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A Cliche About Kentucky’s Hoops Team That Needs To Be Retired

tina-fey-eye-rollI’m not sure how many times I’ve heard this one since Kentucky bounced Wisconsin from the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.  Ten times?  Twenty?  Thirty?

“Well, they’re not freshmen anymore,” says Fan X, Guest Analyst Y, or Show Host Z.  Yeah, OK.  I get the point.  Kentucky’s kids have played 39 games to date so they’re no longer completely green.

But here’s why that stock phrase needs to be retired — The sophomores of the world are not sophomores, either.

Yes, John Calipari’s freshmen have gained experience, but they still have less experience than the sophomores, juniors and seniors they face on a nightly basis.  That fact, in effect, does mean they should be designated as having less experience and the word “freshman” covers that ground quite nicely.

Kentucky’s run to tonight’s championship game with Connecticut has required late-game heroics and last-second shots time and again.  It just might be that their youthful outlook — their lack of experience — has helped them advance.  They seem unfazed by pressure… perhaps because they’re too green to worry.

So let’s all please nix the “they’re no longer freshmen” cliche.  Even 39 games into the season, UK’s freshmen still have less experience than several key UConn players they’ll face tonight — senior Shabazz Napier, juniors Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels, etc.  That’s no knock.  It’s just a fact.

A fact that makes Calibari’s work with his latest bunch of youngsters pretty damn impressive.

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Writer, Izzo Says Race An Issue With Anti-UK Backlash; Both Are Wrong

Yesterday, William Rhoden of The New York Times examined the “outrage” that has followed Kentucky’s winning of the national championship in basketball with a team featuring several one-and-doners.  Personally, while I have seen and heard debate about whether or not the one-and-done system is good for college basketball, the term “outrage” seems a bit strong to me.  But Rhoden took things much further than that word:

“If the core of the Kentucky team had been made up of white players with phenomenal athleticism and acumen at every position — operating in the context of a largely black sport — we would not be hearing the complaining.  Their success would not be seen as a debasement.  The team would be celebrated and feted — as Butler was, as Gonzaga used to be.”

Since this is a family site, let me just call “poppycock” on that one (but a stronger word is bouncing around my skull).

This writer doesn’t deny the existence of racism in the United States today.  It’s real.  Sadly it will always be real.  This nation will never, ever completely wash away the stain of its great original sin — slavery.

Some blacks will always mistrust whites and see persecution even where none exists.  Some whites will always mistrust blacks and claim America to be racism-free or — even more ridiculously — racist against the white men of our nation.

But the one-and-done issue has absolutely zip to do with race.  The one-and-done rule is a bad rule.  Period.  So says NBA commissioner David Stern.  So says the man who’s prospered the most by it — Kentucky’s very own coach, John Calipari, who said last week he’d like to see it changed.

Butler and Gonzaga are ridiculous examples for Rhoden to use in his argument.  Those schools weren’t applauded because they had more caucasians on their rosters.  They were cheered because they are tiny schools that most people never hear of outside the month of March.  Gonzaga has an enrollment of just 4,700 undergraduate students.  Butler — in whose gym the film “Hoosiers” was shot — has an undergraduate population of only 4,000.  Butler and Gonzaga were the Davids trying to take down the Goliaths of the hoops world.

But more importantly — and this renders Rhoden’s comparison totally moot — Butler and Gonzaga didn’t build their programs with three consecutive classes of one-and-done athletes.  He’s comparing apples to oranges.  Lumping Butler and Gonzaga into a comparison with Kentucky is absurd.  And Rhoden — a brilliant writer — must know that.

Unfortunately, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo went along with Rhoden’s black/white nonsense.  When asked “if he thought a highly talented, highly athletic team of white players would be viewed differently,” Izzo said:

“I want to answer that as honestly as I can.  I think it would be different.  I hate to say that.  It’s sad for me to say, but it’s probably the truth.”

That’s hardly a definitive answer.

If there is outrage over Kentucky’s winning of the national title — and again, I’ve seen nothing I would call “outrage” against UK — it likely has more to do with these two facts:

1.  Kentucky is the winningest program in college basketball history.  Many fans don’t like dynasties.

2.  Calipari is about as popular outside the Bluegrass State as Hepatitis-C.  There aren’t many college basketball fans who root for Coach Cal, fair or not.

The system is the issue here, not the color of Kentucky’s players’ skin.

A year ago, Connecticut won the NCAA Tournament.  Their biggest star was Kemba Walker who left school following his junior year and entered the NBA draft.  Their other stars last year were freshmen Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier, and Roscoe Smith and sophomore Alex Oriakhi.  All were black, but all except Walker returned to school.  Do you remember outrage over UConn’s title?  Neither do I.

Black athletes winning and then leaving early is an issue.  Black athletes winning and then staying in school is not an issue.  Clearly, the trouble is the leaving early part, not the black athletes part.

The one-and-done system is bad for basketball.  Race has nothing to do with it.  Shame on Rhoden for trying to marry the two.

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