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UK Basketball: It Takes More Than Talent To Win

EJ Montgomery (Wade Upchurch Photo)

By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer

It has been a bad week for Kentucky sports fans. First, on Saturday, the Kentucky football team lost an opportunity to win the SEC Eastern Division and play in the SEC Championship game opposite Alabama in what can only be described as a 34-17 physical domination of the Wildcats by the Georgia Bulldogs.

Then, in one of the most anticipated college basketball games of the year the preseason No. 1 and No. 4 teams, Kentucky and Duke, played each other in Indianapolis in the Champions Classic. Unfortunately for Kentucky fans the Wildcats didn’t live up to the “Champions” part of the Classic. They looked like anything but by losing to the Blue Devils in a beat down of biblical proportions 118-84.

Generally after any UK game I like to look at what worked well for the Cats and what didn’t. No need for that type of introspection for this game. Nothing, I repeat, nothing worked well for the basketball team on Tuesday night against Duke.

So instead of doing a detail analysis I thought it might be better to explain why I think nothing worked on Tuesday night.

Here goes.

There is an old story that is told about the Greek philosopher Socrates and one of his students. The student wanted to gain wisdom and knowledge. Socrates asked the student to follow him. They went down a small pathway to the sea. Socrates walked out into the water and the student followed until they were both chest deep in the water. Socrates then grabbed the student’s head and held it under the water until the student was about to blackout. He then let the student come up out of the water, gasping for air.

The student screamed at Socrates, “What are you trying to do, kill me?” Socrates calmly answered, “No I am trying to do for you what you asked — help you acquire wisdom and knowledge. For you see when you seek after wisdom and knowledge as strongly as you were seeking after a breath of air you shall have it.”

That’s exactly the position the UK players find themselves in. After a bang-up exhibition season in the Bahamas where they dominated several international professional teams they believed that the regular season games would be easy. Now — after an embarrassingly lopsided loss to Duke — they have found out that maybe it won’t be as easy as they thought.

In the game I watched I saw very few, if any, attempts to dive on the floor for loose balls, I saw a very unathletic looking 6-6 Duke player named Jack White repeatedly beat UK players on the boards and for loose balls.  All through sheer determination and effort. He wanted to win and was willing to do whatever it took to accomplish that. It was a game of desire and effort and very few of the UK players consistently showed either.

I did see a lot of one-on-one plays that probably worked well in high school but won’t work against the best college team in the country. They won’t even work against lesser caliber teams on UK’s schedule.

Just like the student in the Socrates story the Kentucky players need to desire to win the same way a drowning man desires to take another breath. Fighting, scratching, clawing to get a loose ball, grab a rebound or play man to man defense on the perimeter. Giving total effort for the entire 30 seconds of the shot clock on defense. No loafing around screens, no watching the ball and getting beat down the floor on the fast break and especially no standing straight up on defense so your opponent can beat you off the dribble. Anything less will be a disappointment for this team.

But the other key point from the Socrates story is that the student needed a teacher — Socrates himself. Someone who knew how to acquire wisdom and knowledge.

The Wildcats need the same thing. A coaching staff that can get the players to desire to win — and give them the tools to do it — the same way a drowning man desires air. Anything less from this coaching staff would also be a disappointment.



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  1. This coaching staff has grossly under-achieved since the Bahamas, and you have to wonder what they have been working on in practices. This team didn’t execute or perform to the level of an average high school team and Puke looked like an NBA team in all respects. We were led to believe that we had several Alpha dogs and good 3 pt shooters as well. We were told that our second year players would give us extra level of performance and leadership and that would make a difference. It made a difference all right as the three of them were relegated to obscurity while putting themselves on updated heart transplant lists. Perhaps, and maybe just as important, Calipari had earlier asked Stoops if he could borrow his “deer in headlights glasses”, and he wore them to perfection.

  2. It’s time to move on can’t dewell what happen Tuesday night. Cal has admitted that he was out coach also. I’m looking forward to tonight game and see what transpire. Go Cats!!!

  3. I pray that we see a different team tonight.
    Of course they’re not playing a top-tier team, so it’s going to be difficult to accurately assess any progress that’s been made since the beat-down.

    1. You can sure assess if you see hustle, desire, and a will to play in a way that upholds the tradition that comes with that name brand across your shirt that reads KENTUCKY. Sometimes I wonder if these kids today, these so called super stars, really understand that.

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