Last week, the Kentucky Wildcats gave the Big Blue Nation a glimpse of what they could expect this season when they played 4 games in 6 days on the Big Blue Bahamas Tour. Fans struggled to keep their expectations tempered after watching a team that already seemed very much in sync even though it was only August. A new crop of very talented freshmen joining the returning Quade Green, Nick Richards, and PJ Washington gave us much to feel good about as we approach the 2018-19 season.
A lot of the excitement was due to the improvement of our returning players, specifically Nick Richards. After having many struggles in his freshman season that left many fans questioning why Coach Cal would keep him in the starting lineup, Richards emerged last week as a seemingly new player. While I was thrilled to see the BBN finally give Nick some love, I had to pause for a moment and ponder why they were so quick to give up on him last season. After all, he was just a freshman and mistakes should be expected, but that didn’t stop a constant stream of negativity toward the young man.
Maybe in this one and done era we’ve just forgotten how to let freshmen be freshmen.
It was just 10 years ago when new players signed with Kentucky, we would fret if they were “too good” to stay more than 2-3 years. Now, some players get the label of “failure” if they don’t go to the NBA after 1 year. I suppose it’s understandable given the number of elite recruits Cal has brought to Lexington. After John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Jamal Murray and De’Aaron Fox (just to name a few), it’s easy to expect all the freshmen to be superstars.
But we seem to forget that each of those players, insanely talented though they may have been, each made freshman mistakes. These types of errors were tolerated a lot more in years past. We knew that “he’s only a freshman” and would improve over time. That tolerance level now is exceptionally low, however.
A bungled rebound results in shrieks of panic. A shot clock violation will induce screams of incompetence. Poor shot selection? Bench ’em, Coach!
It’s important for us to remember that no matter how talented these young players are when they arrive at Kentucky, they are still freshmen. And when February rolls around, despite what any television announcers may say, they are still freshmen, albeit freshmen with a couple of months of college basketball experience. They have not yet played in a conference nor NCAA tournament. There may still be freshman mistakes.
After watching the fun games from the Bahamas, it was easy to imagine Keldon Johnson or Tyler Herro as being in the discussion for 2019 NBA lottery picks. It was impossible to not be impressed by the skills of Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley. They seem well-prepared to take on the best college basketball has to throw at them.
But when the season begins and a mistake is made, take a deep breath, pause a moment and remember: they are freshmen. A little grace and a little patience can make for a much more enjoyable season. Enjoy the ride!
Follow me on Twitter @ForeverBigBlue