It’s Kentucky’s World, and Cyclones will Try to Live in It
By Mike Hlas
LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — We are Kentucky basketball. We don’t need to know about you. You need to know about us.
That may seem like a harsh description of the mentality of the Wildcats and their fans, but these are blue-clad blue bloods who think their next national-championship should always be just around the corner. Even if the last one was 14 years ago.
Every college team brags up its own fans, and most fans want to be part of a rabid group of faithful followers. But you probably aren’t part of anything like this, and it’s up to you to decide if you’d prefer to be.
An estimated 12,000 UK fans attended the Wildcats’ shootaround Wednesday at the KFC Yum! Center on the day before the Cats demolished Western Kentucky here in their 2012 NCAA tournament opener. They saw the Wildcats shoot baskets for 45 minutes.
They cheered 15-foot jumpers. They roared for 3-pointers. It seemed like the players were both amused and a teensy bit weirded out. Maybe that was just me.
But I’ve been to a lot of these things and I’ve seen nothing to approach the fan support Kentucky’s team got for simply showing up somewhere in public. One woman spent the whole shootaround holding a sign asking star Wildcat freshman Anthony Davis to marry her, noting it was OK with her husband.
Let’s presume she was joking. Otherwise … hey, let’s presume she was joking.
During the UK-WKU game, I heard sounds that seemed more from they were coming from 12-year-old girls screaming at Justin Bieber than adults lauding ballplayers. Fans would shriek with anticipation as a Wildcat would loft a 3-pointer, even though the Cats were up 25 points against an undermanned foe from a smaller school and conference.
And when a Kentucky player dunked, which happened eight times in the game, ecstasy filled the arena.
If this top-seeded team in the entire tournament should live up to its billing and win Kentucky’s eighth NCAA crown, the entire state (minus Louisville Cardinals fans) may levitate. With some luck, the fine Thoroughbred horses in this state won’t get spooked too badly.
Much is made of all the one-and-done players that have spun through Kentucky Coach John Calipari’s turnstile since he became the UK coach in 2009. Calipari had five freshmen drafted in the first round of the 2010 NBA draft, and another last year in Brandon Knight.
He has four 2011 McDonald’s All-Americans on his roster this year, and all are part of his so-talented, so-athletic 7-player rotation. If you could offer a guarantee to Wildcat fans that just one freshman among the threesome of Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague would return for a second season instead of taking the NBA’s money, they’d happily take it.
Here’s a Calipari sales pitch to an elite high school player: If you play for us, you will be great, you’ll win, everyone will know who you are, and you’ll be in the NBA sooner rather than later.
That’s a little different than what almost everyone else has to pitch. Iowa State, the Wildcats’ NCAA opponent here Saturday night, has a rotation built around transfers from five other Division I programs and an Oklahoma junior college.
Calipari raved about Iowa State Friday. His players aren’t all that dialed into the Cyclones.
Davis, the 6-10 high-jumper from Chicago who averages 4.7 blocked shots a game, is the nation’s Freshman of the Year. He’s a top candidate for Player of the Year.
Davis was asked Friday afternoon if Iowa State star forward Royce White reminded him of anyone he’s competed against this season.
“I haven’t seen him play, so I’m not sure if he’s similar to somebody we’ve played,” Davis said.
Davis has gone through this season as the main cog of a crew that has caused destruction. Davis doesn’t need to know about you. You need to know about him.
Kentucky is 33-2. It went 16-0 in the Southeastern Conference, outscoring league foes by 16.4 points a game. It beat LSU by “only” 9 and Florida by 3 in the SEC tourney before somehow enduring a 71-64 loss to Vanderbilt in last Sunday’s title game.
The Wildcats had gotten bored, the theory goes. The defeat was merely a click on the team’s refresh button.
But these guys are good. You and they know it. The NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers call themselves “Lob City” because of Chris Paul’s passes to dunkmeister Blake Griffin. Kentucky is “Lob State.”
Point guard Teague throws soft, high passes just about anywhere in the general vicinity of the basket, and Davis or sophomore (sophomore!) forward Terrence Jones snaps them out of the sky and blasts them through the net, setting off euphoric blasts of joy from their fans.
Iowa State is in an unenviable spot Saturday, facing the No. 1 team in a setting that’s anything but neutral. It will have to play even better than it did when it dissected Connecticut 77-64 here Thursday.
The phrase “shock the world” is pretty shopworn in sports. But if the Cyclones beat the Cats, they’ll have shocked the basketball world. And emotionally nuked this commonwealth.
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