John Wall is one cool Cat (photo credit Dr. Michael Huang)
(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – John Wall forever changed the perception of Kentucky Basketball. When he, DeMarcus Cousins, and Eric Bledsoe signed on to play for the Wildcats in 2009, Kentucky suddenly became the team to cheer for. Prior to that, the program with the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball was just that—traditional, old school, and bit on the stodgy side. That all changed when John Wall did the John Wall Dance at Big Blue Madness on Friday, October 16, 2009. Kentucky flipped the script and instantly became the cool school.
When I first heard that Chris Livingston had officially committed to Kentucky, my knee-jerk reaction was that Kentucky was cool again. Surely the addition of Livingston—the 6-foot-6 wing player long regarded as one of the top-5 players in the 2022 recruiting class—would vault the Wildcats back to the top of the college basketball food chain.
After all, Calipari and crew had already landed Shaedon Sharpe, the No. 1-rated player in the land. Five-star point guard Skyy Clark was also locked and loaded, with several other high school studs still waiting in the wings to jump on the championship bandwagon. Combined with the plethora of potential returning experience, Kentucky fans have a right to be totally reenergized.
But does this recent recruiting coup signify a return to the glory days of the early Calipari years?
I hope so…but plenty of indications remain for reasonable doubt. First and foremost, it’s a completely new era than it was a dozen years ago. NIL, the NBA G-league, and overseas expansion all compete with college bluebloods for the latest and greatest in basketball talent. Who knows if any of these prodigies are really as good as advertised? Which of these “can’t miss” prospects will ultimately miss and flop?
For every John Wall, Anthony Davis, and Karl-Anthony Towns, there’s an Alex Poythress, Skal Labissiere, or Brandon Boston waiting to ruin your party. Seasoned Cat fans know that it’s best to temper your enthusiasm until you see how the team comes together. Unrealistic expectations, character flaws, and injuries can quickly derail even the best laid plans.
In Kentucky’s case, one thing’s for sure. The addition of Jai Lucas and Chin Coleman, together with the much-heralded return of Orlando Antigua has added gasoline to the fire. There’s a new recruiting sheriff back in town, and he’s not going to be shooting many blanks. Calipari claims that he (himself) is overrated as a recruiter. Perhaps he is. Nevertheless, six years of mis evaluations, questionable rankings, and defections to Duke can now be put in the rearview mirror.
It’s now up to Kentucky’s head basketball coach to craft the winning formula on the basketball court. He has all the ingredients for Championship Number Nine. Fans are tired of hearing about ex-UK players in the NBA, ending generational poverty, and the benefits of the Kentucky Effect. All those things are noble and good, but this question remains: Can the Hall-of-Fame coach return the program back to its former days of glory?
It’ll only happen with another championship trophy. Anything less will be a bust. We have two years to make it happen. The clock starts now.
Dr. John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Group Media and editor-in-chief of JustTheCats.com. His new book, CUT TO THE CHASE, is now available on Amazon. His newest Kentucky Basketball book, KENTUCKY PASSION, is scheduled for an October 19th release. If you enjoy his writing, you can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.