CBS cameras caught what looked like a UK student wearing a blue t-shirt that had white letters which simply said, “We’re Just Better.” That summed up the championship game against Kansas as well as the entire 2011-2012 NCAA basketball season in three words when making reference to the Kentucky Wildcat basketball team.
My old buddy Bill Keightley would have been so proud when the final seconds were counting down Monday night from UK’s 67-59 win at the Super Dome in New Orleans, and where his beloved Kentucky Wildcats were placed back on top of college basketball, winning the storied program’s eighth NCAA men’s basketball championship.
Why you say?
Because its present coach John Calipari, who I’m convinced would have been Mr. Wildcat’s favorite if he were still with us, had just proven everyone wrong.
Whether he wants to admit it or not, or take any credit for it, this is Calipari’s finest hour of his coaching career.
Virtually every college basketball media guru (especially the legendary icons of ESPN fame Dick Vitale and Digger Phelps) had said for the previous three years since Cal took the reins of UK basketball that he couldn’t win a national championship playing a front-loaded freshman lineup. Cal had countered repeatedly that it will happen, and now it has.
Vindication is sweet in any scenario, but with all the Cal haters across the college sports scene this one is extra special, and you can’t take this one away, NCAA.
The freshman trio of Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Marquis Teague were for the most part rock solid going down the stretch. Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb, the two seasoned sophomores of the seven-man rotation, were there when the team needed them for their respective specialties of rebounding and interior scoring in Jones’s case, and perimeter shooting in Lamb’s case.
But the rock solid heart and soul of this team the longer and deeper it got into the season was none other than the pride of Maysville, Ky., senior wing man Darius Miller. When crunch time came late in the Indiana and Louisville games Miller took the ball and responsibilities of putting his team on his back and finishing the deal off to put UK in the championship game setting.
The championship game heroes were sophomore guard were Lamb and Davis, but once again everyone had their own moments. Marquis Teague had another solid game with another early game impact to give the Cats a cushion to lean on throughout the entire game. All in all it was a classic team effort.
But make no mistake, folks. Kentucky basketball would not be where it is today without one John Calipari as its head coach, and the fun may just be getting contagious.
What’s In The Immediate and Far Off Future For UK Basketball
While many of Big Blue Nation will celebrate deep into the spring and summer with this NCAA championship, there will be many who will have short celebrations and start discussing, debating, and planning next year’s UK team roster. That’s just the lay of the land in this commonwealth of hoop crazy citizens.
Most insiders I know around UK basketball think Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist are pretty much one and done,, as they say, with a slight chance of Marquis Teague staying on one more year and Kyle Wiltjer definitely on campus for a minimum of two more years. Sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb have been all over the NBA draft projections during the season, especially Jones, being as high as a No. 8 pick to as low as a late first round pick. Doron Lamb is more likely to return than Jones, but his stock has been as high as a top 15 first round pick on a couple draft boards.
Without a whole lot of thought or solid information, I’m projecting the following players presently on the roster will return for next season along with the three lone signees to date:
Seniors - Twany Beckham (possible walk-on status)
Juniors - Doron Lamb , Jon Hood , Jarod Polson (possible walk-on status)
Sophomores - Marquis Teague, Kyle Wiltjer, Ryan Harrow
Freshman - Alex Polythress - 6’ 8” Forward (McDonald’s All-American) , Archie Goodwin - 6’ 4” Wing (McDonald’s All American) , Willie Cauley - 6’ 11” Center (Top 30 Rivals.com & Scout.com)
The players listed below are still on the recruiting board for this spring and UK is involved with all of them and should know within a few weeks if any of them will be a Wildcat for the 2012 - 2013 season , their status as a national recruit with most recruiting services is listed beside their name . :
1 - Nerlens Noel - 6’ 10” Center ( Tilton , NH )
2 - Shabazz Mohammed - 6’ 6” Wing ( Las Vegas , Nevada )
8 - Anthony Bennett - 6’ 7” Forward ( Henderson ,Nevada )
18 - Devonte Pollard - 6’ 7” Forward ( Dekalb , Miss. )
21 - Tony Parker - 6’ 9” Center ( Lithonia Ga. )
23 - Amile Jefferson - 6’ 7” ( Wynnewood , Pa. )