Sunday, March 25, 2007

Basketball dominates, politics takes a back seat

What can I say? This is the state of Kentucky. Sure I am a die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fan but my first love has been and will always be the University of Kentucky Wildcats.

Basketball is a way of life in the Commonwealth. The first question you get asked anywhere, no matter what the circumstance: UK or U of L. You have to pick one no matter what, even if you did go to one of the other colleges in the state.

Florida's current head coach, Billy Donovan, would take the job here in an instant. Here's why: The University of Florida is a Football-first school and there is no way that they would give Donovan a higher salary than Urban Meyer. Donovan can be the big guy on campus here (We love ya, Coach Brooks, but you get the equal love in the summer and fall). I've checked some Florida sites and they have headlines dealing with spring practice when their own basketball team is one game away from the Final Four!

I'd say that when Florida loses, whether it be during the elite eight or the next weekend, he will be introduced as the next coach. We saw this when Roy Williams left Kansas for UNC. Williams lost on April 7, 2003. Doherty resigned on April 1st. The theory was that they forced him out in order to get Williams there sooner. Williams was announced as coach seven days later on the 14th.

Initially, I wanted Rick Pitino back and you saw me post that the other day while I was still adjusting to the news following the initial period of shock and depression. I've always liked Rick Pitino and Billy Donovan. Had Donovan had more experience as a head coach by the time Pitino left, he would have been here years ago!

I really hope this is true.

This is Kentucky. The job opening is one that doesn't come very often and when it does, it's because someone is forced to retire because of their age or they resign for a different job. This program is one of the premier programs in the nation due to the tradition associated with it.

Adolph Rupp. The Baron of the Bluegrass himself. Joe B. Hall. Rick Pitino. Tubby Smith. All have won a national championship while they were a coach at UK. Rupp won four of them. Pitino came close too a second one in 1997.

There's the legendary status that comes with the job. Don't believe me? Read on.

The Fabulous Five. In 1948, UK won the championship and the core of the team would win the Olympic gold medal.

The 1954-55 Undefeated Team. This team went 25-0 but because some players graduated early, Coach Rupp would not let them play in the tournament. As such, UK is robbed of a national championship.

The Fiddlin' Five. The 1958 team would fiddle for a little bit but they won the national championship.

Rupp's Runts. This 1966 team, which Pat Riley and Larry Conley were members of, did not have a single starter who was taller than 6'5". They finished the season 27-2 with the final loss coming in the title game.

The Season Without Celebration. The seniors in 1977-78 were freshman during the loss to UCLA in 1975.

Kentucky's shame. This doesn't deserve bolding at all. You can blame Eddie Sutton, who resigned on March 19, 1989. The NCAA placed us on probation two months later.

The Unforgettables. Mainly the 1992 seniors consisting of Richie Farmer, Deron Feldhaus, John Pelphrey, and Sean Woods. This team suffered a heartbreaker in the 1992 East Regional finals in Philadelphia fifteen years ago today. That's a date that will live in infamy for many of us Wildcats. We all know where we were that day. I was at home watching the game. UK had been in white the whole tournament. How was I to know that they weren't the team in white jerseys? I was told during halftime I was rooting for the wrong team and I corrected myself appropriately. That was the last time I ever rooted for the wrong team. There's a certain player that all UK fans will hate for the rest of our lives. It was only appropriate that he was in the building when Virginia Commonwealth won a few weeks ago.

The Untouchables. Kentucky ran the conference. It was the first time in 40 years that anyone ran the conference. Nine of the guys on the team would be back the next year and later play in the NBA: Derek Anderson, Tony Delk, Walter McCarty, Ron Mercer, Nazr Mohammed, Mark Pope, Jeff Sheppard, Wayne Turner, and Antoine Walker.

The Unbelievables. For a second year in a row, the Wildcats would make it to the national championship game. Due to injuries and players leaving, the fans ruled out a deep run early on.

The Comeback Cats. UK was down by the half against Duke in the elite 8, Stanford in the national semifinals, and Utah in the championship game. Cameron Mills came up big in the 1998 rematch against Duke. Down by double-digits in all these games, Kentucky found a way to win and they gave Tubby Smith his first and only national championship while at Kentucky.

The coaches:
Edwin Sweetland (1909-10, 1912)
Harold J. Iddings (1910-11)
John J. Tigert (1913, 1916-17)
Alpha Brumage (1913-15)
Stanley A. Boles (1918)
Andrew Gill (1919)
George Buchheit (1920-24)
Clarence Applegran (1925)
Ray Eklund (1926)
Basil Hayden (1927)
John Mauer (1927-29)
Adolph Rupp (1930-72)
Joe B. Hall (1972-85)
Eddie Sutton (1985-89)
Rick Pitino (1989-1997)
Orlando "Tubby" Smith (1997-2007)
TBA (2007-)

The modern era of Kentucky basketball started in 1930 when Coach Rupp came to UK. Only two coaches are beloved in this state in the history of Kentucky basketball: Adolph Rupp and Rick Pitino. Pitino restored the glory years to Kentucky following the disgrace that Eddie Sutton brought upon us.

Read this article from Florida paper of all things.
Is there is a better program with better tradition, history, aura, passionate fans? If Kentucky isn't the best, then it's definitely in the final four (pun intended).

Go, Billy.

Go to Kentucky.

Let me tell you a little story about Billy Donovan and his first SEC Tournament as the Florida Gators basketball coach. This was 11 years ago, and a huge contingent of Kentucky fans waited for him to emerge from the Georgia Dome tunnel.

Florida wasn't even playing Kentucky that day. Didn't matter. Billy D, or Billy the Kid, as he was still called then, was a former Kentucky assistant coach. Spent five years at UK. Helped Rick Pitino win a national championship.

You know what that means, don't you? It means that no matter where Billy had been, where he was going or even where he was at, Kentucky was always home. His blood would always be blue.

Kentucky blue.

That's why, when Billy emerged from the tunnel that day, the head coach of a truly pedestrian Gator basketball team, a roar erupted. Fans stood, clapped, cheered.

Guess what?

It was the Kentucky fans.

Now think of the cheer that Billy would hear if, after winning back-to-back national championships at Florida, he announced he's headed to bluer pastures.

Go, Billy.

Go to Kentucky.

Don't think it'll happen? Don't be so smug. A lot of Gator fans are acting that way today. Smug. They think that Florida is actually a better place to coach college basketball than Kentucky.

It isn't.

Goodness, have you been to the O'Connell Center lately? It feels like the old Florida Gym -- i.e. Alligator Alley -- did back in the '70s. In other words, ancient.

Kentucky's Rupp Arena is almost twice the size. And, of course, almost twice as loud.

It's also named the Rupp Arena because Kentucky has something Florida doesn't. It has tradition, history. Rupp Arena is named after legendary coach Adolph Rupp. The O'Connell Center is named after, um, a former UF president.

But it isn't just the arena that's bigger. It's the fan base. Basketball is king in Kentucky. The state has no professional sports and no college football to speak of. Oh, Louisville every so often will put together a solid season with the pigskin. But you know what I'm talking about. When you think of Kentucky, you think of horses and hoops, though not necessarily in that order.
Come home, Billy. Come back to the Kentucky blue in Lexington, Kentucky, and coach at Rupp Arena. You won't reget it at all.

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