Optimism regarding the 2009-2010 Kentucky basketball team could not be more abundant at the moment. People are throwing around “preseason No. 1″ about as frequently as John Calipari tweets.
Not to rain on the statewide parade, but frankly, that may be a little premature.
The ‘Cats will have as talented a team as any in America but will feature a roster that will be made up nearly 50 percent by newcomers (six of 13). The young Wildcats, as Coach Cal has been quick to remind us, may take their lumps early in the season, but if they can get their chemistry in order and effectively implement the dribble drive, they will be a force to be reckoned with.
Even so, there is good reason for the excitement among the UK fanbase, but I can think of another group of people who may be even giddier—ESPN.
Why, you say? ESPN just lucked into the most marketable commodity in the college game: the John Calipari-led Kentucky Wildcats.
In August of 2008, ESPN paid dearly for the right to broadcast SEC sports over the next 15 years (to the tune of some $2 billion). The crown jewel of the contract is obviously SEC football. SEC football is probably the biggest rating certainty in regular season sports this side of the NFL, and now ESPN will get its pick of the litter each weekend in the fall.
Almost an afterthought in the treasure trove of a deal was SEC basketball, especially given that this past season was the weakest in recent memory for the conference.
The one thing ESPN knew it would get out of SEC basketball is UK. UK is one of the elite programs in the game, and even when the team is not up to par and really is pretty terrible to watch, like they were last year, Big Blue Nation is still going to tune in.
However, with the way things have shaken out over the past two months, I’m pretty sure more than just Big Blue Nation will be watching as UK basketball takes over the Worldwide Leader.
Let’s just think about the product that UK is going to be running out on the floor 25-plus times on ESPN.
Even before Billy Gillispie got the boot, UK was going to feature two of the more high-profile players in the nation next year in Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson, assuming they returned to school.
Meeks became a fixture in living rooms nationwide with his season-long scoring explosion, highlighted by his 54-point outburst in Knoxville. (By the way, I just got a Witness shirt for my birthday last week.) Patterson has familiarized himself with college basketball fans over the past two years with his remarkably consistent play.
Needless to say, now Meeks and Patterson will not be the only thing people will watch when UK basketball is on.
John Calipari was already a media darling, even though he had never coached at a BCS school—which is quite an accomplishment in itself.
He’s always available, quick-witted, and loves promoting himself and his program. He’s a sideline reporter’s dream. Calipari has now walked into a situation where he will quickly ascend to the level of the highest profile coaches in the land; Coach K, Rick Pitino, and Roy Williams are about the only three that I think fall in this category.
It’s very difficult for a college coach to become a truly national figure, but Coach Cal will have no trouble pulling that off.
So, that covers established, experienced talent and a face of the program-type coach. What else could you add to the mix to create a perfect storm for the ESPN hype machine?
Answer: the recruiting class John Calipari has put together over the past 39 days.
UK was already going to enjoy an infusion of dynamic young talent with the arrival of the top recruiting class in the land, comprised of DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Daniel Orton, Jon Hood, and Darnell Dodson.
Then John Wall happened.
John Wall is arguably the most high-profile high school senior since LeBron James. His commitment to UK today was such big news that it even stole headlines from Michael Vick’s pending release from prison and the insufferable Brett Favre.
The drama surrounding his recruitment alone would be enough to make him known, but his talent may even outpace his hype.
He could jump to the NBA right now and be the best athlete at the point guard position in the league. I know that sounds like hyperbole, but I really believe it.
Wall possesses that "wow" factor that so few do. His blend of speed, leaping ability, and violent quickness is going to allow him to make plays that will stop opposing players in their tracks and create that gasping sound in the crowd that is reserved for guys who are usually known by only first names or nicknames (think LeBron or D-Wade).
Combine the fact that guards dominate the college game with the talent demonstrated in the below video, and I have a hunch that John Wall might be famous come March.
So, let’s recap. Well-known veterans, check. Superstar coach, check. Ridiculous incoming talent headlined by a once in a generation type athlete, check.
Vince Doria and ESPN, contain yourselves.
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