — In today’s society, it’s not what have you done for me lately, it’s what have you done for me now.

Prime example: The University of Kentucky men’s basketball team.

The preseason No. 1 team in the nation underachieved all through the regular season, to the point where many in the Big Blue Nation were ready to write them off while others wondered if this would be John Calipari’s last season at the helm of the Wildcats.

Then came “the tweak.”

Whatever Calipari and his staff did turned the Wildcats into the team many were predicting would go 40-0 this season. Their newfound swagger began to show itself during the SEC Tournament, where had it not been for an unfortunate slip in the finals against Florida Kentucky might have been crowned champion.

When the seeding for the NCAA Tournament was revealed, Kentucky ended up a No. 8 seed in the Midwest Region with the likes of Duke, Louisville, Michigan, Tennessee and Wichita State. Things weren’t looking that great for the Wildcats.

Then Duke was upset in the first round, which was one obstacle out of the way. Kentucky beat Kansas State, setting up a showdown with the unbeaten Shockers of Wichita State. The Wildcats downed the Shockers in a thriller, 78-76, and suddenly those who were questioning the heart of the young Wildcat team not two weeks earlier were back on the bandwagon.

Then came the showdown with in-state rival and No. 4 seed Louisville, and once again the Wildcats prevailed, 74-69, though the win came at a price, as Willie Cauley-Stein injured his ankle and would not be available for the region final against No. 2 seed Michigan.

But guess what? The Wildcats didn’t need Cauley-Stein, disposing of the Wolverines, 75-72, and this team that many predicted would be a bust in the tournament now finds itself in the Final Four and a date with Wisconsin this Saturday, the No. 2 seed out of the West. By far UK had the toughest road of any of the final four teams left. Heck, it might have been in the history of the tournament.

What can we learn from this run?

As Guns ’n Roses sang, “Patience.”

We all knew going in that Kentucky would be a young team, just like every other team Calipari has had at UK. Freshmen need time to grow. It’s just that they didn’t mature quickly enough for the fan base.

I remember reading posts on Facebook from Big Blue Fans who were moaning about the one and done players that Cal recruits every year. Many of these fans had given up on this team and were already talking about next year.

But guess what? Now those same fans are singing nothing but praises for the freshmen and Cal. Funny how winning does that. It’s just taken a little longer than today’s fans are used to.

Can UK win the national championship? At this point I wouldn’t bet against them. But even if they don’t win, they have given us a thrilling three weeks.

One final point: Fans, don’t burn couches and celebrate like crazy just for advancing to the Elite Eight or the Final Four. You’re the University of Kentucky. Only celebrate like that after winning the national title.

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Now that school is out, what are your family’s summer vacation plans?

A. No major plans. We will probably hang out around Laurel County.
B. Going to the beach!
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