TAMPA, Fla. -- One and done.
Admit it -- you hate Kentucky basketball because of that phrase. The reality is that some of the players are mostly hired mercenaries, using the school as a mere bus stop on the way to the big city known as The Association.
That's what made Thursday's NCAA East Regional second-round game between the Wildcats and Princeton Tigers so intriguing. It was two tradition-rich programs, with one known for its SAT scores and the other for being an NBA minor-league team.
Louisville and Kentucky losing on their opening game of the dance? Brandon Knight wasn't having it. Read More >>
But that's unfair. Those, folks, are the rules. Why wouldn't Kentucky take the best players, even for only for a year?
Call coach John Calipari a used-car salesman with a slick East Coast way about him all you want. But he was the coach smiling Thursday afternoon at St. Pete Times Forum when one of his mercenaries, freshman Brandon Knight, made a running layup with two seconds left to give the fourth-seeded Wildcats a 59-57 victory against the 13th-seeded Tigers.
It was the only basket Knight made, and it might have been his last shot if didn't go in.
Knight, you see, is almost certainly a one-and-doner.
Kentucky had four one-and-done players a year ago and all four were first-round selections, including top pick John Wall.
Knight and fellow freshman Terrence Jones, a silky smooth 6-foot-8 forward, will both almost certainly be among the one-and-done players from this year's team.
You hate them, right?
I asked Knight if he felt that hate. He shrugged it off.
"I'm not sure what the overall consensus of how people feel about one and done," Knight said. "But I'm not really worried about that, whether people like us or not. For us, it's to focus on our team and try to win."
The rent-a-player style didn't earn the Wildcats a title last year, but it earned Calipari some ripping.
Asked about it this week, he was a bit defensive.
"Sometimes I don't think people will listen when I say this: I don't like the rule," Calipari said. "I don't think it's good for college. But it's a rule we have to live with. I recruit the best players I can, and I don't try to hold them back. At the end of the year, it's about the individual player. I will not talk a kid into staying that has an opportunity to go. And there is some that I will recommend they go. We've lost some kids after a year and we've survived."
Mostly it's because he can count on the next class of mercenaries.
Give Calipari credit: he can recruit.
|Freshman Brandon Knight is usually good for 17.5 ppg, but his two points Thursday are big for Kentucky. (Getty Images)|
After the game, he acted like he made a layup to win a game in his backyard.
"It was designed as a pick and roll," Knight said. "There are a lot of options. That's what was open."
Ho-hum: The NBA is calling.
His high-arching shot fell through to advance the Wildcats and give Princeton a heart-wrenching loss. Princeton hung around with some clutch shooting and good defense, especially on Knight, who was 0 for 7 before the game-winner fell.
"I think it was a difficulty-10 layup," Princeton guard Dan Mavraides said. "He made the one that counted. It was a great shot. You have to tip your hat to him."
It spoke volumes about Knight as a player. Great ones want the ball in clutch situations, even if they are struggling. He really struggled, barely hitting iron on some of his shots.
"Did I lose confidence?" Knight said. "No. I didn't lose confidence."
Maybe not, but Calipari seemed relieved as he met the media.
"I'm happy we won the game," he said. "There's my opening statement."
By contrast, Princeton coach Sydney Johnson lost it during his time on the podium. He broke down in tears, barely able to compose himself.
That's what happens when these types of situations don't come around all the time. For the Princeton Tigers, they have to win the Ivy League and probably have to have seniors to do so.
For Kentucky, it's reload with freshmen each year to take another shot.
One and done.
The Wildcats were nearly that in this tournament.
As it is, they play on.
And you probably hate them for it.