Absurd expectations are something of a tradition at Kentucky. Players are expected to play their best every night, coaches are expected to make decisions that satisfy everyone, and teams are expected to win every game they play. That, in a nutshell, is pretty much how it works around here.
Tuesday night’s loss to South Carolina served as a reminder of this. Lots of fans, myself included, overreacted to the defeat, which we should remember happened on the road, in the SEC, against a team that always seems to play Kentucky tough, and against a senior that played absolutely unconscious for the final ten minutes of the game. Sometimes it’s just not meant to be. And let’s not forget, for all the games they’ve won and records they’ve broken this season, this UK team is still one that starts three freshman and a sophomore (wait, did Darius Miller play last night?). Nights like this are bound to happen occasionally, and I’d rather go ahead and get them out of the way now so we can learn from them and get better. That will be Calipari’s biggest challenge moving forward–ensuring the same things that cost us against South Carolina don’t pop up against Vandy, Ole Miss, or anyone else this season.
Cal’s current situation (molding young, preternatural talent while keeping expectations in check) certainly qualifies as pressure, but it’s nothing compared to the hell Joe B. Hall experienced from beginning to end of the 1978 season. This article, aside from being more of a season-long recap rather than a personal profile, reminds you a lot of the infamous SI-Pitino piece from ’96, in the sense that they both profile men who worked their asses off to build ridiculously talented teams, and then never got to actually enjoy the process of coaching them.
SI’s Barry McDermott, a Kentucky native, chronicles Hall and the ’78 team’s journey through all the pressure of the regular season, tournament, and eventual national title.
“Rupp’s retirement was painful for Wildcat fans; he had won four NCAA, one NIT and 27 SEC championships, and what replacement could be expected to do anywhere near that well? Rupp certainly thought he was irreplaceable. When it became clear in 1971 that Hall was going to succeed him the following year, the old coach became more irascible than usual. Kevin Grevey, a freshman then, remembers that when Hall blew his whistle at practice one day to correct a mistake, Rupp jumped all over his assistant. Coach Rupp said, ‘Don’t you ever blow your whistle and stop one of my practices again,’ recalls Grevey. ‘He embarrassed Coach Hall in front of all the players.’ That year Hall drove Kentucky’s freshmen to a perfect season and they played several games before sellout crowds in Memorial Coliseum. Meanwhile, Rupp instructed the managers who officiated the daily scrimmages between the varsity and freshmen to make sure Hall’s team never won. It was Kentucky’s version of the Civil War, and Rupp’s shadow loomed over Hall through the years. Although Kentucky averaged 21 victories during Hall’s first five seasons as head coach, he began the ’77-’78 campaign with the discomfiting knowledge that a lot of Kentuckians would be dissatisfied with anything less than the NCAA title. His ‘hate file,’ a collection of crank letters he had received, was swelling. He would either do his job or lose his job.”