Being nontraditional is part of our tradition. It always has been and always will be a pillar of Kentucky basketball.
We are the winningest program in college basketball. We have produced players like Dan Issel, Jamal Mashburn, Kyle Macy, John Wall and Anthony Davis. Some of the game’s greatest coaches like Adolph Rupp and Joe B. Hall have roamed our sidelines. We are chasing UCLA for the most national titles.
But how we got there wasn’t the traditional way. When we talk about the history of our program, we are talking about coaches who did it in a nontraditional way.
In the 1940s, Coach Rupp decided we’re not just going to play teams around us and from the South; we’re going to get on trains and go play teams. It had never been done until him. Then you had a coach in the 1970s in Coach Hall who decided we’re going to have a different type of housing. He decided we’re going to build Wildcat Lodge, and he was the driving force for an arena like Rupp Arena – the largest arena at that time – that seats 24,000 and helps us lead the nation in attendance 16 of the last 17 years.
They were doing things that were considered nontraditional during that time, and now we look back on that past as part of our tradition.
We are doing the same thing now. When five guys were drafted in the first round in 2010 – the first time in the history of our sport it had been done – it made us a nontraditional team again. A fan base that travels like we do makes us a nontraditional team. We are one of the few programs that can fill a football stadium for a basketball game. Some players stay four years, some leave early to pursue their dreams – that makes us a nontraditional team. We are now a nontraditional program in the tradition of Kentucky basketball.
Being nontraditional doesn’t take away from academics at our school. You have people trying to insinuate that because you only have a player for one or two years that he’s not going to do academic work. That’s just not true.
When we receive our final grade report from this past semester, it looks like we will have close to a 3.2 grade-point average and up to 10 players with a 3.0 GPA.
Why can’t they do both? Why can’t they play in the NBA AND get their college degree? Is it because it goes against the “traditional” way of thinking? Yes, you can chase your dreams and do well academically. We have to accept that.
This is a nontraditional program where a young man can win a national title, finish his academic obligations to himself, his family and the university, and go on to a pro career and come back and finish. No matter what we choose to call it – nontraditional, unconventional or innovative – it’s time we come to grips with the fact that we always have and always will do things differently at the University of Kentucky. Being nontraditional is what this program has been built on and how it separated itself.