[Moderated by Matt Jones]
The perseverance of Darius Miller: The UK senior started his career in an NIT season under Billy Gillispie, and he ended it as a National Champion. The Maysville, KY native started the past two years for the Cats, yet was still overshadowed by incoming freshman superstars each year. His senior year, he even took the role of 6th man and embraced it. Without Darius Miller, his 13 points and perfect night at the free-throw line against Louisville, UK wouldn’t be National Champions. The unselfishness, team-first attitude, clutch shooting, and perseverance of the senior from Maysville was the glue that held together the 2012 Wildcats.
The determination of Terrence Jones: Already set to be a lottery pick in 2011, Terrence Jones shocked the world by electing to return for this sophomore season. In an announcement on Twitter last May, Jones said that he was simply having too much fun at Kentucky and wanted to bring home #8. Having experienced coming so close last season, losing to eventual National Champion UConn in the Final Four, Jones felt he had unfinished business to take care of and desired a return to Lexington to finish what he came here to do. Every time Jones flexed after a monster dunk or a blocked shot this season, you could see the determination in his eyes, which was undoubtedly the determination of a Champion.
The laid-back demeanor of Doron Lamb: One raised three-goggle at a time, Doron Lamb has lightened things up and kept his teammates at ease in a pressure-packed season that would have been a disappointment with nothing less than a National Championship. Some have criticized the three-goggles, but as goofy as it sounds, the hand gesture after 3-point shots has kept our team lose and allowed them to have a little fun in the most pressured-to-win season I can ever remember in any sport. Aside from being one of the best three-point shooters in UK history, Lamb’s second biggest contribution to the 2012 team was his laid-back demeanor. The laid-back and loose Doron Lamb made his teammates feel at ease on the court, no matter the pressure or situation.
The maturation of Marquis Teague: Unfair or not, Marquis Teague received a lot of criticism in the first half of the season. Following in the footsteps of the Calipari lineage of superstar freshman point guards (Rose, Evans, Wall, and Knight) was no easy task. Teague ran the team well all season, in my opinion, but definitely matured on and off the court and improved tremendously as the season went on. Teague delivered 24 points and 7 assists against Iowa St. in the 2nd round, was 6-for-6 from the free-throw line in the Sweet 16 against Indiana, set the tone with 3 early buckets against Louisville in the Final Four, and came up with a huge 3 point shot and knocked down crucial free throws in the National Championship game against Kansas. In Teague’s first meeting with the Jayhawks in November, the freshman dished out only 3 assists and turned the ball over 6 times. Without the improvement and maturation of Marquis Teague, Kentucky would not be National Champions.
The positive energy, hard work, and unselfishness of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: It isn’t possible to just narrow down one aspect of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s contributions to the 2012 Cats. He shows emotion in the most positive way I’ve ever seen on a basketball court. He has so much fun playing the game and he’s not afraid to smile on the court. Much like the 3-goggles, the contagious positive energy that he brings to the floor has put his teammates at ease this season. Away from the bright lights of Rupp Arena, MKG’s work ethic was just as contagious as his smile and ability to have fun. When Kidd-Gilchrist created, “the Breakfast Club”, it started out as himself and a few of his teammates working out early each weekday morning, but it grew to an activity shared by the entire team. When MKG unselfishly gave up his starting spot to Darius Miller in the SEC Tournament, it’s true that the Cats lost the game to Vanderbilt; but more importantly, it got Darius Miller going again just in time for the tournament that mattered. In any doubt of what you should do in any given situation, simply ask yourself, #WWMKGD?
The defensive prowess of Anthony Davis: Without scoring a single field goal until late in the 2nd half of the National Championship game, Anthony Davis was still the most impactful player on the court. Davis dominated the game with 16 rebounds, 6 blocks, 5 assists, 3 steals, and a ridiculous number of alterred shots on his way to earning the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player Award, despite shooting only 1-for-10 from the field. Davis, winner of 6 National Player of the Year Award’s, was astonishingly 4th on his team in attempted shots. I don’t think you’ll ever see a pair of extremely talented players who are as unselfish and team-oriented as Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist were this season on any college team ever again.
The balanced scoring of all 6 of the above: UK’s top 6 shared the ball better than any talented group in the history of college basketball. With the top 6 averaging between 9.9 and 14.4 points per game, and Kyle Wiltjer adding 5.1 per game, every one of these guys put the team and winning above all else. The predicted top 2 players in ths summer’s NBA Draft, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, amazingly were 4th and 5th on the team in attempted shots, which is something you’ll never see again. Calipari didn’t just recruit 6 of the nation’s most talented players to join Darius Miller on this team, but he hand-picked the RIGHT players to fit the puzzle of a National Championship team.
The tireless work of John Calipari: Coach Cal has not only put together three-straight top ranked recruiting classes, but he’s done an incredible job coaching these guys up each season, basically starting fresh with a new core group each time. Not only has he found the time to bring in these classes, develop them, mold them together as one, and silence the critics by coaching them to a National Championship, but he’s also found the time to do autograph stops from Pikeville to Paducah and everywhere in between, and even found the time to coach a Dominican Republic National Team this past summer. I don’t know when Coach Cal finds the time to sleep, but his three years at Kentucky have been nothing short of amazing.
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