The next chapter in the history of University of Kentucky basketball is about to be written. The arrival of new head coach John Calipari signals the beginning of a new era in Kentucky basketball. The entire Wildcat Nation is counting down the days to the return of basketball season in anticipation of the new attitude that Coach Calipari will bring to the team. The recent release of this Athlon Sports College Basketball Preview points to the impact that John Calipari will have on the 2009-10 basketball season and beyond.
Kentucky basketball has come full circle over the last few seasons and the future looks bright. The cycle that the team has gone through is very similar to the previous up and down cycle that the program went through in the 1970's, 80's and 90's.
Coach Joe B. Hall brought home the National Championship to Kentucky in 1978, after 20 years had passed since the team's last title in 1958. Joe B. Hall led his Wildcats teams to many successful seasons and few that did not live up to expectations as well. After a great but up-and-down coaching career at UK, Coach Hall hung up the clipboard and retired as coach of the Kentucky team.
UK fans were hopeful that their new coach would lead the team to a new level of success. Kentucky chose Eddie Sutton as their next head coach and optimism was high around the program. After a 32-4 season in 1985-86, things went quickly downhill. An 18-11 record in 1986-87 was extremely disappointing and was only the beginning of the troubles that would face the Eddie Sutton led Kentucky program. Sutton took the UK program to a new low and ended up being forced out as UK coach, leaving the program in disarray.
Though the program had fallen on hard times, a new coach for the 1989-90 season gave UK fans hope for the future. The new coach was a flashy, slick talking salesman from the East Coast who was known for his coaching prowess and his ability to look good in an expensive suit on the sidelines. Rick Pitino came to Wildcats with a successful track record, energetic personality and an extreme amount of optimism for the future of UK basketball. Pitino not only returned the Wildcats to national prominence, but led the team to 3 Final Fours and to a National Championship in 1996. After an appearance in the National Championship game in 1997, Pitino left the Wildcats to coach the Boston Celtics in the NBA.
This is when the cycle of UK coaching seems to have reset itself and history began to repeat a bit. The coach chosen to replace Pitino was a highly respected coach and individual. That coach was Orlando "Tubby" Smith. Smith was a great choice to replace Pitino, but had a much different personality and demeanor than his predecessor. Smith was a soft spoken gentleman who had very high moral and ethical standards. Smith quickly captured the hearts of Kentucky fans winning a National Championship in his first season. The Tubby Smith era somewhat mirrored the Joe B. Hall era. Smith coached some of the most beloved Wildcat teams of all-time, just like Joe B. Hall but also had similar up-and-down success like Hall as well. After a great career as the coach at Kentucky, Smith left to coach at Minnesota after the 2006-07 season.
Fans had high hopes for Tubby's replacement, just like those that fans had when Eddie Sutton replaced Hall in the 1980's. New coach Billy Gillisipie had fans hopeful that he would expand on the success of Coach Smith and lead the Wildcats to the next level again. After only two seasons and a trip to the NIT, Gillispie was fired as coach, and much like Sutton, left the program in a bit of a mess, though not quite the mess that Sutton had left behind.
Fast forward to today. Again the Kentucky program finds itself with a new sense of enthusiasm and optimism with the arrival of John Calipari. Calipari comes to the Wildcats with a great track record of success and winning basketball on his resume. Much like Pitino of the 1990's, Calipari also brings with him the charismatic personality and confidence that has Kentucky fans in a frenzy of anticipation for the new season. Kentucky again finds itself with a high profile, confident coach at the helm with the goal of returning the Kentucky basketball program to National Championship status.
The Kentucky program has seen its coaching situation come full cirle twice now and the current coach has fans ready for a great 2009-10 season and beyond. This will be a great year in the history of Kentucky basketball. Every UK fan hopes that Calipari will inject the program with the same energy and success that the arrival of Rick Pitino did in 1989. It is the hope of all UK fans that the Calipari led Wildcats will hang several more Championship banners to go along with the seven they already have.
The next chapter in UK basketball history is about to be written.