My Love Affair With Kentucky Is Back On

4 Apr
I am a ten year old boy when I watch my first NCAA final on TV. It may have been the first televised final, I’m not sure. But it was March 19, 1966 and my father said we were watching because Schenectady’s Pat Riley would be on national TV. Riley had graduated from Linton HS where the six Notar’s would later do the same. The video was black and white and grainy. I remember my father calling NBC? in NYC because the broadcaster mis-pronouncedSchenectady when they announced the 6’3″ junior would be jumping center. This is the same father that tried to limit the time spent on my mother’s weekly long distance phone call to her parents. I became a Kentucky fan that night even though they lost that championship game to a college called Texas Western (now UTEP). 
I stayed a Kentucky fan after Riley graduated and left for a B-list NBA career. Someday I’ll do a column on Riley but this piece is about the Wildcats. There was the Joe B. Hall era, always with an emphasis on the “B” though I don’t know why. Joe B, along with Bob Knight and Dean Smith, are the only NCAA champs as both a player and a coach, Joe B being the only one to do it at the same school. I remained a fan through the sleaze years of Eddie Sutton. Probation, TV ban, reduced scholarships, everything but the death penalty. Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith followed, each winning a national championship. Tubby never gets enough credit since his winning team had so many remaining from the Pitino team. It took a decade for Tubby’s lackluster recruiting and slower style of play to end his reign. Billy Gillespie was next, he was a hot property and Kentucky was thrilled to have him. But whether it was the pressure or poor judgment, he fizzled and Kentucky corrected the mistake quickly.
I wear my Kentucky leather jacket, titled the “Hail Mary” and purchased 1997. I’ve got my Kentucky Blue Nikes on, and plenty of Kentucky hats from the bourbon boys. But I can’t say I wear the stuff proudly as Kentucky hired John Calipari in 2009 and he remains the coach today. Certain people have a lot of problems with Calipari but I have only one – He cost me my biggest-ever sports betting score when he blew the national championship game against Kansas as the coach of Memphis. And it took him four years to admit it. 
So how long am I going to hold this grudge? I don’t care about the one-and-done moniker. Other coaches would kill for Kentucky’s recruiting class. The angelic Coach K at Duke has had Kyrie Irving and Jabari Parker leave after playing a total of 46 games. Where’s the criticism? Tyler Ennis just announced he’s leaving the Orange after his frosh season. So I announce today that I am back as a supporter of the Wildcats and Coach Calipari. Someday I’ll even forgive Cal for the Memphis gaffe. Go Wildcats!

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