Caldwell: Wildcat fans live for March

Published 8:12 am Saturday, March 25, 2017

By the time you read this, the Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball team will have either won a thrilling rematch to move on to the Elite Eight or fallen a little short down the back stretch of another amazing season.

I’m writing this on Friday afternoon, so here is hoping that the night brought pure joy rather than crushing heartbreak.

That is part of what makes March Madness so exciting: the human interest storylines and the eternal hope that your team can make it all the way to the big dance. Remember, it is very difficult to make it to the top and 63 other teams are going to end their seasons disappointed.

Let’s all keep our fingers crossed that this is not the case for these young Cats who have truly grown as a team and represented the university and our entire state with character and class.

Although raised in Kentucky and always “bleeding blue,” this is the first time I have lived in the state during basketball season in nearly 15 years.

I have always worn my Wildcat allegiance proudly, although I have been surrounded by Buckeye fans, Hoosiers, Golden Domers and all kinds of Michiganders pulling for their schools. And although some of these fan bases may be able to rival the enthusiasm when it comes to football season, very few understood the passion that comes with being a part of Big Blue Nation.

It is almost unexplainable to those who are not from here. How else can you describe something that has such an impact on people from all walks of life, toddlers to senior citizens?

Part of this connection comes from the fact that Kentucky basketball is the 500-pound gorilla in the state — with all due respect to Louisville, Eastern, Morehead and others.

Kentucky is a basketball state and no one has the legacy of UK.

We don’t have a Major League Baseball team to root for in a playoff run to October. (A lot of us pull for the Cincinnati Reds but those dreams are usually crushed by, uh, May or so.)

We don’t have our own NFL team to pull for on Sundays.

The only time the NBA comes to town is for a preseason game that doesn’t mean anything to anyone other than it might give us a glimpse of a former Wildcat.

What we have is the “gold standard” of college basketball programs that has had some amazing players, tremendous coaches and has bounced its way into the fabric of college sports.

John Calipari has been a perfect fit for the program because he understands the passion and that UK hoops is bigger than just a game here. His predecessor Billy Gillispie couldn’t grasp that and thought it was enough to focus on the Xs and Os.

All the haters — of which there are many — point to lots of phantom arguments criticizing our coach and our program.

“Calipari is a cheater who has had two Final Four trips vacated.” He has never been implicated in any major rule violation and could not have reasonably known about these infractions.

“These kids don’t care about Kentucky because they are only here for a year.” If that’s the case, why do so many come back for charity events, school functions and just to support the program? They become part of the family in a short period of time.

“They aren’t really students. They are just pros that are not getting paid for a year.” These kids do attend classes and maintain solid grade point averages, all while learning the necessary skills of their trade. If they were computer programmers who could leave to make millions in Silicon Valley after one year no one would bat an eye.

For Kentuckians, UK basketball is special in different ways to every person.

Whether they won or lost last night, we still love our Cats and know that March is far more than just the start of spring here in the Bluegrass state.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Winchester Sun and Winchester Living magazine. He can be reached at (859) 759-0095 or by email at mike.caldwell@winchestersun.com.