If you’re anything like me, you’re going through a wide range of emotions today.
You’re probably sad, sad that the nation is giddy with anticipation of the upcoming NCAA tournament, filling out brackets five at a time, and here we sit as UK fans, left out of the Big Dance for only the second time since 1992. It’s a time of year we consider a national holiday, a “Big Blue Christmas”, if you will. And yet, here were are, on the outside looking in.
You’re probably embarrassed, embarrassed by the performance of a team full of top-flight recruits coached by one of the best coaches in the country and somehow they came short of their goal. You feel like the nation is staring at us, pointing and laughing as they head off Dancing. As the team heads to Pittsburgh to play Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT (ugh), you’re staying off national message boards, trying to stave off the criticisms and the cat calls.
And with that sadness and embarrassment comes ANGER. Yes, ANGER! We feel that the Tournament is our birthright! We should be there, just like we always have been in the past! Someone’s to blame, we need to point the finger at SOMEONE! SOMETHING! Sure, it would be easy to cite the injury of top player Nerlens Noel as the catalyst for Kentucky’s downfall, but let’s be honest, something was amiss long before then. And you could point to a group of Freshmen who (gasp!) actually played like Freshmen, but we’ve been spoiled by the likes of John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins and Brandon Knight and Anthony Davis that we’ve forgotten that most Freshmen actually need time to adjust to the game. Some are even blaming Coach Cal for the dreadful season, citing the lack of any experienced players on this year’s team as the reason the newcomers didn’t “gel” like the should have. Nevermind that players he thought would be back, like Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague, left for the greener pastures of the NBA. This was supposed to be Eric Bledsoe’s senior season, some claim. This was the year he led the team to the Promised Land and etched his name among the most beloved Wildcats of all time. He wasn’t supposed to be a one-and-done player, he was recruited to be the grizzled veteran of the NCAA wars, the guy who his teammates looked up to on and off the floor. But when cream rises to the top, like it did with Lamb and Teague and Bledsoe, you can’t hide it.
Believe me, I’m right there with you. I myself have went through a veritable pantheon of emotions since yesterday. You know this was the first time that I missed a Selection Show for as long as I can remember? Sunday at 6:00PM was as sacred and guarded as any major sporting event in terms of being ready and available in front of the TV. But this year? I just didn’t have the heart to watch it.
We may be sad, we may be embarrassed and we darn sure may be angry, but we need to sit back and take a deep breath. This season is not over yet, and our basketball team needs us now more than ever. We’ve been through some incredible good times over the years, and we’ve been through some bad as well. But we don’t need to give up on our team, our players, our coach. These guys need us now more than ever.
If we give up on our guys now, we’re just as bad as the message board trolls say we are. We’re better than that. Coach Cal needs our support now more than ever. Guys like Jarrod Polson, who gave every ounce of effort he had each and every night, they need us cheering them on. We may not like how the season ended up going for us, but we’re still Kentucky fans, the best in the nation. We pack a 25,000 seat arena each year to watch the first practice, and camp out for a week in advance to boot. We flood online opinion polls, no matter how trivial, to make sure UK finishes on top. We wear our blue and white year round, even to school and church and court. And when we can’t sit in front of a TV to watch the games, we’re constantly peeking to check the scores or listen to Tom Leach’s analysis on the radio. We’re known to travel with our team anywhere, whether it’s Nashville or New York, Atlanta or Albuquerque.
Let’s not forsake our team now at its darkest hour. Let’s show the world we continue to live and die by the Blue!