UK Basketball: A New Team with New Goals

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This article appears on page 7 of the November 11 Ace. 

Courier Journal clippings excavated by Heather C. Watson

“Six-foot-eleven forward-center from New Orleans, LA…Enjoys listening to John Denver and watching ‘police-type shows and “Emergency.’” 1978 Courier Journal

A new team with new goals
By Heather C. Watson

Last week, while visiting my parents, I ran across a drawer of my grandparents’ keepsakes. There, amidst my family’s school pictures and receipts and mementos, was a special sports supplement to a 1978 Courier-Journal which commemorated that year’s National Champion UK basketball team. There were testaments to the team’s dedication, jubilant photos of Coach Hall and Governor Chandler, and in-depth profiles of the senior players.  (Jack Givens listed his favorite hobby as fishing, the paper noted, while Mike Phillips “showed occasional flair by wearing a Hawaiian shell necklace.”)  Later the same day, while talking about the upcoming basketball season, I heard my grandmother lament that “it just breaks my heart that I’ll never get to see Cousins play in a Kentucky uniform again.”

Some teams are just special.  Even for longtime fans, some lineups capture our collective hearts. There are the teams that win the titles, teams that win our loyalties and teams that we’ll always remember.  Like Coach Hall’s National Champion team of 1978, Cal’s Kids were unforgettable; they won our hearts with their fun-loving personalities and their fast-paced style of play. Last year’s team was, quite simply, a once-in-a-lifetime lineup.  Not only did they make it to the Elite Eight and produce a record-breaking five first round NBA Draft picks, they also kept us entertained with their high-energy antics. We won’t soon forget the John Wall Dance or Boogie’s fur trapper hat (although we’ll reserve judgment on whether that sartorial choice was any better-advised than the 70s shell necklace that Mike Phillips sported), nor will we forget the amazing athleticism they displayed.  As the 2010-2011 season begins, however, perhaps we’d be well-advised to forget last year’s amazing team just a little bit. 

It’s easy to compare Brandon Knight to John Wall.  Both are blue chip point guards who command attention on the court.  And, as we await the NCAA’s final ruling on Enes Kanter, we anxiously worry whether we’ll have a big man to replace DeMarcus Cousins.  However, these comparisons are simply unfair to both the current players and to our most recent alumni.  John Wall is busy taking DC by storm, putting up amazing numbers for the Wizards, being spotted with gorgeous swimsuit models and generally pissing off Colin Cowherd, while Cousins is acclimating himself to the Sacramento Kings’ style of play. As much as it breaks our hearts, as my grandmother recently noted, they simply aren’t coming back to Rupp Arena.  As for the new players, Knight may prove to be even a better scorer than Wall, while Kanter’s Undertaker skit at Big Blue Madness gives us every indication that he may be as up for a joke as our beloved Boogie.  The initial buzz certainly tells us that Deron Lamb and Terrence Jones bring a wealth of talent to the team; only time will tell how that talent fits into Coach Calipari’s dribble-drive offense.

Like any new team — even last year’s superstar lineup — this year’s Cats will encounter stumbling blocks as they begin the season.  They will commit turnovers, miss easy baskets, struggle against some teams, and at times show their youth — by Coach Cal’s own admission, the team needs to work on tightening up their defense and playing a tougher brand of basketball. They will similarly show flashes of brilliance that remind us all why John Calipari is almost unanimously considered the best recruiting coach currently working in college basketball. The first month of any college basketball season — even for the most talented teams — entails some trial and error. We potentially have a great season ahead.  We need to remember that it won’t be quite like last year; it may just be better.

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