UConn’s improbable run to the NCAA men’s basketball national title was more than a historical feat that wrapped up another March Madness on Monday in front of more than 70,000 spectators in Arlington, Texas.
It was a begrudging battle between right and wrong. Between good and evil. Between overwhelming expectations and equally underwhelming expectations.
While Connecticut became the first 7-seed to ever claim the championship with a 60-54 win over No. 8 Kentucky, college basketball fans went to bed at ease knowing all things in the world of college hoops were briefly back to normal.
UConn head coach Kevin Ollie, in just his second season, outgunned controversial counterpart John Calipari in his first trip to The Dance as the main man in charge.
Ollie once starred as a point guard at UConn. The former NBA player of 13 seasons (and 11 teams) took over for Jim Calhoun just in time for the program to be banned from postseason play while serving academic probation imposed by the NCAA in 2012. His biggest task upon taking the job was to convince standout guard Shabazz Napier to forego transferring elsewhere and instead stay the course to help get the program back on track.
Napier ended his college career with a game-high 22 points Monday with six rebounds, three assists and three steals for a Huskies team that overcame poor shooting from the field in the second half (32 percent) to hold on for the win.
Calipari’s Wildcats started five freshman in a championship game for the first time since Michigan’s Fab Five did so back in the early 1990s. Most, if not all of them, will declare for the NBA Draft in the near future. Word spreading throughout social media Monday night – via former Kentucky star Rex Chapman – claimed Calipari may also be moving on to the NBA later this year.
Not that there’s anything wrong with those things, but you can’t help but wonder when Kentucky might fall under the NCAA’s microscope just as two other programs did which were left deflated in Calipari’s wake.
Calipari’s 1996 Massachusetts Final Four team was stripped of its tournament wins thanks to the saga of NBA-bound Marcus Camby. Calipari’s 2008 Memphis national runner-up team got the same treatment with Derrick Rose at the center of that inquiry.
Nobody’s perfect, and student athletes must be held accountable for their own actions as well, but it’s hard to imagine that head coaches of big-time college programs don’t know when their star players are on the take.
We can only hope this year’s crop of freshman at UK have been able fend off temptations and waited until they’ve officially severed ties with the school before padding their pockets on their way out of the door.