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I'm finally back in Nashville after a long day of traveling and a whirlwind month on the road. I don't think I'm alone when I say that Tuesday was a rough day for the Big Blue Nation, and like Cal, I woke up sadder than I was Monday night
. Since then, I feel as though I've gone through each of the stages of grief, starting with flat out denial in the closing minutes of the game. Was it really happening? Was the magical run actually over? Were we really losing to UConn? From there, I moved to anger, mostly projected on Rex Chapman for that ill-timed tweet Monday night, then to bargaining. If only we had shot our free throws...if only Willie had been able to play...if if if.
As we sat in the Dallas airport waiting for our flight, I watched the pictures and tweets roll in as the team made their way from Bluegrass Airport to Rupp Arena, and the depression truly set in. Seeing fans line the streets to greet the players was emotional enough, and when the bus stopped at Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital so the players could say hello to the patients lined up on the sidewalk, I'll admit, I lost it a little bit.
It's easy to be a fan when you're winning. What makes you a true fan is being there when they lose. The Big Blue Nation is special for that reason. Today is tough not only because we lost, but because we know we won't see this team together again. Of course, Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson will be gone, and many others will likely follow. It's especially cruel because they only just started to play as a team in the past month. In that month, they've been one of the most exciting teams I've ever had the pleasure of watching. Calipari has said time and time again that he wants more time with this group. As I saw the love flowing between the BBN and the players this afternoon, I couldn't help but long for the same thing.
While the BBN gets a lot of flack nationally for being overly critical and hysterical (some of which is warranted), moments like these are a reminder of why we're the best fan base in the world.
After a few days of reflection, I imagine I'll move on to acceptance. Until then, think of this as group therapy.
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Photo by Britney Howard | UK Athletics[/caption]
Another banner is raised
Listening to Oscar Combs and Neil Price anchor the Rupp Arena season celebration was a therapy all of its own. Although the crowd was much smaller than if they had won, you can tell Calipari and the fans were touched by the warm reception. Cal looked absolutely exhausted as he addressed the crowd, using notes for once he was so tired. You could hear the sadness in his voice, and see it on the players' faces. Even though their postseason run was improbable, the loss still hurts. "It was a disappointment, but in other ways, this was a huge accomplishment," Cal said. Jon Hood, always the ambassador, came forward to speak to the crowd on behalf of the team, and in an awesome moment of lightness, a fan yelled out "One more year!" which made everyone laugh. It's hard to believe that Hood's been with this team as long as Cal has, and it seemed appropriate that he used one of Cal's catchphrases to describe the reception today: "I know coach says it a lot, but y'all are seriously crazy."
The ceremony may not have had the pomp and circumstance of a championship celebration, but it was still emotional, an essential part of moving on. Today, more than ever, I'm grateful to be a part of this.
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Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics[/caption]
And now, we wait
The early entry deadline for the NBA Draft is April 28. Until then, get ready for two and a half weeks of "will they or won't they." As of now, here's where I believe each player stands in regards to the draft, in the order of most likely to leave to least likely:
: Randle is UK's best pro prospect, a projected top 5 pick, and therefore the most likely to leave. He'd be silly not to.
: On Tuesday, Adam Zagoria cited an NBA executive that said Young would go 15-22 in the draft, maybe even higher if he performs well in workouts. Young's dunk on Monday showed us why keeps getting favorable projections. His potential is staggering, even if it needs a bit of fine tuning.
: Willie is a bit of a wildcard. After the game, he said he would "definitely" consider coming back in order to finally get that National Championship he's coveted, but comments made in the heat of the moment shouldn't be taken seriously. I have no doubt Willie is being honest when he says he feels a void without a title, but he's improved his game a lot, and is one of the most athletic big men in the draft. It wouldn't shock me if Willie returns, but after reviewing the facts, I think he'll go.
The Harrison Twins
: I thought about listing these two separately, but I can't see one going to the league without the other. Both improved their draft stock in the Tournament, but are still considered late first rounders/second rounders by most projections. With another year at Kentucky, I think they could improve their stock immensely, but it's all about whether or not they want to risk being drafted in the second round. First round is great, but second round means you don't have a guaranteed contract, and in most cases, end up in the D-League. Their father has made it clear that the NBA doesn't have to be a priority, but right now, they're riding a wave of good publicity. Considering their unique situation, I'd say they're a toss-up.
: Poythress had some big games in the tournament, and at times, we saw just how explosive he can be. One more year in Cal's system could bring him out of his shell even further and give him time to get his degree. Never say never, but Alex has one of the strongest cases for staying.
: At some point this weekend, I think Dakari slipped up and said his plan all along was to be in school two years. With another year, he could develop into a powerhouse big man. I think he stays.
: He was one of the darlings of the tournament, and with another year to put some muscle on that frame, could be an absolute star. Lee loves college, and needs another year.
Only 19 more days of this! Aren't you excited?
Rex Chapman will be on the show tomorrow
It takes a lot to steal the spotlight away from the National Championship game, but on Monday night, Rex Chapman managed to do it with his tweet about Cal and the Lakers. On Tuesday, Chapman backed off that tweet a little bit, telling the Dan Patrick Show he believes Cal will stay at Kentucky. On Wednesday, he'll come on the radio show to discuss it with Matt. Sounds like must-listen radio to me.
See you then.