Upon reflection, even Vince Lombardi said his famous remark about winning being everything was wrongheaded. Which brings us to this Kentucky season.
What’s essentially a freshman team only made UK losing games seem even more inevitable. Coach John Calipari tried repeatedly to cushion the blow for fans (and maybe his players) by pointing out that teams evolve. Players get better. To borrow from former UK coach Rick Pitino, today’s losses can be “fertilizer” for later success. Former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson rationalized regular-season defeat by pointing out that not all sickness is death.
But try telling that to fans, most especially the never-completely-satisfied citizens of the Big Blue Nation. For such fans, the acceptance of an intermediary step back is heresy.
This does not surprise Dan Wann, professor of sports psychology at Murray State. The thirst for victory on the court and in recruiting is insatiable.
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“Sometimes fans see the glass as half full,” he said. “Or maybe they want to see someone fill their glass again. ‘What’s the next drink I get to drink? I’ve already tasted that one. What’s next?’”
Wann advises fans to sober up, stop to the smell the roses and enjoy the process. Celebrating a victory is OK.
Of course, charging the court in celebration is verboten for Kentucky basketball fans. And not because the Southeastern Conference fines schools a token amount for charging a court or field.
On his Jan. 17 radio show, Calipari put a positive spin on UK fans never charging the court. Not charging the court showed how UK has the “classiest fans,” he said. “We don’t charge the court. We cheer for our team. We don’t really cheer against the other team. You don’t hear us in there booing.”
Of course, the same UK fans are not averse to charging the field at Commonwealth Stadium after a football victory.
Wann sees nothing wrong with happy fans flooding a court to exult in victory. In his opinion, Kentucky fans are being haughty, not classy, in refusing to come onto the Rupp Arena court.
“You’re talking to a Kansas alum,” he said. “‘We’re not storming the court. You storm the court when you beat us. We don’t storm the court. We’re supposed to win.’”
Wann said he believed Kansas basketball fans and Ohio State football fans had this kind of attitude, too.
“‘We’re not going to celebrate like it’s the most important victory we’ve ever had,’” he said as if speaking as such a fan. “‘Because there are a bunch of important victories. That’s for the lesser low lives.’”
It’s a process
Although the least experienced team this season or maybe any season, Kentucky is hardly alone when it comes to fans needing patience. Other teams also need time to develop.
For instance, the SEC’s co-champions were — as coaching parlance puts it — works in progress.
During the SEC Tournament, UK Coach John Calipari reminded reporters that Tennessee lost its first two league games. And the Vols then faced Kentucky in Game Three.
“Rick got that team right,” Calipari said of his buddy, UT Coach Rick Barnes.
For his part, Barnes deflected credit for Tennessee’s rise to the top. “The big thing is our players,” he said. “I think the credit goes to them.”
Auburn’s progress might have been more startling. Besides being embroiled in an FBI investigation into college basketball corruption, Auburn lost a preseason exhibition to Barry 100-95. Barry, a Division II team, made 50 percent of its shots, including 16 of 41 three-point shots. As of mid-week, Barry was on a run in the Division II Tournament with a record of 23-8.
“It’s all about the process,” Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl said late in the season. “Things we have learned about our team that night that we fixed pretty quickly.”
Every year John Calipari enjoys entertaining listeners (and maybe himself) by jabbing at the Selection Committee. His tongue-in-cheek complaints on this year’s Selection Sunday included blaming the committee for the 8 inches of snow that fell on Lexington last Sunday night-Monday morning. (The NCAA threatened to make Mother Nature ineligible unless she cooperated?)
Here are four other complaints Calipari could have floated on Selection Sunday.
1. Kentucky must win four games to get to the Final Four. What? No quadruple bye?
2. The NCAA permits other schools to sell tickets to their fans. Clearly an attempt to lessen UK’s home-court advantage.
3. There are too many regulations by the officious and bureaucratic NCAA. For instance, Kentucky cannot advance if the other team scores more points.
4. This year’s bracket has Kentucky in the South Region and West Virginia in the East Region. This means that the NCAA made sure Calipari and good buddy Bob Huggins could only meet in the national championship game. Clearly, this confirms Calipari’s contention that the shameless NCAA will do anything to prevent both coaching buddies from winning the championship.
After Arizona lost to Buffalo on Thursday, freshman big man Deandre Ayton all but directly said he will be a one-and-done player.
When asked about his future plans, Ayton said, “First, I have to finish school (this semester), and hopefully get ready for the draft.”
Ayton has been projected as the first pick in this year’s NBA Draft.
“Not on my mind right now,” he said in the postgame locker room. “But, yeah, that’s the plan.”
If Ayton enters and stays in this year’s draft, he finished off his one college season with a double-double: 14 points and 13 rebounds.
“I think I’m ready for the NBA right now,” he said.
Ayton said he made the decision to enter the 2018 NBA Draft last summer. “After AAU,” he said.
Leftovers from last week’s note about why conferences stage postseason tournaments:
▪ SEC consultant Mike Tranghese cited a quaint reason: tradition.
“I used to think, why would you put your best team in that kind of position?” he said before answering his own question. “It’s just been part of the fabric of college basketball for a long time, and I don’t see it changing.”
▪ ESPN analyst Jay Bilas offered a bottom-line reason.
“The reason they do these conference tournaments is for one reason: They do it for money,” he said.
The benefit with making money extends to the television masters.
“Obviously, we (at TV) love it,” Bilas said of conference tournaments. “We get great content and great competition and it’s wonderful theater. But these are done for money.”
‘Not brain surgery’
It’s not unusual for those touting the improvement of SEC basketball to cite an upgrade in coaching. When this was suggested on a recent teleconference, UK Coach John Calipari offered another reason.
“Look, I know the coach can make a team more organized and do those kind of things,” he said. “What happened is we’ve gotten better and better players top to bottom.”
Then Calipari boiled down his definition of coaching to the essential.
“This thing is about getting really good players to play together and care about winning,” he said. “Bottom line. Not brain surgery.”
If SEC teams got off to a good start in the NCAA Tournament, it would not surprise Tennessee Coach Rick Barnes. Barnes, who had coached in the Atlantic Coast (Clemson) and Big 12 (Texas) conferences, saluted the competition in the SEC.
Before the tournament, the well-traveled Barnes said, “There’s no doubt about it, and I’ve said throughout the year, this year was as tough a conference as I’ve ever been in in my life in terms of how every single game was a hard-fought game.”
In case you missed it, Mississippi State freshman Nick Weatherspoon does not face any long-term injury from a nasty fall in the SEC Tournament. As he laid on the floor, the referees mistakenly allowed play to continue, which resulted in him getting stepped on.
“He had every test you can imagine: CT scans, MRIs,” State Coach Ben Howland said Monday. “And everything came back negative. So we’re really, really thankful and grateful. He’s just very sore and very beat up.”
To Jim Master. He turned 56 on Friday. . . . To Sam Bowie. He turned 57 on Saturday. . . . To Patrick Sparks. He turned 35 on Saturday. . . . To Skal Labissiere. He turns 22 on Sunday (today). . . . To Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl. He turns 58 on Sunday (today). . . . To Cory Sears. He turns 38 on Monday. . . . To Pat Riley. He turns 73 on Tuesday. . . . To Jerry Hale. He turns 65 on Tuesday. . . . To Jimmy Dan Conner. He turns 65 on Tuesday. . . . To Darius Miller. He turns 28 on Wednesday. . . . To Troy McKinley. He turns 55 on Wednesday.