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Eight

April 3, 2012

I was 12 when UK won its last national championship.  I was 10 when they won the one before that, and in between those two we got to the title game but didn’t win.  That was when I started getting interested in basketball and playing on my school’s team, so I didn’t know the history.  I just assumed the national championship was always UK’s to win, and we’d always win it every couple of years.  No one told me any different.  In Kentucky we expect to win every year.  We win against our arch-rival in the final four by 8 or 10 points and people say, “tough game guys.  Better straighten up.”  We are the toughest, most demanding, best fans in any sport.  We even riot when we win.  We are crazy.

So in the 14 years since that last title I’ve learned a little about just how valuable it is, and just how many things have to go right for it to happen.  These days, 68 teams enter the tournament and one wins the title.  Of course, this year there were 276 teams that didn’t make the tournament.  You are at the mercy of the bracket, playing teams and styles you might never otherwise play, sometimes with a very quick turnaround.

This year and this tournament have been pretty special.  This amazing group of players just kind of fell together.  After the championship game, Cal said he wanted to see if he could have a perfect season one day.  He said he wants to go after it because “it can’t be done.”  But you know, UK came pretty darn close this year.  Lost by one point on a last second three, and lost in the conference tournament to a team they had already beaten twice that year.  You almost got the sense they only lost if and when they got bored.

They pulled back on the reins every game.  Even the national championship game was ugly at one point.  If they’d kept going at that rate, they’d have won by 40.  The best thing though, they were really fun to watch.  To get this team of pre-pros to share the ball and play defense like they did is just amazing.  5 players with 10 ppg or more (and Miller at 9.9).  The national player of the year with 14.2 ppg.

Davis is pretty unique.  Pitino compared him to one of my favorite players ever, Bill Russell.   That may be a stretch right now but I see what he means.  With his length and coordination he humbles other stars the way Russell humbled the great Wilt Chamberlain.  The stat line rarely tells the whole story with players like that.  Take the national championship game.  Davis, who shoots 62% (!) from the floor this year, shot 1-10 last night– Six points total,  and he’s still the MVP.  Cause the rest of his stat line – 16 rebounds, six blocks, five assists, three steals – almost doesn’t make sense.  Guys with the height and the length for those blocks and rebounds generally don’t have the hands for steals and the vision for assists.  He even played a bit of impromptu point guard.  I mean how do you deal with a guy like that?  So yeah, maybe not Bill Russel, but a better comparison might be Tim Duncan, both in play style and demeanor.

 

And being here for the win was especially cool.  There was definitely car flipping and couch burning but only if you went looking for it.  It was mostly just a peaceful crowd of happy people.  At least where I was, they just cheered, drunkenly impromptu-sang the fight song, and hung out and celebrated while the cops looked on.  And really, I was kinda near ground zero if there was gonna be any craziness.  I guess that’s why they put so many cops there.

 

I hate how a city my size even has police with riot gear, but I digress.

Anyways, it’s great to be back on top, where we ought to be.

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