“Cardiac Cats” used to refer to Big Blue’s penchant for late-game comeback wins. Now, it holds a different meaning.
The Wildcats were slipping out of national awareness toward the end of Tubby Smith’s reign as coach and only remained a story during Billy Gillispie’s two seasons because of how horrible – by Big Blue standards, anyway – the team had become.
Now, thanks to a few high-profile situations the ‘Cats have found themselves in, it seems the only thing sports pundits want to talk about these days is either their elation at the return to prominence of UK basketball or their hope that some mistake will return the program to its probation days of 20 years ago.
Starting with the 2007-08 season, Kentucky was relegated to nothing more than a blip on the radar for two years thanks, in no small part, to Gillispie’s style or, perhaps more accurately, lack thereof.
UK slid into the NCAA Tournament in 2008 on reputation alone and was bounced early. Last season, marred from the start by a second-straight embarrassing season-opening loss, Kentucky’s lone bright spot was an astounding 54-point performance by guard Jodie Meeks, which Gillispie seemed eager to forget.
Side note: If anyone is still wondering why Billy Clyde was fired, perhaps you could start by finding a way to explain how a coach could tell his best scorer, who appears the very definition of “team player,” to shoot the ball less.
So UK gets dropped in the NIT, and Gillispie’s days are over. Big Blue Nation was abuzz for a while before it became clear that UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart and president Lee Todd were sold on John Calipari as the next coach. They hired him, and everything seemed right with the world.
Cal quickly assembled one of the most impressive signing classes in college basketball history, taking Gillispie signees Daniel Orton and Jon Hood and adding Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins, Darnell Dodson and No. 1-rated John Wall.
As he was doing this, questions abounded as to the status of the roster as a whole. That’s six scholarships to be doled out with no real senior class having left the previous season (Jared Carter was in the process of applying for a fifth year on a redshirt but has since decided to hang up his sneakers).
Patrick Patterson briefly flirted with the NBA but pulled his name from the draft. Meeks may end up doing the same.
Either way, someone else must join the departed A.J. Stewart and Donald Williams transfers or give up their scholarship to one of the new recruits.
That will work itself out, Cal says, but that situation has lent itself to questions about the morailty of essentially booting a signed player in favor of another. Not everyone seems to be on board with the “win at all costs” mentality.
Then, things started to fall apart in Memphis, Calipari’s previous gig.
It appears Derrick Rose, Cal’s prize recruit who led the Tigers to the Final Four in 2008, may have had someone take his SAT for him during his senior season at Chicago Simeon. Also, questions have arose about his brother and whether he paid his way onto team plane trips and into hotel rooms.
It’s likely that neither of these situations, if proven there was wrongdoing, has any direct connection to Calipari. Investigators are looking into the Simeon situation as it appears Rose wasn’t the only player from there to receive help. Also, I doubt any college head coach, let alone Calipari, micromanages to the point that they’d be in charge of flight manifests and hotel reservations.
Still, while the NCAA says he’s “not at risk” in this situation, his reputation has taken a hit in the court of public opinion.
Next season can’t get here fast enough.
In one respect, things will calm down for Kentucky fans once we get through this season, aside from the fact that the ‘Cats have, on paper, a great chance to reach the Final Four. That sounds insane, I know, but it’s true.
Once all the hoopla dies down and folks in the national media stop making a mountain out of this molehill, Calipari will cement himself as the obviously correct choice for Kentucky’s next coach.
On the other hand, things won’t get any easier moving forward. Calipari’s never been directly connected to any misdeeds as a college coach, but Memphis would be the second team of his to have a Final Four stricken from the record books. He left the same damage in his wake at Massachusetts.
Ten years from now, UK fans may have a few more national titles to brag about, but the question may be: Was it all worth it?
Bored this summer?:
Yeah, I know. There’s not a lot to do around here during the summer.
If you’re a baseball fan, I’ll have a few suggestions for you in the next few weeks.
The first is on the front of this section: Go watch the Bowling Green Hot Rods.
Bowling Green Ballpark was built in under nine months to serve as the home of the Tampa Bay Rays’ new Class A affiliate.
I checked out Friday’s game against the Rome Braves and had a great time. The park is pretty state-of-the-art by minor league standards and makes for a great baseball environment.
In the coming weeks, I’ll have similar stories on the Nashville Sounds, Southern Illinois Miners, Memphis Redbirds, Evansville Otters, West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx, Louisville Bats and Lexington Legends.
All of their parks are within a four-hour drive of Trigg County, which I figure is a pretty reasonable distance for a quick summer trip. My idea is that these places provide great family entertainment for a reasonable price.
(Justin McGill is executive editor of The Cadiz Record and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)