Dec. 6, 2005
In Kentucky, basketball is a way of life. Just like horse racing and bourbon, it is big-time! People eat, drink and sleep their hoops, and some of the most passionate fans in the sport are hanging out in Lexington.
I love going to Rupp Arena because of the enthusiasm of the Kentucky fans, but sometimes they get carried away. In 2002-03, Kentucky was pummeled by Louisville 81-63, leaving the Wildcats at 6-3. The next day, my buddy Rick Bozich of the Louisville Courier-Journal told me there were fans screaming in the talk shows, ripping Kentucky.
All the Wildcats did was regroup under coach Tubby Smith to go 26-1 in their next 27 games. A loss to Marquette in the Elite Eight, thanks to a fabulous performance by Dwyane Wade, kept them from the Final Four.
OK, I can hear some fans complaining already this season after Kentucky was upset at home 83-79 by a young North Carolina squad in Saturday's nationally televised contest. When I recently ate at my favorite breakfast place, The Broken Egg in Siesta Key, Fla., two Wildcats fans came up to me and asked what was going on with Kentucky.
Come on, are you serious? The Cats lost a basketball game to a school with a rich tradition and a top-notch coach -- hey, the Tar Heels won the national championship last season
that is not a Cupcake City opponent, baby! North Carolina came in and played brilliantly, hitting 10 trifectas and getting solid performances from veterans Reyshawn Terry and David Noel.
It's amazing when Kentucky loses a game and the fans go wacky, thinking the Wildcats have to be perfect. Do they think nobody else gets players? My friends, all over America, schools get good players.
Look at the Bucknells and Gonzagas of the world. Check out Northwestern State (La.) and Gardner-Webb, colleges that have gone on the road to pull upsets already this season; Northwestern State defeated both Oklahoma State and Mississippi State, while Gardner-Webb topped Minnesota (and also lost to North Carolina by just three points in the season opener for both teams).
If you don't think these smaller schools can play, you're kidding yourself.
And to believe Carolina will ever be short on talent, you're kidding yourself. Coach Roy Williams is a marvelous recruiter, and UNC's party will get even better next season.
It is time for Kentucky's fans to sit back and understand this is December, a time to find the right pieces of the puzzle. It is time to develop your rotations and find out which players will be factors come conference time.
When all is said and done, Tubby Smith, one of America's elite coaches, will have his club clawing and winning, playing Kentucky basketball.
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.