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Christensen: The Wave of the Future?


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By Todd Christensen, The Mtn. Insider
April 4, 2012

Outside of Big Blue Nation, as the Lexington faithful like to be called, there wasn’t much celebrating going on.  At the beginning of the NCAA Tournament, they were the odds-on favorite and many believed that they were indeed the most talented group in the tourney.  That turned out to be the case, as the Wildcats were not really challenged en route to a final 67-59 victory over Kansas in a game that was not as close as the score indicated.  

March Madness seems to be predicated upon the Cinderella Story, but in this tournament there were few surprises least of which with the champion.

There has always some arrogance that permeated from Kentucky basketball dating back to The Baron, Adolph Rupp.  With the most wins in NCAA history on the hard court, not to mention the second most titles in history with eight (UCLA has 11), the Wildcats certainly have the skins on the wall.  But whether it is jealousy or a real conceit, the reality is that the Bluegrass natives are hard to like.

One definitive reason now is the approach that their head coach, John Calipari, has taken with his players.  He has made it a point to be unafraid of the so-called ‘one-and-done’ player, referencing that player who will play only one season before matriculating to the NBA.  The result has been a plethora of talent, but since he had yet to win a title, no one seemed overly concerned. The conventional wisdom was that while he had terrific athletes, they were too young and too selfish to gel into a cohesive unit that would go all the way to a championship.

But in the best coaching job of Calipari's coaching career, he did just that.  Now, the question has to be asked as to whether this is an aberration or something that other coaches need to embrace to be successful.  One thing that the lay fan may not know about basketball at the grass roots level is that while the majority of the Kentucky success came from freshman and sophomores, they were hardly bereft of playing experience.  With recruiting web sites rampant across the nation - and some that rate players as young as the 5th grade - once a player is deemed a blue-chipper he is off to all sorts of special leagues and traveling teams where he can play against the best players, receive the best instruction, and experience a variety of locales nationwide before some can even drive!  

The result is that in many cases these young people are savvy about basketball before their years, in some cases having played as many as 500 organized basketball games by the time they get to campus.

Give Calipari and his team credit for understanding that not everyone has to score 20 points a game to be a star and contribute to success.  And with the success of Kentucky, there will be more and more young people that see the success of the Wildcats as a template for gaining a title.  

It would appear that the paradigm in college basketball might have shifted.

See all of Todd Christensen's blog entries HERE.
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