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I'm not a frequent poster here, but after several conversations I have had with friends regarding the SEC Tournament and the state of Kentucky Basketball, I figured this is the most appropriate place to share some of my thoughts regarding where we are.
First and foremost, I am a loyal member of the Big Blue Nation in both the National Championship celebrations and in the rare and fleeting experience of national irrelevance (also known as the NIT). Some communities within the BBN that I have been (and still am) a part of are consistently pessimistic and love to believe the sky is falling when seems thing to snowball, but I have to say that I have very much enjoyed the perspective this community has on the current state of affairs within the UK Basketball program. Thank you for mostly being positive, it makes follow the team in the midst of struggle much more enjoyable.
As Matt (and many others) have said multiple times, this was just one of those years when the pieces didn't seem to quite fit. This is the risk that you run when you recruit high caliber talent and allow them the freedom to make decisions about their carrer with limited pressure to return for the "sake of the coach or the sake of the program." While a devastating injury absolutely crippled this season, it was the lack of steady point guard play that ultimately drove this years team into the ground. Now, what I am about to say may or may not be popular opinion, but it's what I believe is true regarding this issue: While point guard play was our ultimate demise, it was ultimately a lack of being able to fill the position efficiently and effectively by committee that really hurt us, not the poor play of any individual.
That said, the blame for this years struggles does not and should not fall on the shoulders of Ryan Harrow. It pains me to see the way that some (including friends of mine) have been unapologetically placing the blame on this season's struggle squarely and solely on that young man's shoulders. IMO, I really believe that Cal thought he could get much more effective point guard play from Archie (more of a bulldog PG) who could step over during crunch time and close out ball games. Archie's inability to transpose his game into the role of facilitator certainly didn't help Ryan. All of this to say, this years struggle comes down to a lack of effective depth at that position, not because Ryan was "too soft" or "not suited to play at an elite level" - while these things may be partially true (count me in the group that thinks Ryan could still be an effective player at this level) they weren't single handedly what brought us down.
Obviously next year will be extremely different. We add depth, multiple options at multiple positions, and (possibly) veteran leadership. The additions of Aaron and Andrew Harrison give us the strong, aggressive perimeter play that we were missing this year. Young gives us a versatile scoring threat. Lee (probably my favorite player in the class) gives us a developing presence in the paint with tenacious rebounding skills. Johnson gives us a big body, the likes of which we haven't seen since Boogie. Willis gives us a player to develop and look forward to seeing for four years. Add to that the likes of Randle or Wiggins and you have the recipe for a return trip to the Final Four. Win or lose, live up to or fall short of expectations - next year will be a fun, fun ride.
Coach Cal will continue to recruit and develop the best talent in the country. He continues, IMO, to learn and grow as a coach and this year was just another step into refining his craft as a coach, mentor, motivator, and father figure. We are blessed to have him leading the program in which we are all extremely emotionally invested. Above all things, I am thankful for the culture that Mitch, Cal, and many others have created over the past 4 years to reestablish Kentucky as the gold standard in college basketball. I am proud to be invested in a program that has built a winning culture but also a "players first" culture. And I am proud to watch former Kentucky players and legends, come back home to invest in the present Kentucky family. We are blessed to get to watch these young men play the game of basketball, we are blessed to welcome them into the biggest family in college athletics, and we are blessed to get to invest, in even a small way, into helping these teenagers develop into outstanding young men.
So, keep that chin up Big Blue Nation. Our frustration will be soon be traded in for fun (maybe even as soon as Wednesday) and as soon as rumors about pick up games start to roll in this summer we will have forgotten some of the missteps of this season. In the meantime, let's continue to support our team (even in the NIT, if it so comes to that) and these young men we are blessed to watch play this game.
We are family and family sticks together. Go Big Blue!
I just have to say this is one of the best things I've read about UK basketball in the last year. Thanks for posting this!
Very well said. I will continue to support these kids during good and bad times!
The guards are usually the STRENGTH of Cal's teams...we had an off year in this holding true...the reason Cal took a chance on Harrow is the poor 2012 class of high school PG's...the top 3 were ranked #22 (Marcus Paige - NC), #23 (Kris Dunn - Providence), #24 (Yogi Ferrell - Indiana) overall in the class...Cal's PG's have been MUCH higher ranked (Teague #8, Knight #4, Wall #5) overall in the class, so who of the 3 top available guards would have been any better than Harrow? Recruiting is mostly a "crap shoot" and Cal has "beat the house" 3 out of 4 years...I'd take him to Vegas anytime with those odds so we need to move on and show some class (to our "rivals" but mostly to our OWN players)!
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