by Kent Sterling
“Hey, their money spends good!” is the best Indianapolis basketball fans can mutter as Kentucky fans make the trip to Indy for its coronation this weekend.
Thirty-nine years ago, Indiana University completed its mission of winning a National Championship with the last undefeated season in college basketball. Without much else to celebrate in the current iteration of the Indiana Basketball program, being the last undefeated team is something that Hoosiers fans cherish.
John Calipari and his very talented soon-to-be college dropouts will come to Indiana’s capitol for what they expect to be a quick 80-minutes of joyous revelry that will end with nets being cut down, and another opportunity to crow about the superiority of Calipari’s recruiting, training, and coaching.
The truth is that Kentucky has benefitted from a ridiculous rule that oppresses the ability of African-Americans to earn a living playing basketball professionally at a point when players are plenty ready to compete in the NBA. The rule exists for all college basketball programs to exploit, but Calipari does it best.
So Calipari wins.
That’s not to say that he can’t coach, but Kentucky’s success – like virtually every other basketball program – is dependent upon talent acquisition. Like playing cards, a superior hand is hard to beat, and nobody stacks a deck like Calipari.
So Kentucky will play other blue bloods (Wisconsin and then the winner of Duke vs. Michigan State), but nobody’s blood is bluer that Kentucky, and they are coming to a state filled with people who have great disdain for a basketball program founded on the principle that winning means everything, and the current repressive NBA Draft eligibility rules are a suitable foundation for success.
In the absence of a team from Indiana representing a state as proud of its basketball heritage as its breaded tenderloins and celebration of speed during the Month of May, the best fans here could hope for was a visit from its neighbors to the south because rooting against your sworn enemy is almost as much fun as backing your own team.
Kentucky is as close to a blood enemy as Indiana has, and while fans here might be repulsed by the thought of the smug Calipari cutting down the nets and holding the National Championship Trophy aloft a week from tonight, the thought of them leaving a few million bucks behind might be the best revenge.
No program rivaled Kentucky in basketball excellence this year, and no fans travel as enthusiastically either. They like staying in nice hotels, drinking expensive booze, and eating thick and pricey steaks. They are great guests – mostly jovial knuckleheads primed for the party as much as great basketball, and that should suit Indianapolis business owners and servers just fine.
While basketball fans in Indiana might be repulsed by Calipari’s recruiting tactics and successes, there is not a reasonable fan who should extend their disgust to the players. They are outstanding and selfless, and who can blame them for signing on for this kind of thrill ride/love fest. Loathe Calipari if you like, but enjoy watching the kids – even if you can only do it through gritted teeth.
Indianapolis was built for a weekend like this – designed to help guests leave their cash here while being impressed with the genuine pride of Hoosiers thrilled to host thousands of visitors.
No city does it better. It’s just a shame that it’s damn likely Kentucky fans are going to roll south next week, very pleased with themselves for hiring a coach that understands capitalizing on a morally perverse rule better than anyone else. Cal’s team can yield a weekend long party with a Monday night finale that satisfies thousands of basketball crazed fans willing to look the other way as athletes are compensated for their excellence with 25% or half an education.
That’s business in college basketball these days. The only consolation for the slightly more pure of heart Hoosiers where Notre Dame, Purdue, Indiana, and Butler ensure the term “student-athlete” means exactly what it should is the payout for hosting their party.