Kentucky Proves “Won and Done” Works

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From the Wall Street Journal…

It’s a testament to the relentlessness, toughness and talent of the Kansas Jayhawks that, for much of the second half of Monday night’s NCAA national championship game and for perhaps the first time all season, it did not at all feel inevitable that the Kentucky Wildcats would wind up hoisting a championship trophy, and eventually raise an eighth banner into the rafters of Rupp Arena. And it’s a testament to the ‘Cats not only that they held off the Jayhawks by the score of 67-59, but shrugged off heavy expectations to make the inevitable inexorable. These Wildcats were just that good, and perhaps even better than anyone/everyone figured them to be.

“After a season in which this young team that started three freshmen and two sophomores was debated and discussed because of its youth (and because at least two of those freshmen are expected to be NBA draft lottery picks), there can be no discussion about this,” the Louisville Courier-Journal’s Eric Crawford writes. “The Wildcats were the best team all season, they were the best team in the NCAA Tournament and they played like the best team in the nation on the sport’s biggest stage Monday night.”

All true, and yet only part of why this particular national champion seems destined for a broader significance. It’s not just that the Wildcats were great enough to be remembered for a long time—though they clearly are that great, in ways both obvious and less so. Kentucky and coach John Calipari couldn’t have won a title without superstar freshmen Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and national player of the year Anthony Davis. But there was also the sense that Calipari—who recruits and relies on high-wattage, one-year wonders like Kidd-Gilchrist and Davis (and, on teams past, Derrick Rose, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and so on)—couldn’t win a title with a team built around that sort of just-passing-through pro prospect. Not because of who these players are—Davis you know about, and Kidd-Gilchrist is great in his own uniquely understated way—but because it was long believed that winning a title with a team of one-and-done talents couldn’t be done.

“Their perpetually defensive coach and his kids had something to prove: that they weren’t just a band of youngsters who won on sheer talent, but a team that defended, that shared the ball, that subsumed seven NBA-bound egos into a hyper-efficient, attacking, unselfish monster of a champion,” Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn writes. “There has never been a champ like Kentucky in 2012. What they proved was that the stockpiling one-and-dones model, once thought to be a folly, can actually work.” In so doing, Kentucky made it clear that they should contend for another national title next year, even after Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist, as expected, are selected early in the NBA draft.

“Calipari is destroying the conventional wisdom that you can’t build a ‘program’ with players who leave campus after just a few months,” Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel writes. “It may not be your traditional definition of a program, but it is at least a ‘system’ that showcases talent, prepares them not just to be drafted but to succeed in the NBA and, now with this trophy as proof, win championships.”

Kansas, which played so valiantly, will face the tough task of trying to make it back to the big dance without star forward Thomas Robinson, who is expected to make his way to the NBA as well. More than that, though, they’ll face the same daunting reality that every other NCAA team faces next year—that men’s college basketball may belong to John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats for much more than Monday’s one shining moment.

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