(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – “The waiting is the hardest part”Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Kentucky fans are notoriously impatient. They don’t like waiting for anything. Not in long lines at the supermarket, in bad traffic on the highways, or for national titles on the basketball court. In their quest for championship trophies, the citizens of Big Blue Nation get especially antsy when their heralded five-star recruits don’t make the anticipated impacts required for projected deep runs in the NCAA tournament.

And yet, you can’t really blame fans for their impatience. After all, the Wildcats have been waiting for what seems like an eternity for that much-awaited deep run. Over a decade for that national championship, a seven-year-drought since their last Final Four, and over 1,400 days and counting since they last won a postseason tournament game. That’s certainly not acceptable for the program claiming to have the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball. It’s definitely not in line with the self-professed John Calipari “gold standard.”

Kentucky’s Hall of Fame head basketball coach has been stressing patience since the beginning of time. We’ve all heard his cautionary tales of how his one-and-done players aren’t necessarily one-and-done but rather on their own individual timeframes and pathways to success. For most of his troops, success means NBA glory and riches. For them to get there, Calipari stresses the need to “trust the process.”

Freshman Chris Livingston seems to have fully bought into the process. In Kentucky’s 66 – 54 upset win over Tennessee on Saturday, the 6-foot-6 forward from Akron, Ohio, scored 12 points and pulled down a season-high 10 rebounds—his first career double-double.

That timely showing by Livingston followed another beast-mode performance in the team’s prior 71 – 68 road victory over Mississippi State. Two breakout appearances in a row from the McDonald’s All-American—who earlier in the season struggled to simply dribble and drive—provided just the necessary salve for a Wildcat season teetering on the brink.

Within two games, the Wildcats went from outside the NCAA tournament bubble to squarely in the hunt for one of the top seeds in the SEC tournament. During that time, they’ve stacked up three more quadrant one wins with an excellent chance of accruing two or three more before the regular season comes to a close. All because of the process.

“I was just waiting my turn,” Livingston emphasized, when asked about the reason for the dramatic change in his game. “I just stayed with the process and trusted the process and look where we are now…I’m really cool with the journey I’ve been on and the journey I’ve been a part of under the coaching, under this team.”

What exactly is the process?

If it’s the pathway of someone like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who went from a four-star high school recruit to a first-round NBA draft choice within a matter of months, then bottle up that secret sauce and make a fortune spreading that recipe around.

If the process involves taking an extra year—like it did with P.J. Washington or Immanuel Quickley—than so be it. Players and fans alike should willingly take those situations as massive win-wins for everybody involved.

Even a three-year college player like Nick Richards eventually thanked the process for helping him achieve his life-long dream of playing in the Big Boy League.

As for five-star recruits like Kahlil Whitney who left the program after only half a season, or Skal Labissiere—who never got untracked from day one—or players like Quade Green, Charles Matthews, or Sacha Killeya-Jones who transferred out and are now saddled with the rigors of the NBA G League…well, I guess they didn’t quite trust the process.

Or maybe they weren’t patient enough. Alex Poythress certainly was. He trusted the process, tore his knee up, and bummed around the fringes of the NBA before winding up playing overseas. That’s not a horrible career, mind you. It’s just not what he envisioned when he inked with the Wildcats.

Let’s be honest. Everybody signing on with Kentucky is used to being coddled in some form or fashion. They listen to their friends, their family, and whoever else serves as their handlers who think they’re not getting enough court time or aren’t being utilized as their talents warrant. They all feel like they’re somehow too vital or special to wait for the process to take hold.

The reality, however, is that there’s a maturational element associated with the process that you simply can’t rush. It involves leveraging the system—the coaching, the training facilities, and the huge platform and support services of the University of Kentucky basketball machine—to your personal advantage. It involves developing your game through day-to-day practices with other elite talent while learning valuable interpersonal and communication skills along the way. Having top-level national media exposure at your every beck and call obviously doesn’t hurt the process either.

Most importantly, trusting the process involves trusting John Calipari. He’s the coach. He determines the practice drills, the playing time, and the various schemes he wants to run. The players’ individual success depends totally on them buying into the process—HIS process.

In that regard, you can’t fault the process at all. The litany of Calipari players in the NBA speaks for itself.

Unfortunately for Kentucky fans, that impressive achievement hasn’t resulted in a smidgeon of program satisfaction on the basketball court as of late. In fact, it’s worked itself in the opposite direction. The Wildcat faithful have become alarmingly disgruntled over the on-court foibles of these past few seasons as the list of Wildcats in the NBA continues to grow. By all accounts, it’s fair to say they’ve displayed patience by the boatload.

I’m happy for Chris Livingston’s breakout success this year. I’m looking forward to similar trajectories for the players from the five-star recruiting bonanza coming in 2023 – 24.

But I’m also deathly tired of waiting for that elusive championship number nine. There are two more weeks left in this regular season, three more weeks until Selection Sunday, and six more weeks until Final Four weekend in Houston. I’m convinced that Calipari’s process speaks absolute truth for the players-first coach he claims to be. I just hope and pray the process finally results in some upcoming postseason wins.

Lord knows, we’ve waited long enough.

This blog posting was originally submitted as a UK Basketball Column for Nolan Group Media publications.

Advertisement

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s