One by one they said thank you, making like Oscar or Emmy winners during the award season -- acknowledging the directors (their parents), the producers (their coaches), the co-stars (their teammates) and ticket buyers (the fans) -- before walking off the dais to meet for quick interviews with the reporters assembled in Lexington.
And then, poof! The better part of the 2012 Kentucky national championship roster and 92.3 percent of that championship-winning offense all but disappeared from college basketball.
Commence handwringing in 5 … 4 … 3 …
And then stop. Just stop it.
Stop complaining that John Calipari is a used car salesman and his players are mercenaries.
You can fret over the bastardization of academics or denounce the death of college ideals until you are as purple as Frank Martin during a 15-point loss.
It won’t change a thing. Until the NBA decides that, like skilled carpenters or master craftsmen, basketball players don’t necessarily need to go to college, we will live in the age of the flyby.
John Calipari is a businessman running a multimillion-dollar business, not a coach with a whistle in charge of a CYO team. His players are junior entrepreneurs, interning for a year before cashing in on the big gig, not plucky kids hoping to get a chance.
“I expect six first-round picks [from the same school] for the first time in the history of the world,’’ Calipari told Rivals.com recently.
It was yet another pitch-perfect hyperbolic statement from the game’s P.T. Barnum. (Yes, this could very well be a first in NBA draft history, but it’s not likely to make world almanacs in Kazakhstan.)
But the ringmaster does have a point: The history of our world, the basketball world, is being rewritten before our eyes. This isn’t 1972. Bill Walton isn’t slinging hook shots in tube socks and short shorts.
This is 2012 and this is the way the game is played, literally and figuratively.
Am I a fan? Absolutely not. I prefer my college athletes have more staying power than a fraternity party hook up. I prefer that the term upperclassmen refer to someone with a little more seniority than a sophomore.
I believe college is a privilege, not a layover. And I believe learning is a gift, not an inconvenience.
I like continuity. I like when fans can invest in a person and not just a player because they actually have time to get to know the person before the player moves on.
But I’m also a realist and I realize that conventions don’t last. The construct of the rules dictate how the game is played, and one overriding rule from 1972 still applies: He who has the best players wins.
Kentucky will continue to win because Calipari will continue to get the best players.
Two years ago, traditionalists gasped when the coach blasphemed that the NBA draft day was the greatest in Kentucky basketball history. You know what? Barnum was right about that, too. The NBA draft is now Kentucky’s biggest recruiting tool, where future championships are born. It’s like a home visit for Calipari.
So Mom and Dad. You want your boy to succeed in his field of choice, the field being basketball? Well, tune in on June 28 and watch. UK is to basketball as MIT is to engineering.
Yes, this team was unique because a bunch of could-be prima donnas played like a JV team, sharing the ball and glory without complaint. But if it can happen once, it can happen twice or three times or however many times you can count. Don’t think Calipari won’t point to the banner he’ll hang at the start of next season whenever a new player wants to go diva.
Perhaps this is not a dynasty in the making in the traditional sense, but make no mistake, it is a 21st-century version. We can no longer argue that you can’t win with a bunch of freshmen, because Kentucky just did. We can no longer argue that constantly turning over the roster will lead to disaster, because in three years, the Wildcats went from Elite Eight to Final Four to national champion.
Calipari also said that his is a players-first program. Well there he was wrong. It’s a players-first world and we’re all just happy to orbit it. Just ask Stan Van Gundy.
It may not be palatable to the traditionalists among us. It may, frankly, be downright disheartening.
But it’s reality.
So long as the rules are written to allow for a college drive-thru service, this is the way the world will work.
On April 11, Noel spun around in a chair to reveal a shaved UK insignia in the back of his head, thereby signifying his intent to attend Kentucky.
And once again, folks will fret and scream and denounce.
And in between, Kentucky will win a lot of games, maybe even the big one again.
Because this is college basketball 2012.
It’s not "The Waltons."