2014-15 was a historic ride for the Kentucky basketball program. Everything from the Bahamas to ‘Enough talking, let’s ball’ at Big Blue Madness to an undefeated regular season and SEC Tournament championship — practically everything up until the one of 38-1.
One of the season’s best highlights? The Wildcats’ absolute demolition of the Kansas Jayhawks in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis on November 18. 72-40, a 32-point butt-whooping in the top-five matchup on college basketball’s biggest and brightest stage. Kansas shot just 19.6% from the field and 20.0% from three, zero players in double figures. Suffocating defense while Kentucky saw ten players score baskets on the other end. Walk-ons E.J. Floreal, Tod Lanter, Brian Long and Sam Malone all played — Floreal even converted a free throw.
That was a fun night — for us, anyway. The Jayhawks hated pretty much every second of it.
A freshman wake-up call vs. Kentucky
Fast forward eight years, former Kansas standout Devonte’ Graham still remembers it like it was yesterday.
“Was the [Champions] Classic going on when you were there?” Theo Pinson asked Graham on his podcast, Run Your Race. “Who did y’all play?”
“My freshman year? Kentucky. Whooped. 30-ball,” Graham responded. “This was when they had the platoons, the platoon system. That was another, ‘Welcome to college’ [moment]. Hello. That was like our third game of the season, 30-ball. I think I dove for a ball, me and one of the (Harrison) twins hit each other. Boom. My whole shoulder, it wasn’t right. I couldn’t move no more.”
The pain wasn’t limited to his shoulder or the 32-point beatdown. It continued into the following day when head coach Bill Self called a practice strictly for punishment. No basketballs for game-planning, working on new actions or sets, throwing in new defenses or walkthroughs.
Only team sprints.
“We came to practice the next day. There were no basketballs. We lost by 30, had practice the next day. I couldn’t move my shoulder, though, so I didn’t have to run. Coach Self turned to me and was like ‘Why is he not on the line?’” Graham said.
‘Y’all are going to run until I get tired.’
The 6-foot-1 guard, now with the San Antonio Spurs, lucked out of sprints — his injured shoulder saved the day there. But you better believe Self included him in the post-Kentucky punishment one way or another.
“The trainer had to jump in and be like, ‘Coach, he can’t,'” Graham said. “He said, ‘Well put him on the bike.’ I was on the bike just pedaling, everybody is running, and he was like, ‘Y’all are going to run until I get tired.'”
Not until the players were tired of running and biking. Until Self got tired of watching them run and bike.
It happens, especially with that team.
Now time to ask UCLA players about their experiences following that matchup in the CBS Sports Classic.