As we approach the 2013-14 basketball season with both the Kentucky Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals in the top five and competing to keep the NCAA Title in the Commonwealth of Kentucky for the third straight year, the question has to be asked. Are we living in the “golden age” for basketball in Kentucky? If we have another Final Four matchup between the two teams, you can certainly make the case, but as David Schuh of the Kentucky Kernel points out, you have to look beyond the big two and we may already be living in that glory age.
Since John Calipari took the UK head coaching job in 2009, he has led the Cats to two Final Fours, an Elite Eight and a national championship.
Eighty miles west, Rick Pitino has accumulated the same feats at Louisville in the same time frame.
The Cats and Cardinals have won the last two national championships, only the fifth time in history that two different schools from the same state have won consecutive titles.
All that together proves that we’re seeing one of the most dominant periods of basketball in the history of Kentucky.
And let’s not stop there.
Division II Bellarmine University won the 2011 national championship and has spent much of the last four years comfortably ranked in the top 5.
Morehead State University and Murray State University, which have never won more than one game in the NCAA Tournament, each had a player chosen in the NBA Draft in the last three years.
Northern Kentucky University, which lost back-to-back Division II national championship games in the mid-1990s, just made the jump to Division I last year. They surprised a lot of people by winning 11 games in their inaugural season in Division I playing against college basketball’s best competition.
Yes, the last four years may be the best-shared period for UK and Louisville. But the state of Kentucky is seeing a level of collective success since 2009 that it maybe never has before.
James Blackmon Jr was just one of the recruits at Big Blue Madness on Friday night and they also took in the Pelicans/Wizards game on Saturday at Rupp. And through the world of social media, we learn that the recruits all were duly impressed with Lexington and BBM.
All of the visiting recruits gathered in the Rupp Arena tunnel nearest UK’s 2012 national championship banner and watched the women’s team scrimmage from there. Once that portion of Madness ended, Blackmon led the recruits — now joined by UK commit Tyler Ulis — and their family members across the Rupp Arena sideline to their seats near the stage where Calipari gave his “state of the program” speech.
Lyles tweeted Saturday that the UK recruits were headed back to watch the team practice that day. Later that night, they were seen sitting next to UK’s current players at the Wizards-Pelicans game in Rupp Arena.
At one point Saturday, Towns did a little recruiting of his own. The 7-footer from New Jersey tweeted out a photo of Blackmon with the message: “(Shout out) to my bro @jblackmon2 for doing it big this summer. Hopefully see him in a UK jersey beside me.”
Blackmon, Lyles and Johnson all tweeted their appreciation for UK fans at various points during the weekend.
Class of 2016 standouts Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum were among the other highly touted recruits in Lexington. Both players were at UK’s practice Friday and both attended Big Blue Madness later that night. Like the seniors, both Giles and Tatum tweeted that they had a “great time” on the visit.
Regardless of what other recruits come through Lexington, they all will have a hard time overcoming the legend of John Wall. In a way, Wall’s committing to Kentucky was the signal that Kentucky had reemerged in the basketball world and UK fans will always reserve a special spot for him.
As the first Kentucky player to go No. 1 in the NBA draft, Wall continues to hold a special place among supporters of one of college basketball’s most storied and tradition-rich programs. Nine of Wall’s Washington Wizards teammates trailed behind at the school’s basketball kickoff event, staring up at the raucous crowd and wondering in disbelief how so many people — especially those who camped out for tickets several days in advance — would show up for a practice.
“They really love basketball here, and it’s big to them. It’s very rare you get that anywhere else,” Wall said of Kentucky fans before the Wizards’ 93-89 loss Saturday to the New Orleans Pelicans in the first NBA exhibition game at Rupp since 2000. “I just wanted my teammates and everybody to experience it because they didn’t believe me when I said how it would be. They treat you like an NBA player here. And it prepares you for the NBA lifestyle.”