Kentucky basketball, as we all know, is steeped in tradition. National championships, All-America players, more victories than any other Division I college team on the planet – it’s all there. And now, we have a new one taking root in this, the John Calipari era.
Just as the swallows each year return to Capistrano, talented UK basketball players leave for the riches of the NBA. We meet them, we watch them, we salute them and then we try to remember what they look like. Sometimes, it happens that fast.
Not with all of them, mind you. Willie Cauley-Stein was supposed to treat Lexington as little more than a pit stop. So was Alex Poythress and yet, both of them stayed beyond that initial season. But they’re among the minority; there’s a reason Kentucky had more players (27) on NBA rosters on Opening Night than any other NCAA institution.
Now we’re getting to know seven new faces on the current UK roster. And we’re being re-introduced to Hamidou Diallo. First, Wildcat fans had to sweat it out as he flirted with departure and finally decided against jumping to the NBA, after a semester of practice at the Joe Craft Center. Once he made his decision to stick around, the Big Blue Nation got to watch him warm up for games in which he never played. But they’ll see him this season. A lot.
And then he’ll be gone, no doubt like a handful of his teammates, which is why, whenever I see Kentucky’s latest men’s basketball roster for the first time, I think only of one man: Groucho Marx.
Yes, the guy with the cigar, tailcoat and greasepaint mustache. Throughout his career he was rarely at a loss for words. When it came to making a quick entrance, followed by a hasty retreat, he regaled movie-goers with the perfect ditty in the 1930 film Animal Crackers.
Playing the renowned African explorer Capt. Jeffrey T. Spaulding, Groucho is introduced to a room full of people, anxious to hear his stories from abroad. But in song, he informs them he won’t be staying long:
Hello, I must be going
I cannot stay
I came to say
I must be going
I’m glad I came
But just the same...
I must be going
At that point, Margaret Dumont, who played the perfect, clueless foil to Groucho’s characters in several Marx Brother films, responds the way you’d think Kentucky fans would:
For my sake you must stay
If you should go away
You’ll spoil this party
I am throwing
Captain Spaulding gets their hopes up – similar to when players say about their NBA aspirations, “I haven’t even thought about that yet…”
I’ll stay a week or two
I’ll stay the summer through
But I am telling you
I must be... going
Young, highly-touted players would be foolish NOT to think of the NBA, especially the way salaries have sky-rocketed after the latest collective bargaining agreement. It’s something Big Blue fans have been forced to accept, difficult as it’s been. Sort of like the party guests, trying to convince Captain Spaulding to stay:
Before you go
Won’t you oblige us
And tell us all your deeds so glowing?
I’ll do anything you say
In fact I’ll even stay!
But I must be... going!
He actually did stick around for the rest of the movie. And these Kentucky players will be here as long as it suits them. So enjoy them while you can because, or so it seems, from the day they arrive on campus: They really must be… going!