There is nothing in sports more glorious than NCAA Tournament. Nothing. Even when the unthinkable happened (University of Kentucky not making the Big Dance) last year I still was fired up filling out my bracket, letting me emotions ride the roller coaster of the tournament with all its upsets, close victories, and close defeats. In my opinion the NCAA Tournament is a great example of what we label the “American Dream” (which would make the BCS the American Reality), where the underdog has a chance at greatness. This is the reason why most of the country pulls for the upset. America loves the underdog.
This makes rooting for UK difficult. The Cats are usually not the underdog in basketball (mostly because they play in the SEC). It makes it worse now that Kentucky’s starting five is comprised mostly of NBA bound players who will not stay for more than a year. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching these guys. John Wall is exciting, Cousins is a beast, and Bledsoe can hit the three (eight in a row the other day). They have brought success back to Lexington.
I have heard much criticism from those less fortunate who do not have quite the tradition UK enjoys. I must include, however, that the criticism has come from fans who pull for teams that have had their own fair share of “one and dones” (UNC and Duke, two other traditionally powerful teams). At the same time I confess that much of their criticism is not undeserved. There is something about the “one and dones” concept that I don’t like. I understand it to some degree but it still doesn’t feel as good as a team full of Seniors and Juniors who have been dedicated over the years and now seeing the fruit of their labor.
I remember back in ’98 when Jeff Shepherd, Wayne Turner, and Scott Padgett were the main players for the Blue. I believe they were a 2 seed that year, and though still a high seed definitely not the favorite to win it all. They get to the regional final against Duke (their arch nemesis outside of the Commonwealth, and really based on one game) and find themselves down by seventeen points with seven minutes left to go. It was Tubby Smith’s first season to coach and he beautifully outmaneuvered Coach K of Duke by not calling a time out for a run that lasted five minutes long. UK miraculously come back to win that game. In the Final Four they came back from behind to beat Stanford in Overtime, and then against Utah in the Final, down by ten at halftime, coming from behind the third game in a row to win their Seventh National Championship.
I loved that team. I loved the team in 2003 and 2004 who ended up exiting the dance prematurely. Cliff Hawkins, Gerald Fitch, and Keith Bogans were a great team. Hard working team.
Kentucky looks (outside an upset of course, which could happen tonight) like they are primed to win their eight national championship. And though I would be happy if they won, and I would talk my usual trash, I am sure it will not mean as much to me as the ’98 championship.
With that said, as long as I am a basketball fan I will pull for UK. I am True Blue no matter what it looks like. Even if they have a questionable coach, or players that went to only one class during their tenure, or have a Final Four taken away three years from now, or even never again make it to the tournament, I will still bleed Kentucky Blue. I guess that is what makes me a fan at the end of the day.