By Ashley Scoby
Twenty minutes before undefeated Kentucky took on Cincinnati in Saturday’s Round of 32, Trey Lyles perked his head up during shoot-around. The speakers boomed with Beyonce belting “Crazy in Love,” and Lyles clearly approved.
Plastering on that goofy smile that has been a fixture in Lyles’ post-game interview photo-bombs, he bobbed to the music and started sliding his feet across the court like he was on ice skates, in a movement somewhere between a sashay and a crossover. He danced his way over to Karl-Anthony Towns, who shook his head and laughed.
It’s a scene that has played out in nearly every pre-game situation Kentucky has been in this year. There are different arenas, different songs, different guys busting out their moves. But even come post-season, the vibe around a now 36-0 Kentucky team is the same as it has been since the season started.
“Loose” would be an understatement to describe it.
The list could go on: Everyone has seen the photobombs from Lyles, Towns and even an injured Alex Poythress. Last week at the SEC tournament, Marcus Lee took over a television camera and helped interview Willie Cauley-Stein in the locker room. A couple weeks before that, Lee crashed Towns’ post-game interview at Rupp Arena to sit on his lap.
Sometimes in the process of watching a perfect season unfold, we forget that 18- to 22-year-old kids are the ones executing it. Luckily for Kentucky fans, the players haven’t forgotten that part.
We’ve made this season into something complicated – a patchwork of All-American players, brilliant schemes from John Calipari and a laundry list of “ways to beat Kentucky.” Instead of just accepting perfection as it has been, media members and fans have spent a large portion of the season cooking up schemes of how to beat Kentucky.
Do you do it with physical play in the post? A run-and-gun style? A steady half-court offense? Speeding them up, slowing them down? Sticking needles into a Karl-Anthony Towns voo-doo doll?
But the reason this team hasn’t lost is the exact opposite of being complicated.
This season is as simple as a group of guys who like being around each other going out and playing a game that they love, and having fun while doing it.
“I’ve been on a lot of teams and I’ve been blessed to play on a lot of different levels,” Towns said. “I have never played on a team so close, so together and so one-minded – one-minded not on ourselves but on each other.”
While that may sound like a back-of-the-DVD summary of a Disney movie, it certainly seems to be the case in Kentucky’s locker room.
This isn’t to say that every time the team gets together, it’s some giant kumbaya lovefest. They’re mostly teenagers. Without a doubt, they argue over stupid things, have tempers and get into bad moods, like the rest of the planet. But if the players on this team don’t genuinely like each other, then they all deserve Academy Awards for fooling anyone who has spent time around them.
The way they’ve reacted to perceived slights on the basketball court is just one extension of that chemistry. Against Cincinnati, Lyles got bumped on a rebound by Octavius Ellis, but Aaron Harrison ended up with the technical foul for his own bump of Ellis.
“I think the biggest thing is this is a family,” Towns said. “We protect each other at all costs. We’re just real smart. We just know that we don’t have to talk anything. We just have to play the game we know how to play and just continue to get better … People don’t believe it, but we very much stay to this family.”
That “family” has now done what no other men’s Division-I college basketball program has done: started a season 36-0.
All-Americans, Xs and Os, and wingspans aside, that doesn’t happen without the players liking each other and maintaining a loose simplicity within their bubble. Whether it’s sitting on each other’s laps or dancing to Beyonce, this “perfect” team is only so because it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
“I think, to be honest with you, to me, it probably won’t hit me (until) years from now,” Towns said. “When I realize how special this team really was. When you’re a part of something, you get lost in the moment. I think we’re all lost in the moment right now.”
Ashley Scoby is a senior journalism major at the University of Kentucky and a KyForward sports writer. She has reported on the Wildcats for wildcathoops.com, vaughtsviews.com andkysportsreport.com as well as for newspapers in Danville and Glasgow. She will begin a summer internship with Sports Illustrated magazine in New York this June.
Courtesy of KyForward