Kentucky Loss Good for the Game, Good for the Soul, Good for the Players

Stephen Arch

Posted:  April 5, 2015

With deepest respect to the late Hall of Fame Pirate's Baseball broadcaster Bob Prince and his theory he called "HIDDEN VIGORISH" and is applicable to both the 2015 Kentucky Wildcats and sports in general.  "The Gunner" coined the term "hidden vigorish" to mean that the more you lost, the closer you came to winning, and, conversely, the more you won, the closer you came to losing.  Thanks for the inspiration Bob. Sorry Kentucky.  In this day and age of sports, it's so darn hard to win every game (and not that you didn't try your hardest).  Hats off to Coach John Calipari and the entire Kentucky team.  Just learn from the loss, grow, and move on.


Kentucky's recent loss in the 2015 Final Four semi-final game played in Indianapolis is nothing about which to gloat, except of course if you are a Wisconsin fan or a Kentucky hater.  

  2014-2015 Kentucky Wildcat basketball team

2014-2015 Kentucky Wildcat basketball team

My heart does go out to John Calapari.  He is doing nothing different than other great legends have done before him - John Wooden gathering the best and the strongest basketball players, Mike Krzyzeski and his ability to lure the great players of our era, Dean Smith's 879 victories, 11 final fours, and two national championships with players such as Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Brad Doherty, et. al., University of Houston's Phi Slamma Jamma and the 1990 Jerry Tarkanian led Runnin' Rebels unbelievable collection of basketball stars, and finally, not to leave out the FAB FIVE, University or Michigan and Steve Fisher's collection of THE MOST TALENTED group of freshman basketball players ever assembled on a basketball court (editor's note: not that my opinion counts, but I strongly feel that this year's Kentucky team would not stand a chance against that group of Michigan athletes).

  University of Michigan's Fab Five:  Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, and Ray Jackson

University of Michigan's Fab Five:  Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, and Ray Jackson

Please, just my humble opinion. I certainly don't want to get into the 2,000 argument from this past weekend as to who had the better team.  I just feel that the non-nonsense, in your face, take no prisoners, beat up on the opposition style of the Fab Five would have had a huge effect on the Kentucky team.  Plus, I really don't believe that Webber and Howard would allow 7 footers to get near the rim without doing some real damage to Kentucky players psyche.

I also feel strongly that Kentucky played a group of seasoned college basketball veterans. Players such as Senior Frank Kaminsky, NCAA Division One Player of the Year who started only one game as a Freshman and one game as a Sophomore considered transferring out of Wisconsin because he felt his dream of playing big time college basketball was waning.

  U. of Wisconsin Senior Center Frank Kaminsky

U. of Wisconsin Senior Center Frank Kaminsky

After receiving excellent advice from his high school coach father and college coach Bo Ryan, he worked harder and harder - taking his dad's advice "if there is someone ahead of you and you want his job, work hard enough and take it from him."

Great advice.  Especially great advice for the Kaminsky family and the Wisconsin fans.

Which 2015 Kentucky player had that luxury - the luxury of really having to work so hard that he had to win a position on the basketball court - ever?  Can't blame these kids for being who they are.  We're talking about kids who were being recruited in 8th, 9th, and 10th grade for Goodness sake.  

  Webber calling timeout at end of Michigan/North Carolina Game. NO CHRIS.  NO TIMEOUTS LEFT.  THAT'S A TECHNICAL FOUL.  YOU LOST THE GAME FOR MICHIGAN

Webber calling timeout at end of Michigan/North Carolina Game. NO CHRIS.  NO TIMEOUTS LEFT.  THAT'S A TECHNICAL FOUL.  YOU LOST THE GAME FOR MICHIGAN

I make my point using "championship game goat" Chris Webber (in 1993's loss to North Carolina who inadvertently did a "kid" thing and called a timeout when Michigan had no more timeouts left - giving Michigan a technical foul and North Carolina the championship).  This group of athletes and their silly antics were highlighted the past year on ESPN's 30 for 30.  This group of vulgarity spewing, chair throwing, camera pushing, uniform ripping off youngsters could not and did not handle fame as well as they should have. They decided to be the "bad guys" because not only were they receiving death threat letters from Michigan fans (true), but had to live up to all of the hype brought on not only by the Michigan fans, but by fans all over the nation.

Similar to Saturday night, when "some" of Kentucky's star players walked off the court without shaking hands with the Wisconsin victors - kind of an immature thing to do.  Similar to the videos of the Fab Five videos when they lost games (videos of them throwing chairs and screaming vulgarities in the hallway after losses).  Again, very immature way to act.

And please don't forget Georgetown's Freddie Brown in the final seconds of the game, dribbling up court, stopping, looking for a teammate, and then passing the ball right to James Worthy.  Although Worthy was fouled and missed the foul shots, Brown was inconsolable crying in huge John Thompson's gigantic hug when the game ended.

The point of this article is not to demean any young player who has just lost a dream.  The same is true when the cameras trained in on TJ McConnell crying after Arizona's loss to Wisconsin.  Being a young person, naturally, he was hurting deeply because he wanted to win. We all want to win.  And when you are a young person with hundreds of cameras showing millions of viewers, every act is instantly captured for all time.

Back to Kentucky.  We know the 2105 Kentucky team was young, even though most of them will sign multi-million dollar pro basketball contracts soon. However, if you really look at their average age - 19.4 years of age.  Imagine?  What were you doing when you were 19 years old? In a recent YAHOO poll, the "best answer" chosen was the following:

"I'm still young like that to and often feel like I'm lost and wonder what will become of me.  I know it's a good thing to think about my future and what my life holds in the next few years, but I tend to not really think about that kind of stuff because it's disturbing to me.  It makes me uncomfortable to realize that I might not turn out the way I had planned all these years....College would obviously be a good thing to be considering as far as educational benefits are concerned, that is if I can afford it.  And if you can't get into a technical school is not a bad alternative?  Also, looking for a home where you can live on your own is a good thing to consider and also the possibility of getting a job, etc.... Just the basic everyday kind of crap that the average person needs and eventually apply to their lives."  (Michael).

Pretty common answer - 19 year olds worrying about the future.  That's what we did; that's what they do. Now, look at that quote and then think of the 2015 Kentucky team.  "What should I do with the rest of my life - when hundreds of thousands of basketball fans expect me to win every game I play, make every shot, play defense to the best of my ability, and half the country hoping I fail."  Sounds pretty daunting to me.

After the public debacle calling the timeout and losing the game to North Carolina, Michigan's Webber was bitter, wanting nothing more to do with college basketball, and petitioned to go to the professional ranks, as did his teammates.  I remember watching the ESPN special showing the Fab Five walking by sporting good stores and seeing their own replica jerseys selling for $50 and them receiving nothing for bringing so much excitement to the basketball world. They couldn't even afford a pizza at the time, young inner-city kids, yes, getting their education paid for, but the University of Michigan making money off their successes.  Webber was also much maligned, but he was an extremely talented and impressive basketball player.  Age would make him a better person, at least in the eyes of sports' fans.

Imagine seeing, all these years later, a mature, well-spoken (seemingly content, no longer angry) Chris Webber on national television doing color commentary (on CBS, mind you) for regional NCAA tournament games, taking the place of the likes of Grant Hill, Reggie Miller, and Steve Lappas.  This wasn't the same much maligned Chris Webber I remembered. He is polished and knows the game extremely well.  Time has served Mr. Webber well, as I had hoped.  As I hope it serves all of those players of whom much is expected.  He seemed this year extremely comfortable with himself, and confident. So it will go with the Kentucky youngsters. 

That's the true growth of the man, the myth, the one time young basketball player carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Imagine being the object of ridicule - I remember as if it were yesterday - "that idiot Webber!  What in the world did he call that time out for?  They were winning?  All they had to do was hold the ball - no timeouts left - and this stupid player calls a timeout!"  This went on for years.  Again, thankfully, Webber has grown and is now remembered for his stellar NBA career and respected for being able to learn from his mistakes and not run and hide (and be bitter) for the rest of his life. And you know he must still feel the pain of that night.  He has to feel it.  It can't be something one forgets.

And so it goes for the Kentucky Wildcats. Yes, some did leave the court not shaking hands with Wisconsin, but what can we expect.  Perfection from teenagers who have the entire KENTUCKY NATION screaming 40-0 and the rest of the basketball world screaming 38-1.  What 30 year old could handle this let along a 19 year old?  Just the look on Calipari's face said it all.  Not, "dang, we lost."  It was more like "how do I deal with this broken kids?  What do I tell them?  What do I do to make sure they can both remember and 'forget' this terrible moment?"

They will both remember and forget this moment. Their NBA careers are set.  None of the 2015 Kentucky Wildcat players will ever experience attempting to have an undefeated season again. These things just don't happen, particularly in the NBA. But they will learn from this loss, just as we all learn from losses, from failures. We use the motivation to get stronger, to grow, to become adults.  

Remember the anger and use it against their next opponents, whoever they might be.  Rise out of these ashes and learn, 19 year olds, to lose, and even more special, to lose gracefully and to win gracefully.  That's the key.

And, if you happened Saturday night to watch the Kentucky Stream (using Kentucky announcers), one former Wildcat Rex Chapman, now broadcaster Rex Chapman, scolding the Kentucky players for not being men and shaking Wisconsin players' hands.  Is this the same Rex Chapman who courageously, as an adult, recovered from drug and alcohol addiction to be accepted back into the Kentucky faithful's loving arms?

  High-flyer Rex Chapman 1988 Kentucky Wildcat lost to Villanova in 1988 Sweet Sixteen round

High-flyer Rex Chapman 1988 Kentucky Wildcat lost to Villanova in 1988 Sweet Sixteen round

Wrapping up this narrative, I remember during the 1984 NBA championships - classic Celtics/Lakers battle.  The Celtics were going down in the series, and Larry Bird, the consummate "winner," was so angry that the Celtics were going to lose that he called his teammates soft and "sissies."  Publically.  Can you imagine anyone calling Kevin McHale, Dennis Johnson, Danny Ainge, Cedric Maxwell, and Robert Parrish "sissies."  Cedric Maxwell was interviewed afterwards and said he was sitting right next to Bird when he said it.  He just looked at Bird and couldn't figure this Indiana State guy out, but he took the challenge, and, as history has it, the Celtics won the NBA championship in seven games.  

  Larry Bird phenom in NBA after losing to MSU in 1979 NCAA finals

Larry Bird phenom in NBA after losing to MSU in 1979 NCAA finals

To those players who are too young to really understand. You have to grow up, and please, guys, you don't have to grow up right way. You'll have years of growing up ahead of you, and then years and years of being old enough to understand.  

Bird finally got his win against Magic when it mattered most.  

Here's hoping the Kentucky basketball team and all of the teams who missed out on the national championship keep this loss in their memories and become the consummate professionals in the NBA and professionals in life after their basketball skills start to fade. They will indeed make a difference.  Heck, a kid who signs an NBA contract at 19 could be in the NBA winning (and losing) games for quite some time making quite a bit of money.  BTW:  Juwan Howard from the Michigan Fab Five:  22 years in the NBA.  Now that's a lot of years, and, that's a lot of money.