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UK’s Team Goes Pro; How Will They Be Remembered?

In the end, there was just a smidge of suspense.  John Calipari sitting with his five prize underclassmen at a press conference last evening told the media: “Let me just say that Anthony (Davis) and Doron (Lamb) and Terrence (Jones) have decided to put their names in the NBA draft, so they will do that.”

And then a pause.  UK fans’ hopes rose.  Until Coach Cal spoke up again…

“And Michael (Kidd-Gilchrist) and Marquis Teague have also decided to put their names in the draft.  I was trying to scare some coaches out there, that’s all I was doing.”

Ha-ha. 

With a national title and Banner #8 captured and hung, Wildcat fans are probably in such a good move that Calipari could have said, “They’re all staying… psyche!” and they would forgive him.

So the five underclassmen expected to turn pro will now do just that.  Saying goodbye, they hit all the right notes of togetherness — “We wanted to do it together like we did everything together” — and family — “I’m going to miss playing with these guys… it’s a brotherhood we created.”

And the talk will now turn to two other things.  First, whether all five youngsters plus senior Darius Miller will somehow find their way into the NBA’s first round.  Two years ago Calipari said UK landing five first-rounders was the best day in the history of Kentucky basketball.  (Here’s guessing a few Cat fans disagreed with that sentiment.)  What will he say if a full one-fifth of the NBA’s first-round draft picks come from Lexington?

Second, what about next year?  Well, already Davis is saying that next year’s UK team could be as good as his squad.  But Calipari is downplaying such talk:


“On this team, we had Terrence Jones, Doron Lame and Darius Miller.  All players with Final Four experience coming back.  Next year, we have one guy (Kyle Wiltjer) with any experience.  That’s it.  Everybody else either hasn’t played or played very little.

For some reason, we’ll be ranked very high.”


For some reason.  Yeah, like an Elite Eight team, a Final Four team, and then a national title-winning team all built in the same general fashion.  Next year’s Cats should be dominant, high-flying, and fun to watch once more.

But what about this just-departing bunch that The Louisville Courier-Journal has tabbed “The Farewell Five.”  This team of so many underclassmen who’ve entered the UK scene, stayed there for less than a year, won a championship, and then bolted… how will they be remembered?

And that’s the downside to Calipari’s way of doing business.  If you happen to view it as a downside.

There are no long-term strings attached.  Yes, Cat fans got their crown back and they love the guys who brought it home, but how much love can you feel for players who come and go so quickly?  It’s the college basketball version of professional free agency.  It’s tough to connect to what amounts to a rent-a-player.

Let me be very clear, I’m not talking about right now in the immediate afterglow of a championship.  I’m talking about the year 2032, for example.  Will Kentucky fans be able to easily recite the names and numbers of the 2011-12 title Cats? 

Old-timers can tell you all you want to know about the ’96 and ’98 teams.  They watched those guys over the course of multiple years.  There were “The Unforgettables,” four mostly homegrown products who over the course of their careers led Kentucky basketball from the NCAA doghouse back to center stage.  Richie Farmer, Deron Feldhaus, John Pelphrey and Sean Woods were all seniors in ’91-92 by the way.

Ask the real Kentucky bluebloods and you’ll hear tales of Joe B. Hall’s squads and Adolph Rupp’s. 

But what of the Calipari era?  Kids are coming and going at a pretty brisk pace.  As the mists of time cloud memories over the next couple of decades — and trust me, those mists do make things a lot more cloudy — will folks in the Commonwealth remember that John Wall was on this team and Marquis Teague was on that team?

UK backers know Pelphrey’s exploits because they heard of him for four years and they literally watched him grow up.  Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, Brandon Knight, DeMarcus Cousins… they all came and went quickly.

This is not an indictment of Calipari’s system, mind you.  The goal is to cut down nets and he’s already cut down quite a few nets in his three years at UK.  But I do wonder if all these guys won’t start running together in the collective memory of Kentucky hoops fans down the road.

That could be the give that goes along with all the recent taking in Lexington.


UPDATE — The national columnists are tackling UK’s long list of departees.  Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com writes that this bunch of one-and-doners have ended some myths and created a big legacy.  Meanwhile, Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports says a new group of stars is ready to take their place.  Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News says next year’s bunch will have a vastly different look.  And ESPN.com’s Dana O’Neil pens the obligatory “don’t blame UK for the one-and-done rule” piece.

 


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