How much better did Kentucky just get?
Tre Mitchell and a program on the slide
It is always funny what you can hear over the din of a huge crowd. In April 2012, on the confetti-strewn floor of the Superdome, John Calipari, newly crowned national champion, was making his way off the court and into the tunnel. He was smiling and looking around and pointing and waving in that giddy, affected way showmen who have just won a national title do. If you followed right behind him and looked around, you could get a tiny slice of what it was like to be in that maelstrom, to be the center of the college basketball universe for a night -- or, in Calipari's crazed case, every hour of every day for years at a time.
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As he was leaving the floor, the UK coach vaguely thanked a group of people in Kentucky royal blue above the tunnel railing. He waved, gave a thumbs up. Above him, the loudest voice in New Orleans rained down, from a woman with a sequined "UK" shirt: "Coach Cal! COACH CAL! WIN IT AGAIN NEXT YEAR COACH CAL! DO IT AGAIN!"
This was ... hilarious. Also alarming. It was a perfect testament to the thing you could feel pulsing through every corner of the college basketball Internet in those days, but rarely fully understand until you got up close, which is that Kentucky fans were just different from everyone else, bigger and more insatiable and just more. Win one. Pfft. So what? Do it again.
To be fair to the Big Blue Nation member in question, the expectation hardly seemed unreasonable. Kentucky was churning through future NBA talents at a unbelievable clip, sending whole teams to the lottery, reinventing the way elite college basketball rosters were built. From his arrival at Kentucky in 2010 until he built a team that went to the Final Four unbeaten in 2015, 25 Wildcats were NBA draft selections, and many of those same players went on to be near-instant professional stars. If there was any program in the country that could be expected to win a national title in the subsequent seasons -- or at least another in the next decade -- it was Calipari's, that night, as he walked off the Superdome floor.