Well folks, we've gone full circle. In just a f..."/>
Well folks, we've gone full circle. In just a f..."/>

March 27: A Day of Reckoning for Kentucky Basketball


by Alan Smith

Well folks, we’ve gone full circle. In just a few hours, the Kentucky Wildcats will take the court against the West Virginia Mountaineers for a trip to the Final Four, the program’s first since 1998. This program has come a long way to reap the rewards of their success this season, but they’ve worked too hard to have it taken away from them. It’s been a long season and it’s taken hard work, effort, sweat, blood, and a bit of luck. But no tears. Those tears were shed all throughout the season on the way to March 27th, a dark day in Kentucky, one of just many in 2009.

March 27th, 2009. Billy Gillispie was fired from the University of Kentucky for not being a clear cut “ambassador” to the program. “There is a clear gap in how the rules and responsibilities overseeing the program are viewed,” said athletic director Mitch Barnhart. “It is a gap I do not believe can be solved by just winning games.” The fans, the university, and most of all- the team- had suffered throughout the season. The program had hit rock bottom at this point and although getting rid of Gillispie was the best possible solution for all parties involved, it left the state of Kentucky Basketball in total disarray. We had already slid down the college basketball totem poll and now were headed towards an endless spiral in a black hole. Patterson was gone, along with Meeks, Miller, Harris, Stevenson, and most likely the signed recruits for the class of 2009 (Orton, Hood). Not to mention the recruits signed for the future were already themselves losing their top caliber credibility, and ended up proving themselves not being “Kentucky-caliber”, so to speak.

The fans were divided among themselves, as some wanted Gillispie to stay because he had a short stay in Lexington. Others wanted him gone and for the program to have a fresh start. It looked highly unlikely at the time for a fresh start. It didn’t help that Tubby Smith left the program just two years before because it gave a somewhat false perception of the Kentucky Basketball program and its rabid fanbase. No coach would step to the plate in 2007, and 2009 seemed to be a repeat of that. After many prevalent rumors were thrown from message boards, to websites, and eventually live television broadcasts that Billy Donovan was in Lexington or on his way and was going to become the next head coach. Wrong. He turned down the offer. Tom Izzo? No thanks. Rick Pitino did have some recommendations in Travis Ford and John Pelphrey, but UK passed on that. John Calipari had already been rumored to not be interested in the job if offered according to Memphis sources.

Five days later, that ended up proving to be false. John Calipari signed on to be the Wildcats’ 22nd head coach in history, as well as the nation’s highest paid coach. With a charismatic approach to everything, as well as a proven winner, Calipari looked to be the perfect hire for the program. Not only did he look to be a great coach on the court, but off the court as well. As Gillispie would say, “Let’s go to work.” And that’s exactly what Calipari did, and quickly. He hit the recruiting trail, keeping two recruits on board as well as bringing in four more, two of which were going to be future NBA stars in John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. He brought in arguably the best recruiting class in UK history and one of the best ever in college basketball.

Not only in the time he has been here has he been a great coach on the court, but off the court as well. He has put the word “ambassador” to good use and has made the perfect example of whatever was required for a Kentucky head coach to do, and more. He and the team have given back to the community, both local and abroad helping those in need. And along the way they have helped themselves. From seniors Perry and Ramon, to freshmen Eric and John, this team has stuck together. And a by-product of that has been a team that cares for each other and has fun playing the game, something that has long been missing at Kentucky for players and fans alike. They have become more cohesive as a unit and have played better each and every game.

They have had one mission in mind since last year, and that was to bring a banner back to the Commonwealth. They are one game away from a trip to Indianapolis, and three games away from accomplishing that mission. Despite who stays and who leaves in the not-too-distant future, what matters is tonight. Tonight they will determine why they will be holding up the hardware and raising a banner in another week. A year ago it was a dark day, but today the sun shines bright above Kentucky.

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