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Why I Pity Kentucky Basketball Fans

Kind of.

John Calipari doesn't know how to respond to pity.
John Calipari doesn't know how to respond to pity.
John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Do you have friends who are Kentucky fans? I'm guessing at least some of you do. Xavier is located very near the border to that commonwealth, and Xavier fans are generally located or have spent time in that basic area. Further, Kentucky fans seem to spawn from that same national reservoir of lifelong bandwagoners that gives us Yankee fans and Heat fans and... whoever is really good in the NHL right now. Doesn't matter.

Anyway, if you have a soul, I'm guessing your knee-jerk reaction to UK fans is something ranging from vague revulsion to outright loathing as their distasteful behavior escalates in direct proportion to the success of the team. Their coach is always one step ahead of the NCAA posse coming in to lay down sanctions for his behavior, their players are something between rentals and mercenaries (sorry for using "something" twice in one paragraph), and their sanctimonious fan base is continually spouting their history while ignoring the fact that Adolph Rupp was a catastrophic racist.

I'm here to suggest to you that your reaction should be not one of hate but of pity. Here's why...

Kentucky fans never have the moral high ground. They just don't. Their entire program is a soulless machine with one goal in mind: winning basketball games. Ostensibly - and we're going to ignore the NCAA's silly notion of the student-athlete here - that is the goal of every basketball program. It's true that the 10 players who have made it all the way through their senior years under Calipari have graduated. It's also true that more than one player under Calipari has stated that he wanted to stay in school longer but felt pressured to enter the NBA draft. While that was probably a solid economic decision for most of them, it also looks a lot like Calipari is more interested bringing in the next big thing and pimping the draft factory that is his school than doing right by his players.

Further, the players don't have a strong connection with the fans. They come back to watch the big games - a number of them will be present for tonight's national championship - but you don't see them in the NBA with their school's logo tattooed on them. For the best players to come through UK, their time on campus is a stepping stone to their real goal, a mere line on a crowded resume. It's not a defining time in their young lives. Look around at the players who have come through Xavier and headed elsewhere, your Stanley Burrells, your David Wests, your Dante Jacksons. Xavier is not a layover on your way to somewhere else. It has become a part of those guys in an obvious and lasting way that is not evident in, say, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

And finally, and the one that I have the most interest in, is that the fans lack that connection with the players. When Aaron or Andrew Harrison - who cares which? - hit those game-winning shots, I'm sure Kentucky fans felt great about him. But he has been a part of their lives for maybe six months in an active sense and maybe another year or so if they are overly invested in recruiting, which they are. Here is where we most clearly have it better as Xavier fans.

Imagine a world in which those shots are hit next year by Dee Davis or Justin Martin. Maybe your heart is in your throat for an extra second as Dee's trademark high-arcing shot traces a path through the rafters before nestling in the strings. Maybe you can't help but laugh as a flicker of a smile finds its way onto JMart's normally impassive face.

Or maybe you don't even have to imagine. I have a vivid memory of Lionel Chalmers leaping in place, elbows locked and fists clenched at his sides as he and I exulted together during Xavier's improbable tournament run. I also remember the gnawing in the pit of my stomach when Tu walked off the court against Marquette, plainly fighting tears until he could retreat to the relative solace of the bench with a towel hiding his emotions from the cameras.

These are our guys in a way that players stopping over on their way to their first over-the-table paychecks for playing basketball could never be. When a squad that failed to meet expectations last year was dumped in the first round of the NIT, UK fans greeted the departing players with a good riddance attitude. Win, lose, or draw, a Xavier player's final game brings out the reflective sympathy latent in the fan base that comes from having watched a player grow from a recruit all the way to a senior.

There are times when X loses the moral high ground, and there have been players who have left and never looked back, but the guys on the roster have always been our guys. UK fans have some things we don't - national championships, for instance - but they don't have that. So today, when Kentucky takes the court, don't forget to look out over the deluded masses over Big Blue Nation and take a moment to feel a bit of pity for them.

Unless UK wins tonight and they get all obnoxious. Then screw 'em.