By LARRY VAUGHT
Former Kentucky basketball player Cameron Mills reminded UK fans that during the Cats’ incredible run from 1996 to 1998 — two national titles, one national runner-up — that the seasons did not start well for Big Blue.
During the 1995-96 season, Kentucky’s dominating team lost 92-82 to UMass (coached by John Calipari) in game two. Kentucky went on to a 34-2 record and won the national title.
The next season, UK lost 79-71 to Clemson in Indianapolis in the season’s first game. That team finished 35-5 and lost to Arizona in overtime in the national title game.
The 1997-98 season, Kentucky’s eventual national championship team lost 89-74 to Arizona in game three. The team went on a 29-4 record and beat Utah in the title game.
Of course, none of those losses were as disheartening as the 118-84 thumping UK took from Duke Tuesday night. But as former UK All-American Rex Chapman noted, it’s only November.
Still, I got this note today from a friend I thought you might appreciate:
“I observe that the two exhibition games provide a valid glimpse at the way a team will play against D1 competition. When I mention this , I get the usual rebukes that those games mean nothing. This team did not perform like a championship caliber team in either of their exhibitions and Duke did. We saw the difference manifest in its full glory last night. I get it that Transy has a bit of an edge to play for against UK and that IUP is a quality program at their level of basketball, BUT a championship quality D1 team should have manhandled both of them, and this team did not.
“Last night was the most discouraged I have ever been as a fan in my 50 plus years following the Cats. One game does not a season make, blah, blah, blah, … so perhaps Coach Calipari can bring this team around. This group certainly showed us in August they can play very good basketball, which begs the questions: What has happened since August? How could Coach Calipari not have seen this coming?”
Great question. Of course, I think he did see it coming after the IUP game when he kind of casually mentioned the Duke game would “be a lot harder” than he originally thought. He was right because he had to see that UK could not defend big-time athletes.
Can he get it fixed? Hopefully but there is not a mega star on this team yet. Maybe there could be one, but there is not one yet and his best teams always have at least one .
So while an early loss doesn’t negate March Madness success, it takes more than just wishful thinking for that to happen.
“Point is, however, that early losses mean nothing unless you refuse to be humble and wake up,” Mills said.
Now we’ll see if you will wake up because being humble should be easy after Tuesday night.