Loaded with individual talent, Wildcats played as team


NEW ORLEANS -- When the story of this college basketball season is written, when the eighth national championship for Kentucky is chronicled shot by dunk by block by defensive stop, it should quickly include these facts:

The national Player of the Year, Wooden Award winner, presumptive first overall pick in the NBA Draft, best player in a college uniform, averaged the fourth-most shot attempts on his team over 40 games and had zero points at halftime of a national final his side led by 14.

It might be easier coaching talent than not, and you sure have a better opportunity to win with more of it than the other guys, but convincing a collection of stars to play with the unselfish nature Kentucky did this year is a chore few could master.

John Calipari did, and his team rewarded him for it with his first title Monday evening, a 67-59 win against Kansas before 70,913 at the Superdome that, while closer than some might have expected the final minutes, was Kentucky's game from the tip.

The Wildcats were never going to lose.

Kansas didn't, either. It just got beat.

I'll never agree the one-and-done rule is good for college basketball, but anyone who doesn't believe Kentucky's group of talented underclassmen didn't deeply care about winning this championship also didn't observe them hugging and dancing and celebrating in the aftermath of a confetti-soaked court. These kids cherished the moment big-time.

You can't play as they did and be thinking only of NBA riches. You can't have freshman star Anthony Davis go scoreless over the first 20 minutes in the season's biggest game and yet still dominate at the defensive end if everyone hasn't bought in from the first day of practice.

Davis scored just six points in 36 minutes, but he had 16 rebounds, five assists, three steals and six blocks to earn Most Outstanding Player honors of the Final Four. He controlled a national championship game on a night he shot 1-for-10, because on a team where the eighth man was a Top 25 recruit, no player thought first of himself.

Davis was a defensive beast, and Doron Lamb kept Kansas far enough away with timely 3-pointers, and Terrence Jones made himself some additional pro money with his toughness, and freshmen Marquis Teague and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist combined to score 25.

Too much of everything. Too little of nothing.

"They've done a great job coaching that team," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "Their players share. They like each other. They defend. And they're playing with pros, so that doesn't hurt. But I don't think their coaching staff gets enough credit for the job it has done because they're so talented.

"It's not like they're getting guys as freshmen and waiting until their juniors and seniors to be ready. They're turning guys over every year. But they have the resources and facilities to recruit the level of guys they do, so you knew it was just a matter if time before (Calipari) won the national championship there."

It really was the perfect storm for everyone not named Kentucky this season, the fact there wasn't a vast amount of teams with great seniors to produce late March runs and that the Wildcats were merely better and longer than anyone.

It would have been interesting had a healthy North Carolina advanced to meet Kentucky here. Maybe it's a different ending. Probably not.

"No team matched up with Kentucky," Kansas forward Thomas Robinson said. "That's pretty much all I have to say about that."

That pretty much says it all.

The evening's comedy was left for after "My Old Kentucky Home" played and a net was cut and a trophy presented, left for the first question of a postgame news conference to be directed at Davis: Are you considering coming out in the NBA Draft?

The only thing more ludicrous was his answer.

"No," Davis said, "I haven't decided."

Davis has as much chance returning to school as Calipari does departing for the Colorado State job, and the coming weeks will see several Kentucky players enter the draft and the next stable of prep All-Americans prepare to head to Lexington for a chance at helping the Wildcats make another Final Four run.

Calipari said he hopes there are six first-round draft picks on this championship team, one reason he promised to be out recruiting Friday. But his next class and the one after that and the one after that and so on will face a high standard to reach when compared with the one that claimed victory here this week.

"We were the best team this season, more talented than everybody," Calipari said. "The most efficient team. We shared the ball. I wanted that. I told them I wanted this to be one for the ages. Go out there and show everyone what kind of team you are, even though we are young.

"What a lesson, that if you share, if you give of yourself for everyone around you, if you care about your teammates more than yourself, it's amazing what you can accomplish.

"It doesn't matter how young you are, it's how you play together."

When the story of this college basketball season is written, that should be the opening line.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from noon to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday on "Gridlock," ESPN Radio 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

 

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