There is no doubt excitement has been raised in Lexington with the hiring of Coach John Calipari. And you certainly will not hear Kentucky fans complain about the 30 wins or the SEC Championship. However, you will hear rumblings about porblems with "one and done's" as they have been come to be known: players who come for one year and then bounce for the NBA. Though UK fans are enjoying the wins, they seem somewhat disturbed by the fact that gone are the days of Chuck Hayes and Tony Delk--players who stay multiple years and live out being a Wildcat. Because there is nothing a UK fan loves more than tradition. Which is why, if you were to ask these fans, "what is the best moment in UK history?", they would bring up the banner seasons of '96 and '98, Spark's three at the buzzer and Chuck Hayes Senior day and so on and so on. But Coach Calipari has got it right: the best day in UK history was Thursday night--Draft Day.
This has caused a stir among the UK fan base. How can this possibly be the greatest moment in UK history? They are leaving UK! This can be answered quite simply--in the story of the Three Amigos: John, Eric and Demarcus.
John's story starts with his humble beginnings in Raleigh, North Carolina. Though not in poverty like some of his teammates, John's family was not exactly wealthy either. When John was 9 years old, his family took a trip to beach just before school started back up. On the beach that Saturday, John saw his father for the last time. He died the next morning. Growing up without a father was hard for John. He was cut from his sophomore basketball team and spent most of his days in depression. After his mother used basketball as a motivation, John snapped out of it. His poor attitude turned into a humble work ethic toward basketball and school that eventually led him to the University of Kentucky. He sat in the front row in classes and work hard in the classroom as well as the weight room. He was successful on the court as well as off. On Thursday night, he became the first Kentucky Wildcat to be drafted #1 overall in the NBA Draft. After signing a multi-million dollar shoe deal, John was able to do something special for his remaining parent--he bought her a house.
Eric's story is a bit different. He did not just start in humble beginnings--he did start off in poverty. Because his family did not have much money, he was not able to go to the best schools. With a poor education and often being beat up and bullied at school, Eric persevered and made it to high school. Even as a junior, Eric was lightly recruited. But he made up for it his senior year with hard work and garnered interest from Kentucky and Florida. In just one year, he had risen from a unknown prospect to the Top 30 prospects. He signed with Kentucky and began starting as a freshman. On Thursday, Eric was picked 18th overall. He will likely make more money with a signing bonus than his family has ever seen. Eric's kids will not have to worry about attending poor schools.
Demarcus' story is very similar to that of Eric's. Growing up in Mobile, Alabama, Demarcus struggled with weight issues as a child. He was often teased by his classmates and because of this and developed somewhat of an attitude problem. In High School he took that attitude problem to the floor and began to be disliked by many Alabama fans. Demarcus decided to find his new start up North, in Kentucky. Early on, he struggled with many of the attitude problems he had in high school--he yelled, screamed, instigated fights and talked back to the coach. But by mid-season, he had turned that fiery attitude into a will to win. By the end of the season, Demarcus had fallen in love with UK, and admitted it was much harder to leave than he had originally thought it would be. He even might of stayed had Coach Calipari not have kicked him out. On Thursday, Demarcus was drafted 5th overall--and will never have to worry about getting picked on again.
Three different stories of three different young men who have all made themselves millionaires. So often, success in college is defined by "A's" and "B's" and becoming a doctor or a lawyer, but maybe these three got something far more valuable than a degree. All came to UK with a past--all of which the average UK fan probably could not imagine. But all left having learned something more valuable than chemical reactions and mathematical formulas, but lessons about life that will help them succeed in their respective careers.
We are all making a mistake when we value national titles over Eric Bledsoe being able to support his family (and then some). We make a mistake when we value wins over John Wall overcoming the death of his father or Demarcus Cousins overcoming attitude problems. Draft day is a day for dreamers. Every kid who grows up with a basketball goal in the backyard pictures themselves walking up on that stage. Undoubtably, there are some who are not in need of the money who would rather have that national titles than the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Coach Calipari is going to win a title at UK and when he does, it is going to be a wonderful day and one of the best in UK's fine history. But surely none can be more rewarding that watching five of his players, five of his sons, walk out on that stage and fulfill their dreams.
When looking back at this season, this very special season, we should all remember that there are more important things than national titles. There are more important things than grades and yes...there are more important things than basketball.