Cats won’t be remembered for falling short

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Standing on the precipice of greatness, perspective is easy to lose. So when the Cats stunningly fell just short of the Final Four, they fell hard.

A team whose 13 players had combined to play in six NCAA Tournament games before this year’s go-around often struggled to find the right reaction in certain situations. But before, there was always that next chance somewhere down the road.

But Saturday — after a shocking series of events in which UK forgot how to make its 3-point shots, but kept trying anyway — that chance for redemption tomorrow vanished.

Yes, UK was undoubtedly the tournament’s favorite once fellow basketball behemoths Kansas and Syracuse lost in earlier rounds. Yes, John Wall was expected to take over late against the Mountaineers like he had done so many times in likely his only season in a UK uniform.

But one year ago to the day Saturday, a man named Billy Gillispie was fired, and not because his team fell short of Final Four expectations. Remember him? He was fired because his team missed the tournament altogether, because he couldn’t grasp the public affairs aspect of his job.

Because Kentucky basketball didn’t look, sound or feel like Kentucky basketball.

Win or lose against a very game West Virginia team, a point had already been made: The legendary aura around UK has returned.

After the game, the players may not have had the perspective at hand to really reflect on what was, by all means, a remarkable season. Those new to the program for this season may not have realized it anyway, but this isn’t what the Cats have been like these last few years.

The outgoing four-year seniors, Perry Stevenson and Ramon Harris (Mark Krebs transferred to UK his junior year), had been through quite a bit while wearing the blue and white: three head coaches, a rare strikeout on Selection Sunday and more criticism than any upstanding member of society will ever deserve.

“I just wish we could have ended it on a good note for Ramon, Mark Krebs, Perry and Patrick,” Cousins said, throwing in Patrick Patterson, a de facto senior because of his pending three-year graduation and likely defection to the NBA. “Some of them have been through hell these past few seasons.”

Maybe not tomorrow and maybe not even next month, but at some point, Stevenson will be remembered for saying he’d rather be a reserve on a team like this than a starter on an NIT team. None of those three men will be remembered for the pitfalls of their first three seasons, because they were there when blue became Blue again.

The second Class of 2010 — those who may eventually declare for the NBA Draft — won’t fade into obscurity because of what didn’t happen. For six months, it seemed like every Kentuckian’s Facebook page featured a fresh video every day of somebody doing The John Wall Dance in an outlandish setting.

Cousins didn’t only dominate the lane twice a week, he made a fuzzy Russian hat — a ushanka, apparently — and Peter Parker-looking glasses a campus fad. And Eric Bledsoe … well, maybe he’ll stick around.

And each of those men was allowed his own stake in UK lore because of new coach John Calipari. Wall, Cousins and Bledsoe have all admitted UK wasn’t even an option before Cal signed last April Fool’s Day.

Calipari didn’t just sell those three on Kentucky. He sold Kentucky on Kentucky when it was ready to stop caring. His helicopter book tours, online pizza codes and almost-inescapable television ads made the citizens of the Commonwealth remember the reputation they helped create — that the UK basketball coach is far more than a coach — well before Calipari even coached his first game in Rupp Arena.

The musk that Gillispie left behind was quickly forgotten. The aura was back.

After the game Saturday, each player offered his own slightly different version of, “We’ll look back some day and it won’t sting as bad.” As they get older and mature (and play more basketball), the fall from the Final Four may feel more like a success rather than a failure.

But what they don’t yet realize, others around them already have. Greatness wasn’t at stake Saturday.

This team crossed that threshold some time ago.

James Pennington is a journalism senior. E-mail jpennington@kykernel.com.

Corey says:

cayuts fan,

Coach Cal never coached Memphis State jackass. When he arrived to coach there, it was called Memphis. When he left, it was called Memphis. It is currently called Memphis.

I’ve never heard of a team that was called jackass before.

Who are you trying to be? The keeper of ob-squire facts that no one cares about?

Why would anyone call a college team Memphis State Jackass?

Corey says:

5 factors were present in all 3 of KY’s losses this year.

1. Hostile road environment

2. Horrible officiating

3. Opponents sudden supernatural ability to hit the 3 pointer

4. Wildcats sudden supernatural inability to hit the 3 pointer

5. A legit opportunity to win the game in spite of poor shooting.

This from a group of players that never played together before with a coach that had never coached ANY of the players before.

If anyone thinks that this season wasn’t a monumental success, then you are delusional.

Notice to all half-baked KY fans: You can’t win every game, so don’t put that yoke on coach’s shoulders.

And if a coach wins 35 games and loses 3, that means he CAN coach!!!

You must be thinking he won 3 and lost 35!!!

GO CATS!!! I’ll take 35 wins a season anytime!!! The championship will come again, Eventually!!!

Corey says:

The only reason the ‘Haters’ are reading the KY Kernel is because they have a ‘thing’ for KY basketball. Blogging hateful comments on this site reserved for KY fans just shows there jealous envy for the KY Wildcats and kicking KY fans when they’re down is the only opportunity they have to feel like they’re on our level.

Don’t take it out on us because your team can’t compare to ours!

This was a great season!! Period!!!

KY fans are extremely grateful for the season we’ve had.

We love this team, our coach, and these players.

We are the winningest team in the history of basketball!

Hateful comments aren’t going to change that, so hate on!

RickJames says:

KATBLEWFAN: So sorry to see you in denial of the truth. You should have Mitch Barnyards job. What a show from Mitch and fans like you who think throwing money at a problem will make it go away. Hell you will make an excellent Congress Person. And hell yes I would turn your money down, better to work with someone that has realistic goals and objectives, than to work for someone who thinks they can have it all each and every season. Cal went to a desperate bidder with bottomless pockets and could have stayed where he was and had a National Championship. But Cal knew he was messing things about and did not want to fix his own mess so he bailed like he had done before at UMASS. Cal will bail on UK for a better position that may even pay less but with half the BS he has to put up with now. What everyone else viewed was typical Cal; just can not deliver the big prize promised. Now Go Hang A Banner KATBLEWFAN.

mvt says:

Is this what it’s about for you, UK fans ?
Bring in a renegade coach for outrageous money to get a sniff of the Final Four with a clutch of one and done players ? Was it worth it ? Is this the kind of program to which you aspire? An NBA farm team ?

Katbluefan says:

CAYUTS you said it you are ignorant fan. State was changed sometime ago as most of us know. You are another crybaby fan. RICK JAMES, the only problem Coach Rupp had was that he was born in Kansas. And I know you are so wealthy you would turn down money if offered for a jobso the comment about Cal salary is just stupid. There isn’t a program out there that doesn’t try is get the best players. So I guess Memphis bought the #1 class this incomming year. Can you see how stupid your comments are, I don’t think you do

KY BlueJean says:

Jake, you must have been watching another team than the Kentucky Wildcats. There were no prima donnas this year. John Wall has to be one of the most unselfish players I’ve ever seen (especially for a freshman!). He loved passing the ball; he loved to assist. KY had a great team this year but we fell short. And since when do Season & Conference records not count? Gee, is there any fan worse than a bitter UNC fan? Get a grip–just b/c your team sort of sucked this year, doesn’t take anything way from your former & future glory. It’s just a darn shame your fans don’t back their team like true fans. Take a lesson from KY fans to see how it’s done. :)

Elizabeth says:

Rick if you don’t think that gettng into the elite eight is a mighty fine thing, then there is something wrong with you! No offence!

RickJames says:

Well for $4 Million per year and all five star players UK could not buy a National Championship. Adolph Hitler Rupp tried that and got caught in the point shaving scandal, yeah his fabulous five became the felonious five. Coach Cal is like Billy Gillispie, neither has ever been to a final four< at leats one on the record books that actually count.

Price of a final four ticket – $1 K
Price for the best Players and Coach In Division I – $4 MIL
Price to watch Cousins feel another guy off – Priceless

Elizabeth says:

I just want to say thank you for all your hard work this year. I love how classy you were after the game. You brought so much joy into my life! Thank you, Patrick, for your beautiful jump shots, so pretty! And your great speaking skills; John, we can’t say enough about you, Demarcus, ditto. Liggins, bledsoe, Ramon, Stevenson, a
nd Horton, thank you so much! You see, I live in Lexington and watched you guys all year, but my team was Syracuse , then Cornell, Illinois, but I was rooting for ya too! You have done so well! Good luck to you all. You are fine young men! Will miss you next year-so much-god bless

NYTigerFan says:

You said it, KY could win if Wall and Cousins stay…which won’t happen. Pray that Coach Cal stays too, it was just a year ago that he told the same lie to Memphis Fan…”Memphis is were I want to be” and a week later he is on a plane to KY. Maybe this time he will be on a plane to NJ. Honestly, I have nothing against KY, I have something against YOUR COACH!!!
Better luck next year!

jake Miller says:

If you can’t play with the big dogs, stay under the porch. Glad it’s over.
Glad the ”3 Freshmen” will be gone … they act/play like freshmen … tired of hearing about their foul shot disability and other immaturity.
Season and conference records mean NOTHING. It’s the Final Four that counts.
It is most appropriate that UNC remains 1 win ahead of us.
Can we get some NON-prima donnas who will play Kentucky Basketball?
Jake

Wildcat Lover - 2010 ! says:

The cats are a good team , they have had a great season , and to be as young as they are , and to have more talent than most teams they played , that’s pretty great , Coach Cal , and the boys brought back the sprit , life , and swag back to UK basketball . Even tho they fell to West Virgina yesterday , in my book , that’s not going to change the fact that they are still and always will be the #1 team . If Cousins #15 , Wall #11 , and whoever else stays , and Calipari stays as Coach , then next year we will have even a better shot of winning it , the boys will be losing some seniors , but if they focous and keep working , they will win it all next year !

Cayuts fan says:

Memphis was formerly called Memphis State jackass. Anybody who has followed college basketball for longer than one bandwagon season would know that. This is the problem, ignorant fans.

William says:

As a proud graduate of UK over 30 years ago I still endure the middle finger salute from TN, and Memphis State ‘fans’ when they see my front and back UK license plates as I drive in the Memphis area. I STILL bleed blue… Kentucky blue…

Corey says:

Hey, scott I,

Coach Calipari coached Memphis, not Memphis State. This season was a huge success. This team led by a freshman lost 3 games for the entire season and won a whopping 35 games!!!

We just lost to a #2 seed in the elite 8 (a team many believed deserved a #1 seed) after WV made 10 threes against us and we shot 12% from 3. We also only shot 55% from the free throw line.

Considering those stats + starting 3 freshmen, we must have lost by 40 points,right? Try 7 points!!!

This crop of players is one of the classiest, electrifying group of players to ever play for the Big Blue! We are so lucky to have them.

By the way, how dumb are you?

scott l says:

Nice to see that Coach Cannoli has brought the Memphis State brand of street thug basketball to UK. Hey Wall, driving to the basket is only one part of the game. When you’re playing teams of equal caliber and the game is close, fouling and free throws will make/break a team. Sorry to see the UK boys gangbanging on WVA at the end of today’s game – obviously it did them no good but the playground mentality won’t win you games in the championship. If our guys spent as much time practicing free throws as they obviously spend in the tattoo parlor, maybe the outcome in the tourney would be different. I’m just saying…

Brian Megerle says:

I am currently living in Norfolk, Va but a Native of KY. Active Duty Navy. Fans, Please realize the turn around the team and the coaches have accomplished this season and be proud. I know I am. I live on a street in an upscale neighborhood that flies UVA and VA Tech flags and I fly a UK flag