First off, let me say that I was wrong. In the wake of Saturday’s loss in Knoxville, I tweeted something along of the lines of: Big Blue Nation is just another fan base, spoiled and entitled.
That couldn’t be further from the truth.
The fans of the University of Kentucky, and particularly of the men’s basketball team, care. Some outsiders would say that they care too much. In some cases, that may very well be true. For the most part, however, the passion of the fans make them the best in America. In any sport. Period.
In some places, sports adhere to a season. College basketball starts with Midnight Madness in October and ends with the Final Four at the beginning. Except for those with ties to the Bluegrass State. College hoops is 24/7/365. And it’s been that passionate fan support which has aided the men’s hoops program to its elite status in the college basketball hierarchy (and head coach Mark Stoops will tell you that the football fans aren’t sitting around either). Coaches have come and gone, players have as well, but the one constant has been the fans. From Adpolh Rupp to John Calipari, Wah Wah Jones to Anthony Davis, all those that have entered into the world of Wildcat Basketball have benefited from the love show by the fans. To paraphrase Spider-Man, with great power comes great responsibility.
Head Coach John Calipari sums it up best when he tells recruits, “I can’t hide you here.” It’s also true that not every top recruit can take the intense glare that the Big Blue Spotlight provides. Right or wrong, there isn’t anywhere in the country where the fans are as supportive and demanding as in Lexington and that’s not a good for some players. There are a few sins that most Kentucky fans simply won’t tolerate, the biggest of which is the perception that a player isn’t giving a 100%.
Not only do the fans celebrate the championship teams, we remember those teams and players that somehow played above their abilities, reminding us that through hard work and will, greatness can be achieved. We remember the Unforgettables. We remember Sam Bowie willing the 1984 team to the Final Four. We remember Joe Crawford giving everything he had in a first round loss to Marquette. We remember a totally exhausted Ron Mercer and Anthony Epps leading the Cats to overtime, valiantly defending their championship.
Back to Saturday, to the debacle in Knoxville, and to the response of Big Blue Nation. Most fans, the level headed fans, are disappointed by the team’s record. But, most importantly, the fans are collectively disappointed by the fact that the Cats seemed to quit. And quitting is not what the University of Kentucky is about. That would be the one piece of advice I would give to this team and to all future teams. Missing the wide open man on a fast break will be tolerated (to a point). Not rotating on defense will noticed, but forgiven. But under no circumstance can you quit.
The fans have spoken. If this team doesn’t want the Big Blue Nation to quit on them, don’t quit quit on the Big Blue Nation.