By the time that you read this, #MarchMadness2014 will probably be over and a winner will be crowned. College basketball fans: How did you like it? Do you hear Pharrell Williams singing his ubiquitous song “Happy” playing in the background? If you are a UConn fan or a Kentucky fan, you probably do.
Unfortunately, your joy may be quite short lived. One team will cut down the nets in a state of utter euphoria after the game. The other team will bury their heads in towels to absorb a downpour of tears and to mask the looks of sheer frustration on their faces. Let’s consider a little history and the culture of the March Madness.
The 1992 Michigan Wolverines — affectionately dubbed the “Fab 5” — and the 2013 Kentucky Wildcats: Do you see the similarity between the teams? They are the only teams ever to start five freshmen in an NCAA Championship Game. That’s large…XXL!
In 1992, the notion of five freshmen starting in an NCAA Championship Game was unheard of…almost preposterous! Five freshmen (Webber/Rose/Jackson/King/Howard) outranked all the seasoned sophomores, juniors, and seniors already on the team who held their egos in check and who gave new meaning to the phrase “Team First.”
The Wildcat Five (Johnson/Randle/Young/Aaron/Andrew Harrison) faced no competition among their upper-class teammates, of which only two were seniors. Such is the state of Kentucky basketball these days. Coach John Calipari guarantees starting spots to blue-chip recruits…a highly questionable recruiting strategy. One and done—NBA here I come! The best high-school players want instant gratification and adoration and Coach Cal loves to bring athletes like that into his system.
In the 90s, the players wanted to be part of a team. Not now. Incoming freshmen come the team packed with attitude. Basketball did not change. You still need to run the pick and roll the way it’s been done for decades. [Side note: Thankfully the tight uniforms got jettisoned!]
For the record, John Calipari stated, “There is always next year when I have the top recruits once again coming for one year.” A lot of Calipari’s counterparts deem him to be a sleazy coach with no moral compass…especially when it comes to recruiting.
For those with short — or selective — memories, consider the time that Temple Owls Coach John Chaney and then U Mass coach Cal almost came to blows at a press conference after Chaney uttered the words, “I’m going to tell my kid, to kick yours kid’s butt,” as a result of the tactics used on the court by U Mass—a classic moment in intercollegiate athletics.
How many Kentucky Wildcats ever played in the NBA? More important: How many earned degrees from that storied institution.
Why don’t today’s players stay for four and graduate? The radical new culture in NCAA basketball comes down to “cream”—Cash Rules Everything Around Me. How soon can I get paid?
If the Kentucky Wildcats emerge victorious John Calipari will deposit a whopping $700,000 check in his bank account. If the Huskies cut down the nets Connecticut Head Coach Kevin Ollie receives a “measly” $166,000—but he’s only in his second year on the job so…The colleges themselves will receive over millions of dollars. The players get beautiful rings from the good folks at Jostens, but no “paper.”
The Fab Five never won an NCAA Championship, although they reached the finals twice in 1992 and 1993. They made a pact to stay another year to see if they could win it all and they stayed true to their words.
The Wild Five stand on the threshold of history: They can win with a starting five consisting of only freshmen. If they lose will the Wild Five put fame and fortune on hold for just one more year—like the Fab Five? Or — as seems more likely to be the case — will they pursue the pot of gold at the end of the NBA rainbow? Talk amongst yourselves!
Cross-posted from BK Nation h/t Kevin Powell