John Clay: 5 rules for enjoying the new season

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 4, 2012 

This being the campaign season, I have my own five-point plan.

Actually, it's a five-point safety plan to help you experience the 2012-13 Kentucky basketball season without emotional harm.

Follow these five rules and no one gets hurt. I promise.

No. 1: Avoid compulsive comparing. Last year's team was last year's team. This year's team is this year's team. Last year's team won the national championship This year's team, with a little luck, could win the national championship. Let the similarities end there.

Nerlens Noel is not Anthony Davis. Alex Poythress is not Terrence Jones. Archie Goodwin is not Doron Lamb. Ryan Harrow is not Marquis Teague. And there is no one, on this team or any other team, like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

This year's team will have its own identity, its own cast of characters, its own strengths and weaknesses. Be aware and don't compare. It's not healthy.

No. 2: Live in the precious present. It's a Rick Pitino campaign theme, but that doesn't make it any less relevant.

And by present, this being a campaign year, we mean a four-year span of the present. Depending on what this year's team can do, we are witnessing one of the best four-year spans in the history of Kentucky basketball.

There was 1975 through 1978, when Joe B. Hall was the coach. The Cats reached the 1975 national championship game, won the 1976 NIT, reached the 1977 Elite Eight, then won the 1978 title by beating Duke.

There was 1995 through 1998, when Pitino and then Tubby Smith served as coach. The Cats reached the 1995 Elite Eight, won the 1996 national title by beating Syracuse, reached the 1997 national finals, then won the 1998 national title, with Smith as coach, by rallying to beat Utah.

Now we have this four-year span. Kentucky reached the Elite Eight in 2010 before losing to West Virginia. It reached the Final Four in 2011 before losing to Connecticut. It won the national title in 2012 by beating Kansas. It is No. 3 in the pre-season poll for 2012-13.

No. 3: Immerse yourself in the Cal-zone. OK, the man loves to talk. Maybe a little too much. He can't help himself. He can be a bit stubborn and hard-headed, and you know darn well he's competitive to a fault. He's Cal.

But no coach recruits better talent and more importantly, much more importantly, no coach knows how to mold such great talent and meld such strong egos (a necessary evil for those possessing great talent) so impressively.

Opposing coaches may be jealous of Cal's recruiting, but what they admire — even the ones who won't admit it — is what he gets out of that talent in such a short time.

No. 4: Enjoy the expanded SEC. You can moan about how things aren't the way they used to be, how the new conference schedule has done away with some traditional home-and-home rivalries.

Or you can enjoy the firsts. On Feb. 2, Kentucky travels to College Station to play Texas A&M. The Cats have never played a basketball game in College Station, Texas. That will be a first.

On Feb. 23, Missouri and the cast of ESPN's College GameDay will come to Rupp Arena. Missouri has never played a basketball game in Rupp Arena. That also will be a first.

No. 5: Be happy for your neighbors. This might be hard, but most hard things are worthwhile in the end.

Indiana is pre-season No. 1 in some polls. Louisville is pre-season No. 1 in most other polls. Kentucky and Indiana once enjoyed a spirited rivalry that has now been put on (temporary, we hope) hiatus. Kentucky and Louisville continue to enjoy a spirited rivalry, which this season will be renewed at the Yum Center.

"It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail," the late author Gore Vidal once said.

Don't be like that.

Better to cheer your neighbors as they work hard on their holiday decorations, then quietly bask in the glow of satisfaction when, say about Easter, your team is the one that finds the golden egg.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226 Email: jclay@herald-leader.com Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com

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