Losing can be welcomed relief from hoops fatigueby J.W. Miller on 03/26/18
There’s one more week left in the NCAA tourney, but I likely won’t watch any more games. I suffer from college basketball fatigue. It comes this time most every year after your favorite team teases you with delusions of sugarplums and title trophies before dragging you back to reality with a performance that sends them home for another year. Kentucky fans – and maybe North Carolina fans, Virginia fans, Arizona fans, Duke fans, Gonzaga fans, and others - know what I’m talking about.
I don’t think even Kentucky's most enthusiastic fans expected the Wildcats to win it all this year – except maybe in my wildest fantasies while I was filling out my bracket. And, yes, my son beat me again in this year's bracket attrition competition. Kentucky fans have been skeptical most of the season with uneven performances that Coach John Calipari explains by reminding us that his team is “the youngest team ever in the NCAA.” How many times have we heard that “freshman sometimes forget what you’ve told them and they revert to the way they played in high school.” Those are direct quotes.
Do you know how many freshman will start among the final four teams in San Antonio this weekend to contest the national championship? Three, and none are projected as one-and-done NBA Draft targets. Bottom line, 24 of the top 25 teams ranked in 247 Sports' 2017 recruiting wars are all sitting at home today. Kansas, which ranked No. 9, will join No. 28 Villanova, No. 43 Michigan and, ye gods! unranked Loyola of Chicago. If any season ever confirmed the value of veteran teams, then the 2017-18 season surely made that point.
I hope the makeup of the Final Four teams encourages Calipari to recruit players who will stick around for at least two or three years. I also hope the two sophomores who played considerably this season - Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones - stay and are joined by a handful of current freshmen next season, like Jarred Vanderbilt, Quade Green, P.J. Washington and Nick Richards. Cal knows the value of veterans, like in 2012 when freshmen Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were ably supported by upperclassmen like Darius Miller, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb.
Forgive my expert opinion, but I've been in this basketball fatigue thing for a long time. My earliest memories of Kentucky basketball were listening to games on the radio with my grandmother Connor, who would not hesitate to turn off the game if it got too close. The suspense ate her up inside, and that was in the Fifties. This year, I often did the same thing in the modern context when I ignored a televised Kentucky game to watch NCIS. After all, Leroy Jethro Gibbs’ team is undefeated.
But after Kentucky lost four in a row in February, they won four in a row, and, after losing at Florida, swept the SEC tournament. Hope, which is a symptom of basketball fatigue, was restored! Excitement built to a fever pitch and the adrenaline flowed again. We were convinced our team, young though they be, actually had a chance to go all the way, a belief fueled when Arizona and Virginia were upset and Kentucky, the ranking seed remaining in the South Region, headed for the friendly confines of the city they call “Catlanta.” So they were a lock for the Final Four and our thoughts turned to a possible ninth national title.
And just as suddenly, a veteran Kansas State team clogged the middle, took advantage of turnovers, hit 40 percent of their 3-pointers and watched freshman P.J. Washington miss 12 free throws in a 61-58 victory. I don’t want to say I welcomed losing the game, but basketball fatigue is in remission for another year. I am a much calmer person. An evening cocktail with the Lovely Miss Jean is peaceful with light conversation about the children and what’s coming up this week. If I miss a two-foot putt, I do not blame John Calipari. My fatigue level dropped even further after Kansas beat Duke Sunday. Nyuk! Nyuk!
So our favorite sport is over for another year, and we are cursing the “one and done” rule, but we move on. A handful of our players will believe they are ready for the NBA draft and will bid us farewell. And now a Kentucky fan's favorite sport gives way to our second-favorite sport: Basketball recruiting for next season is in high gear.