Kentucky Basketball: Reflecting on Championship No. 8
Less than a week ago, the University of Kentucky forever altered the college basketball landscape by bringing home its eighth national title with a starting lineup filled exclusively with NBA-bound underclassmen.
At least, that's what some people will lead you to believe.
Critics will tell you that John Calipari and Co. blurred the lines of amateurism and destroyed the allure of college basketball's parity by running through the NCAA tournament seemingly unscathed.
Keep in mind, though, that most of these critics were the same naysayers who earlier in the year championed the belief that a team relying heavily on "one-and-dones" could never win a national championship.
In truth, this belief was more of a hope by so-called "basketball purists," who believe that Calipari's recruiting prowess and NBA player production has somehow tainted the sport.
From afar, this belief would appear to be fairly ludicrous. Even a casual sports fan could tell you that assembling the most talented team in any sport is a fairly logical route to take when pursuing a championship.
Now admittedly, college basketball is a bit different from most sports due mainly to its tournament structure. Winning six consecutive games in little over two weeks is no easy task. In fact, many would argue that winning a national championship is often a consequence of luck or happenstance—perhaps even more so than talent or team chemistry.
Nevertheless, Calipari has never wavered in his conviction that amassing the best players in the country would eventually pay off with an ever-allusive national title.
And despite the opinions of misanthropists, this accomplishment should not be diminished simply because of the high expectations placed on the team due to its heightened level of talent.
Talent alone is not enough to win a national championship, especially in college basketball. Kentucky fans know this all too well after the disappointment of the Wildcats' loss in the Elite Eight in 2010, despite having five NBA first-rounders on the roster.
That 2010 roster was every bit as talented as this year's squad, but they never truly blossomed into a great team. For whatever reason, the pieces to the puzzle never completely fit.
To the contrary, last year's roster had roles that were more clearly defined, which led them to become a more complete team by season's end, and they were rewarded with a trip to the Final Four. Yet, they were still viewed as overachievers and never seemingly had quite enough talent to win it all.
That's what makes this year's team so special. Not only was the roster immensely talented, but each player's role was also clearly defined. Furthermore, each player appeared to fully accept the role they were thrust into. While any player in Kentucky's top seven could have been "the guy" on another team, they were all willing to sacrifice some degree of personal glory by putting the team's needs above their own personal accomplishments.
Could Anthony Davis' skill set have allowed him to step outside more often and become more of a scorer? Absolutely—but that's not what the team needed him to do in order to succeed. And Davis was fine with that. So was Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Same for Marquis Teague.
Simply put, this year's team had an undeniable will to win, the likes of which hasn't been seen since Kentucky's 1996 squad, which stormed through the NCAA tournament field on the way to a final record of 34-2.
This year's team also concluded the season with just two losses, each of which appeared to only fan the flames of determination as Kentucky proceeded to incinerate its remaining opponents.
In fact, the last team to finish the season with two losses or less was that 1996 Kentucky squad. This year's team became only the fifth in the past 30 years to lose less than three games en route to a national championship.
They dominated in large part because of their remarkable balance. Six players on Kentucky's roster averaged double figures in scoring throughout the course of the NCAA tournament, which is almost unheard of.
If one player were to have a bad night, there were five other guys fully capable of picking up the slack, and that's not even including Kyle Wiltjer, who may have just been the team's best perimeter shooter.
So kudos to Coach Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats for not only dispelling the absurd myth that a team comprised of underclassmen could never win a national title, but also dominating the sport in a way that hasn't been seen since the mid-90s, and doing it in true team fashion.
For all things Kentucky Basketball news and analysis, follow me on Twitter @KYHoopsBuzz.
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