They say it takes all kinds to make the world go round and Calipari seems to always attract “all kinds” to the BBN. Wall, Cousins, Jones, Davis, Knight, MKG are polar opposites to one another but what do they have in common? Sure they can flat ball but what sets them apart? What makes them willing to go into the Wildcat den?
Every year it seems that John Calipari is linked to every top recruit of every class in every year yet he doesn’t always get the guys he is going after. A great example this year is Shabazz Muhammad. He chose to take his talents to the Pacific Coast of the 12. At the time it made no sense but thank God he did because, according to Tracy Pierson with Scout, the NCAA ruled him ineligible for UCLA’s trip to China because of “allegedly receiving improper benefits in his recruitment from boosters of his AAU program.” Without getting into the details of the improper benefits, suffice it to say that the University of Kentucky and John Calipari dodged a bullet. No, they dodged a howitzer. The LAST thing any of us needed was a “recruiting scandal” involving Coach Calipari. Immediately the NCAA would try to vacate our 2012 National Title (Sarcasm…sort of). It reminds me of the Josh Selby recruitment and him choosing Kansas over Kentucky. Clearly he was either overrated or poorly coached and the same with Xavier Henry. All of them spurned the Big Blue Nation and it worked out the absolute best for us. For them? Not so well.
But this got me to thinking about what makes a Wildcat a Wildcat? What makes a 17 or 18 year old kid choose to take his talents to the undisputed, most high pressure, high expectation basketball institution in the country? Simple. It’s in the genes. It’s in their heart and soul. Whatever the “it” is, it always stands a cut above the rest and they are never afraid of the pressure of being part of the four consecutive #1 recruiting classes in the nation.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the best example of having “it” that I have ever seen. He was a freak athlete with great instincts but not a great shooter or consistent scorer but the team was noticeably different when he wasn’t on the floor. On the floor he was a beast but suffered with a stuttering problem. Did that stop him from voluntarily placing his life under a magnifying glass under a burning hot sun that is the Big Blue Nation? Absolutely not. He never shied away from an interview, knowing that the entire time he would have to worry with his speech. He was the epitome of “it.” Of course there are many others who had “it” like Terrence Jones or Doron Lamb or John Wall or Boogie, etc and that is what sets them apart from the Selby’s and Henry’s and Muhammad’s.
Part of the “it” factor is a “team first attitude.” Most high profile recruits really want to make sure they get their minutes and points so they can put themselves in the best position to play in the NBA. That sounds OK coming from a kid who just graduated high school but it tells more about them than it helps. You see, Wildcats know that team success will likely lead to individual success but it takes a lot of trust and faith in a person and a system to allow them to be under that sort of scenario. It’s tough to give that control up but true Wildcats know that’s what is necessary to get where they want to go. They understand that “iron sharpens iron” and they want to be the sharpest. But being the sharpest means acknowledging that others are better than you in certain aspects of the game and being willing to learn from them. It also means passing on what you can to help others. It’s called being a “family” and true Wildcats understand and embrace that.
Another “it” factor is not being afraid to fail. Sounds counterproductive I know but anyone who is afraid to fail is ultimately afraid to put themselves in a position to fail which means when a game is on the line, that person won’t step up and take their shot because they’re afraid to fail. Being afraid to fail shows a lack of self confidence and maturity that is necessary to play in the hostile confines of Rupp Arena.
Speaking of maturity, that is another significant part of the “it” factor that is rarely discussed. Granted, a mature 17 or 18 year old sounds like an oxymoron but did you see the 2012 National Champion Kentucky Wildcats play? Our frosh played like Juniors and our Seniors played like, well, Seniors. We were never out of a game no matter the score or officiating situation. Our guys played their roles and rode the hot hand every game. All they did was put their head down, their ears up and played their asses off. Only Wildcats are that mature and relentless; relentlessly pursuing and attacking their goals with the ferocity of a caged animal. There is no quit in a Wildcat. They scrap and claw their way for every inch of floor around them because they believe it belongs to them and no one can take it from them. They don’t take crap from any one and always let their game do the talking. Occasionally Demarcus Cousins (Call me?) or Terrence Jones would let their mouth back their actions up but at least they were entertaining.
Wildcats have a winning attitude that places all others above themselves and aren’t immature enough to be afraid to fail.
Ultimately what makes a Wildcat a Wildcat? It’s their willingness to follow. Not everyone can lead everyone all the time. They follow their coach. Their game. Their team. Their fans. And when the time comes for them to step up, they do NOT shy away. You can always tell by their eyes if they have “it.”
So what makes a Wildcat a Wildcat? Look into their eyes and find out. Then you’ll see what’s missing in everyone else’s.
So who’s it going to be this year? Poythress? Noel? Goodwin? Wiltjer? Harrow?
What say you my friends?