The View from Kentucky: 14 Years of Waiting
Now that the painfully embarrassing nationwide coverage of Lexington’s State Street riots has almost expired, fans are beginning to focus on basketball again.
The Kansas-Kentucky rivalry is one filled with history, not only for the two programs, which have combined for 10 national championships, but for the coaches as well.
This will be a national championship game rematch between Kentucky head coach John Calipari and Kansas head coach Bill Self. Calipari, who used to work at Kansas when he was low on the coaching depth chart and has great respect for Self, took a Memphis team to the championship game in 2008 and lost to Kansas.
It goes deeper than that.
If Kentucky wins, it will be Calipari’s first national championship and the eighth for Kentucky. It will signify the progress the program has made since the Billy Gillispie era. In his three years at the University of Kentucky, Calipari has taken teams to the Elite Eight, the Final Four and now, the national championship. The Wildcats hold a 51-game home win streak at Rupp Arena under his reign.
If Kentucky wins, senior guard Darius Miller will be the first Wildcat to earn a Kentucky high school state championship, a Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball award and an N.C.A.A. championship to take to his hometown of Maysville, Ky. Since Miller’s first year at UK, he has gone from the N.I.T. under Gillispie, to an Elite Eight, Final Four and championship game under Calipari.
If Kentucky wins, the 14 years of waiting for Kentucky fans will be over. The last time the Wildcats went to the national championship game, in 1998, they won.
It’s hard to size up the competition from the meeting between Kentucky and Kansas in November to the matchup for the national title, and players said it was early in the season and that both teams have improved so much that they can’t compare. (Kentucky won that game, 75-65.)
Calipari wants the players to win it for themselves, declaring that it’s “not about me.” The players want to win it for Calipari. Sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb returned instead of declaring for the N.B.A. draft with the intention of winning a championship for Kentucky.
The freshmen want to win it for Miller and all of the above. Anthony Davis, the Naismith National Player of the Year, has logged 180 blocks and is likely to be the No. 1 overall pick in the N.B.A. draft. There are only two seniors on the Kentucky team, but it’s almost certain that more than two will play their last game in a Kentucky uniform on Monday night.
The “Quest for 8” is well under way.
Samantha Rothbauer, a journalism major, is the sports editor and men’s basketball writer for The Kentucky Kernel, the student newspaper at the University of Kentucky.
A link to the original stories can be found here.