After Villanova’s buzzer beater over North Carolina last night, I learned that I am really not a college basketball fan. I am a Kentucky basketball fan. By that I mean I view everything through the big blue prism of UK basketball. Surprisingly, after witnessing one of the greatest finishes in the history of the NCAA tournament, I felt no real excitement or emotion. I derived no real inner joy from seeing the dreaded Tar Heels go down. I felt only sympathy for their die-hard fans because I’ve been in their shoes too many times. So congratulations to those other wildcats from Villanova, but my focus will always be on THE Wildcats and their loyal legion of followers known as BBN.
UK coach John Calipari frequently speaks of “The Kentucky Effect” whereby the Wildcats not only move the needle but ARE the needle in the world of college basketball. He believes that pushing and promoting his players to always achieve the highest standards possible is the best and only way to impact the entire game. Not having UK in the Final Four for only the second time in six years has produced what I would call “The Kentucky (A)ffect”, a mood disorder of BBN characterized by denial, apathy, anger, regret, and eventually hope. Let me explain.
Denial set in the moment the Cats went down to the hated Hoosiers. This can’t be happening, right? Other than the NIT year, Cal’s UK teams have never been booted during the first weekend of the tournament. It’s our birthright to be in every Final Four, or at least the Elite Eight. What do you expect us to do now that the season has ended so prematurely?
Then comes apathy, where every true UK fan wants nothing to do with basketball for the remainder of the tournament. Sure, an eventual champion will be crowned, but who cares. TV’s are shut down and sports bars deserted. We don’t even know who’s still playing. It’s time to mow our lawn and walk the dog.
Even though out of sight, out of mind, the season still conjures up random thoughts of anger. We blow a 21-point lead in Knoxville; referee Pat Adam’s technical foul call on Isaac; the gall of the tournament selection committee putting us opposite IU in a second round game. Such injustices cannot be tolerated; someone has to pay! It’s enough to still make my pulse quicken and my blood pressure rise.
Now it’s time to sow those sad seeds of regret. The season was set up so perfectly for another championship run. We were ranked so highly at the beginning of the year, our regional tournament path went directly through Louisville, and we knew that Tyler, Jamal (and we thought Skal at the time) would simply not let us lose. Oh, the bitingly bitter taste of “what could have been?”
Not having UK in the Final Four has opened up many new vistas of untapped feelings and emotions while down here in Houston. On one hand, I’ve enjoyed experiencing the tournament for the first time as an objective observer. It’s strange not being so anxious anticipating and watching the Wildcats with your heart constantly pounding and your nerves shattered. Houston’s a fun city, with tons of ethnic food choices and cultural sights to see. The music festival was fantastic with the likes of Flo Rida, Pitbull, and Maroon 5 serenading all the hoop fans in attendance. The weather’s been great. But on the other hand, it just hasn’t been the same without the Wildcats and the Big Blue mist that envelops each and every Final Four city. Call it arrogance, or envy or just being spoiled rotten, but the sight of other team’s fans enjoying what is rightfully ours just makes me sick to my stomach. I don’t want to go through that ever again. The final game was fantastic, but who cares.
After wallowing in anger and regret, last night’s final buzzer signals the beginning of new hope for every true Wildcat fan. Weeping remains for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning. Next year’s team is going to be something else. It’s the “Kentucky Affect”. Arizona here we come!