Enjoy this moment. Savor this team.
The flip side of Kentucky’s memorable season that concluded with the school’s eighth NCAA national title following a 67-59 victory over Kansas Monday night, is the fact Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller likely won’t be back next season. Miller, a senior, has used up all of his eligibly, while Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, Jones, Lamb and Teague could trade their textbooks for a hefty paycheck.
It’s hard not to blame the five underclassmen for wanting to receive compensation for their skills. As Kentucky coach John Calipari has insisted, the one-and-done trend isn’t one that he prefers, but he also wants what’s best for his players. When he arrived at Kentucky three years ago, he insisted that his program would put the players first, and he hasn’t wavered on his commitment to his recruits. In his first two seasons, Calipari sent seven first-round draft picks to the NBA and two that were chosen in the second round. Also in three seasons, he led the team back to the promised land and has the state beaming with pride again.
His first team, the one with five first-round draft picks, including top draftee John Wall, fell to West Virginia in the regional seminals. The second one reached the Final Four, but lost to Connecticut in the national semifinals. This team, which featured a mixture of newcomers and experienced players, went 38-2 and achieved the team’s ultimate goal of winning a national title. Calipari has insisted all season long that coaching them wasn’t hard and was rather easy because of the team’s chemistry, a blend that’s hard to find with today’s generation. Early on, the team wasn’t focused on individual accolades and didn’t chase the spotlight. Instead, success followed the Wildcats.
“They’re special people who really decided that (they were) going to do this together,” the Kentucky coach said. “When you say Michael Kidd Gilchrist and Anthony Davis (took) the fourth and fifth most shots on our team, that’s saying something. I wanted them to feel this, to understand the rest of their life, it’s about servant leadership. It’s about teaching all those guys how to lead. It wasn’t just one guy, I wanted them to all learn how to lead.”
One of those players — Miller — made the ultimate sacrifice for the betterment of the team. He could have complained about not starting, but, accepted his role and ended his collegiate career just like he did his senior campaign at Mason County High School — with a championship trophy. Miller led the Royals to the state title in 2008 and was a key factor in returning the Wildcats back to the top in college basketball. Miller was at a “loss for words” following the win over the Jayhawks.
“All the hard work that we put in this year, the sacrifices that people have made on this team, means a lot, especially with these guys,” Miller said. “We’ve grown as brothers. We’ve had a lot of fun with this (and) I can’t really put into words how it feels.”
Davis admitted that it wasn’t “hard to take a backseat” to his teammates throughout the season, especially in the championship encounter, where he went scoreless in the opening half.
“All these guys (can) play,” he said. “I knew I was struggling, so I told them, I’m going to defend and rebound, you all make the points. That’s what they did.”
And that’s what this team did all season long, unifying as one team instead of a squad of individuals. The end result was a national title.
Soak it in, celebrate your own way. Teams like this one don’t come around very often. They’re here today, gone tomorrow.
UK Basketball: Savor the championship season
Kentucky 67, Kansas 59 (Bill Thiry / April 3, 2012)