If this doesn’t make your heart flutter with joy, then there must be something wrong with you. Like you must be a Jayhawks fan. Or you don’t have a soul. Or something.
Last night–in case you were living under a rock or busy picking your nose–the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team won their eighth national title championship, defeating the Kansas Jayhawks 67-59. This is the Wildcats’ first title since Tubby Smith’s “Comeback Cats” of ’98 and Coach John Calipari’s first title ever, despite traveling to the Final Four four times with three different schools.
Critics of Coach Cal, otherwise known as the best and coolest coach in college basketball, have condemned him for his failure to win a championship, even with rosters full of “one-and-done” players en route to the NBA. Those critics have now been silenced, as he won his first title with a roster of six potential first-round NBA draft picks (three of whom are freshman). Booyah.
“This is not about me. This is about these 13 players,” Calipari said, however. “This is about the Big Blue Nation.”
Yes, last night was about those players who played as unselfishly and tenaciously as they had all season. Last night was about Anthony Davis scoring just one of 10 field goals and still being crowned Most Valuable Player (having 16 rebounds, six blocks, and five assists might have helped). Last night was about Terrence Jones hustling to save a loose ball, just stolen from Kentucky, from going out-of-bounds, reclaiming the possession. Last night was about Michael Kidd-Gilchrist blocking Tyshawn Taylor’s layup in the final minute. Last night was about Doron Lamb scoring a pair of consecutive three-pointers (get yer three goggles out!) to generate momentum for the Wildcats, who had scored just seven points in nine minutes of play during the second half. Last night was about Marquis Teague landing a big three-pointer after an 8-0 run in a little more than a minute for Kansas with just four seconds remaining on the shot clock. Last night was about Darius Miller holding the entire team together–again–and possibly being the most excited person on that floor for the win, yet still having the class to be the sole Kentucky player to go and shake the hands of his opponents. Last night was not about individual players breaking their scoring records. Last night was about each player doing whatever he could to help his team win when not scoring. Last night was not about teammates playing for themselves but teammates playing for each other.
And those young players were able to do that because of their talent, their commitment to each other and the sport, and their coach, who moulded them into even better players as the year progressed. The best players, the best team, and the best coach finally won the national title, as it should be. This championship is a testament to their hard work and talent. They deserve this championship.
“I don’t know of any team that has sacrificed for each other like this team, and they deserve this moment, they really do,” Calipari said.
But Coach Cal deserved that moment, too. Terrence Jones spoke about how devastating their one-point loss to UConn in the Final Four was last year, driving him to return to UK for another year. This year, he wanted things to be different.
“I want to win it for him,” Jones told reporters Sunday. “He deserves it.”
It’s been a pleasure watching this phenomenal class of talent this season (it’d be nice if ya’ll came back–not holding my breath, though), and I’m going to miss watching them play together as a team. I get all misty-eyed just thinking about it. Thanks for an ah-maz-ing season, guys.
P.S. How utterly refreshing was it that we did not see Ashley Judd once during the title game? Or we didn’t have an interview with her during a key moment in the game like when–oh, I don’t know–the opponent’s coach is given a technical foul? (See the second round game against Iowa State.) It’s great that she’s a fan of the greatest college basketball program in the country and all but so is Steve Zahn. And Steve Zahn is way cooler. But we don’t have to interview him and flash the camera on him every time he shows up to a game. Geeze Louise.