Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Coach Cal Looking For That Big Blue Swagger
Even though I moved away from Kentucky more than 10 years ago, I have never left my commonwealth roots. Whether I was living in Memphis or here in LA, I have always been a Kentucky boy at heart, and it's a heritage I display quite proudly, as my framed Kentucky Colonel certificate will attest.
From MLB players to NBA coaches, if people know one thing about Michael Eaves, it's that he was born and raised in Kentucky and is a proud UK grad.
With that background comes a bit of a responsibility however, especially on the West Coast. There just aren't that many Kentucky natives running around Southern California, so thus I become a spokesman for all things Kentucky, particularly UK sports, which can be both good and bad.
For example, when the Cats were dying a slow, agonizing death during the ill-fated Billy Gillispie era, I was fielding constant questions and jokes about how Billy G was killing the program. I often agreed with all the criticisms, but it was harder for me to laugh. My Big Blue blood wouldn't allow it. I found the situation more sad than funny.
Thank God, that mess is over. But I digress.
The flip side to this dynamic is that when things are going well at UK, life is grand. When the Cats are winning games and climbing up the rankings, I'm the one who gets to crack on other people's programs. I relish those moments.
And right now, there's no better time to be a UK grad, because the Cats are the talk of the college basketball world. Even in the land of UCLA, people are talking about UK Basketball, and not KU, even though the top-ranked Jayhawks are the favorites to cut down the nets.
I can't tell you how many times I've had a PAC-10 coach or NBA GM ask me about what John Calipari is doing at Kentucky. They want to know if the Cats are really going to be as good as everyone is saying. My go-to answer of late has been, "I hope they are even better!"
Call me greedy, but I am fully hoping for the program's 14th berth to the Final Four, which would be its first trip to the NCAA Tournament's final weekend since 1998. But you notice I used the word "hope" and not "expect." Hope is safe. Expectations will get your feelings hurt.
It's a reality that Coach Cal obviously realizes, but he also understands that things are just different at Kentucky.
"(Players) are held to a higher standard than other players across the country, and so am I as a coach," Calipari said. "You are held to a different standard. That is the privilege of being here."
Now, as I said around the time Kentucky hired Calipari, I'm not sure if he's the long-term answer at UK because I don't know what his ultimate coaching goals are. But there is one thing I am absolutely certain of: John Calipari is the right man for the job right now because he knows exactly what the program needs as this very moment.
"This Kentucky program always had a swagger," Calipari said. "People saw it. The players knew it. It had a swagger about itself. The other team knew it, the officials knew it, everybody knew it. You walked in and there it was. We've just got to get that swagger back."
And in a very short amount of time, that's exactly what Calipari has done. He's given UK it's swagger back, and thus mine too--West Coast Style!