The Billy G. era was (thankfully) short-lived but even so I think it forced even the most devout Kentucky fan to struggle for something positive to say. It was just horrible. Painfully horrible. A horrible, horrible two years in the history of Kentucky basketball if you ask me. (Did you get that? Horrible). I wish we could have a do-over. Or an annulment. Like "Hey remember those two seasons where we had that redneck Texan as our Coach? Um, yeah...just kidding! Those don't count." I wish I could erase the past two seasons from my mind completely.
It's not that we weren't winning (although 18-13 and 22-14 are pretty sorry records) or even that we didn't make it into the NCAA tournament last year (but talk about an insulting way for this program to end a season) that made me loathe Billy Clyde so much. Oh no. I could have tolerated a couple rebuilding years, as could I believe, most of the rest of the Big Blue Nation, had he given us any other reason in the world to keep him around. Anything at all. If he had been a super likable guy who played to the media and made us CATS fans feel loved and appreciated, we'd have surely given him another season or two to get his program up and running. Had he been a really stand-up guy who was setting a great example for the community while slowly rebuilding the tradition that is Kentucky basketball, we'd have been more than happy to keep him around then too. But no. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Billy G. was either too arrogant or too busy or straight up too stupid to realize that in Kentucky, basketball is King. As long as you're winning you are a God among men; but the second you stop winning, well, you better have a backup plan in mind. Mocking and belittling fans, earning a reputation for being a womanizer and a drunk, and sacrificing a team victory to prove a point to one player are just not good ideas around here and won't make you very many friends; especially when you're losing. Just horrible.
As much as I disliked Billy G. and kinda wished sometimes that he'd get hit by a car on the way to a game (not mortally wounded, just enough to keep him out for the remainder of the season) it pales in comparison to the absolute disgust I had for our previous coach, Mr. Tubby Smith. If Billy G. was a flash in the pan of Kentucky basketball despair, Tubby's tenure was the equivalent of dying a very slow and painful death. In my mind he literally sucked all of the life right out of Kentucky basketball. He turned our program into one of the most boring, lackluster, almost painful to watch in the whole country. We were big and slow and got repeatedly and handily whipped up and down the court by teams that were smaller and quicker. We played a slowed down style of ball that was so out of touch with reality that it wasn't even funny. We recruited guys based on nothing more than their size (who cares that he's not really capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time?? He's 7'3"! We'll take him) and then seemed stunned when they failed to perform. Uggggggh. I think my blood pressure is rising just thinking about this. It got so bad that I literally just quit going to games altogether; a move that bordered on the sacrilegious (cause when you're a UK student and have access to $5 basketball tickets, you better be on your deathbed if you turn them down). But I couldn't help it. I couldn't stand to watch. It just hurt my heart too much.
So yeah. The Gillespie era was like a gunshot wound; painful and fatal, but mercifully quick and over almost before you even realize its happened. The Tubby era was more like slowly suffocating to death. Or being buried alive. Together they combined to form a very dark and dismal period in the life of Kentucky basketball.
Which brings me to now, and why I'm so fired up about the beginning of this season. I already LOVE Coach Calipari. Love him. I think he's great. I think he's the best thing to happen to maybe the whole state in a very long time and if I have to eat these words later because it comes to light that he used illegal recruiting strategies or was involved in some underhanded dealings, well, so be it. For the time being I'm a big, big, big time supporter of Coach Cal.
He makes it so easy to like him because so far, he's doing everything right. He's doing the things a Kentucky Coach should be doing and technically, the season hasn't really even started yet. This just proves that Kentucky fans are not quite the bloodthirsty win-mongers we're made out to be. Ok fine, we're pretty close but still, we do care about other things too and its possible to be hugely popular here without the Win/Loss record to back you up. For a time anyway.
And Coach Cal gets that. He understands and appreciates that he's at the pinnacle of men's college basketball coaching jobs. For a man in his profession there is quite simply no better place in the entire world to be than at Kentucky. A coach won't find a more devoted fan base in all of college basketball, or a program/university/state more devoted to the sport. It just won't happen. Calipari knows that and more importantly, he appreciates that. He's playing to the media, he's befriending the fans, and he's making us feel like this is "our" team again. Oh and also, he's recruited one of the best freshman classes in the history of the sport which has lead to a preseason ranking in the Top 5. That doesn't hurt either.
I'm almost sick with knowing I probably won't get to see the CATS play in person this season because based on what the experts are saying, we're going to be one heck of a fun team to watch. We're going to be quick and we're going to push the ball and we're going to be, for the first time in a long time, really really good. I can't wait.