Kentucky basketball has fallen a long way since their National Championships in the late 90’s. Once the premier program in college basketball history, Kentucky is now an after thought to many recruits as they commit to schools that have overtaken Kentucky for today’s college basketball supremacy.
Kentucky basketball earned its reputation early in the game. Adolph Rupp was one of the best coaches in the history of the game and led the team to 4 National Championships (1948, 1949, 1951 and 1958).
Since the departure of Rupp, the Wildcats have had no real stability. Rupp had three National Titles in only 4 years, and four total, but since Rupp’s departure the team has only managed 3 titles total.
Kentucky basketball had been living off of name alone for many years, but the program seemed to be resurgent in the 1990’s when coach Rick Pitino took over the reigns. He led the team to success in 1996, and recruited much of the team that won the 1998 title under Tubby Smith.
Pitino did a great disservice when he left the Wildcats to try his hand at coaching professional basketball in the NBA. He left Tubby Smith, his former assistant, in charge of the team.
The problems that Kentucky faces as a program now stem from this period of time. Since Kentucky’s success in the 40’s and 50’s, many teams have come to the forefront of college basketball to make Kentucky a second, or even third choice for many recruits. Duke’s back-to-back National Championships put them at the forefront of the game, North Carolina’s prolonged success has made them big, and the University of Florida’s back-to-back titles have put Kentucky into the backseat of their own conference.
Tubby Smith was one of the worst choices to coach Kentucky. He did win a National Title in 1998, but that only served to prolong the mistake that Kentucky made in hiring him. Pitino’s players won the championship, not Smith’s coaching.
The big problem with Smith is that he could not recruit. He did not use Kentucky’s prestige recent National Titles to lure players to the school. Of course, the success of other programs had severely hurt his ability to recruit, but Smith still only came away with lower-tiered players in respect to national recruiting.
The good news for Kentucky fans is that the school finally let Smith go. He was there for far too long, especially after his recent mediocre seasons. The school hired a young, energetic coach in Billy Gillespie.
Gillespie has shown the ability to turn around a bad program. He inherited a Texas A&M team that had had not success and turned them from a team that won zero conference games into a team that went to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in school history.
Gillespie has done a lot more, with a lot less and this refreshing look atop Kentucky basketball should pull in some nice recruits, with more ability than the people Smith recruited. With these new recruits that hopefully will follow Gillespie to Lexington the Wildcats program should be on the road to having more successful seasons.
Kentucky has a long way to go to restore its basketball team to glory and Gillespie is certainly a step in the right direction, but they still have a long way to go.