You know April has arrived when the winter sports are coming to an end, the spring football game is gathering more enthusiasm by the day, people are talking about Keeneland, and basketball players begin making their decisions on whether to stay at UK for another year or to pursue their dreams of playing in the NBA.
For the most part, the Big Blue Nation is totally supportive of whatever choice the players make. In the eight years that John Calipari has been at Kentucky, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing a lot of elite players become Wildcats for a year, or sometimes two, and then move on to the NBA. John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker, and Tyler Ulis are only a partial list of those that wore Kentucky jerseys for a brief amount of time. And contrary to the popular narrative, the fans absolutely fall in love with the players and the players with Kentucky. Selfishly, we’d love all of them to stay longer, but we know they must go when it’s right for them to do so.
2017 has been no exception to this right of passage at Kentucky. The past week has brought announcements from De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, both of whom have said they will sign with agents thus officially ending their college careers. Bam Adebayo also announced his intention to declare for the draft but has not retained an agent. This allows Bam the opportunity to get feedback from NBA executives and can wait until May 24 to make his decision final. All three players and their announcements were not unexpected and the BBN was overwhelmingly supportive.
But for some reason, our fan base seems to have a need to have a “target” each year, a player that must be criticized incessantly throughout the season and then endure even more mean-spirited comments when they decide on their future. Virtually overnight, all the couch coaches who believed they were wiser than Coach Cal as to who should play and who should sit were now NBA scouts with amazing expertise in every player’s draft stock. And this year’s scapegoat? Isaiah Briscoe.
During the season, Briscoe was the recipient of a lot of criticism from fans, most of which was unwarranted. Yes, there was a stretch of games when Zay struggled with turnovers and his shot, but his defense was always aggressive and his effort was stellar. Those screaming for Briscoe to be benched failed to recognize how many games he was responsible for helping the Cats win. So why are those same people so irate that Briscoe has hired an agent and has effectively ended his college career? For that matter, why do we fans feel we have any say in whether a player stays or goes?
There are some fans who actually voice their opinions with good intentions. They worry whether a player is “ready” or not for the next step, sincerely wanting nothing but success for their Wildcats. Others will pretend to be concerned about a player’s readiness, but they always follow their concern with “but.” You know the ones: “I’m just not sure he’s ready for the NBA yet. I really wish him the best, but think about how much better he will be if he stays another year.” Sure, it sounds nice on the surface, but before long you find out the true intention behind their words. “Besides, if he comes back for another season, just imagine how great our team will be!”
Isn’t that how a lot of us feel, even if we don’t voice (or tweet) our thoughts publicly? We are selfish. We want our talented players to stay for 2, 3 or 4 years not because we just want them to develop but because we want a more dominant team. But that isn’t fair. We don’t know each player’s individual situation nor do we know what their priorities are.
For some players, moving on to play professionally doesn’t necessarily mean they expect to get drafted into the league immediately. Some know that time in D-League is very likely and they’re okay with that. They still get paid, they still develop (like so many fans claim to be worried about) and more likely than not will eventually make it to the NBA. Others may expect to be drafted but end up still on the board after all picks have been made. But does that mean they made a mistake?
In the end, the decision belongs to the players and the players alone. They meet with Coach Cal, they talk with their families and they meet with NBA executives to get input on their future in basketball. They can take a chance now while they’re young and try to fulfill their dreams. If things don’t work out as planned, they have a lifetime scholarship at the University of Kentucky and can come back at any time to complete their degrees.
Why can’t we all just respect that and wish our Wildcats well on their journeys? What is to be gained by sending them hateful messages on social media? The answer to that is absolutely nothing.
Let’s continue to be supportive of all our Wildcats when they leave just as we were when they first committed to play for Kentucky. Let us never let them forget why the Big Blue Nation is the best fan base anywhere.
Follow me on Twitter @ForeverBigBlue