Live. Breathe. Blue. Kentucky Basketball - Rekindled Passion in Wildcat Nation

by Dr. John Huang (LEXINGTON, KY)

The passion is back.

In Kentucky’s 96 – 88 overtime victory the other night against the Saint Joseph’s Hawks, there was a point in the game that I thought the Wildcats might actually lose. With 30 seconds left in regulation and his team trailing by a point, D.J. Wagner shot a layup that would have given the Wildcats the lead.

He missed.

Fortunately for Big Blue Nation, Tre Mitchell grabbed the errant rebound and slammed it home for a one-point lead.

What was significant about this moment wasn’t that Kentucky ultimately prevailed in overtime and avoided the monumental upset loss at home. But rather, the significance was that—for the first time in a while—I actually cared again whether Kentucky Basketball won or lost.

And so apparently did a bunch of other Wildcat fans watching around the commonwealth. It’s been a while since we’ve all collectively felt the joy—that nail-biting, gut-wrenching nervous energy excitement of actually giving a crap. When Kentucky wins, we’re on cloud nine. When Kentucky loses, we’re depressed for a week.

As weird as that sounds, I miss that feeling.

I can’t tell you how many times over the past couple of seasons that I heard former die-hard fans tell me that joy was gone. Half the time, they didn’t even know when the Cats were playing. That’s sad. When it comes to Kentucky Basketball, there’s nothing worse than fan apathy.

Let’s face it, we’re all tired of hearing about 9 -16 seasons, first-round exits to Saint Peter’s in the NCAA tournament, and Kansas surpassing us as the all-time winningest program in college basketball. Everyone and their brother is totally frustrated by situations where Shaedon Sharpe doesn’t play at all or where Devin Askew plays too much. We’re devastated and demoralized that Final Fours—much less national championships—have apparently become things of the past.

Amidst the gloom and doom of it all, we’ve all forgotten the exhilaration of seeing the last shot go in, the elation of shooting (and making) a bunch of three-point daggers, and even the excitement of successfully running a simple inbounds play.

In one fell swoop the other night, all those emotions came flowing back.

I guarantee you this current team will recapture your passion. They’re agile, mobile, and versatile. Sure, they’re young, but they’re also extremely fun to watch. Talent is overflowing in the backcourt. Antonio Reeves can shoot with the best of them, and “dawgs” like Wagner and Rob Dillingham don’t frequently appear together out of thin air.

Reed Sheppard, however, may be better than anyone, and he’s already a fan favorite. Check out the buzz whenever he’s on the floor.

And don’t forget about Mitchell—the star of the game. The West Virginia transfer can definitely stretch the floor with his three-point shooting. Don’t ever underestimate his maturity and leadership either. It’s all part of the championship puzzle.

On top of all that, Coach John Calipari seems to be letting them play. Random basketball he calls it.

“Random is we are spacing the court, and we are playing off of one another,” the Hall of Fame coach explained. “It is kind of like you have five 3-point shooters. Do you know what you would do? Shoot a lot of 3s.”

One man’s “random” may be another man’s “rolling the balls out.”

Either way, it’s exciting for the program with the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball to be relevant again. It’s appropriate for Kentucky to recapture the all-time wins mantle. And it’s certainly exciting and appropriate for the most passionate fans on the planet to care about their team again.

Is it sustainable? I hope so.

If Kentucky gets a healthy seven-footer (or two or three) back into the lineup, then it certainly will be. Then and only then will all be right with the world.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist, military veteran, and award-winning author. He currently serves as a reporter and sports columnist for Nolan Group Media. His latest book, “They Call Me Mr. Secretary,” has been met with great anticipation. You can follow Dr. Huang on social media @KYHuangs and check out all his books at https://www.Amazon.com/stores/Dr.-John-Huang/author/B092RKJBRD



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