On behalf of Ellen, Erin, Megan, and Bradley, I want to thank the entire family of the Big Blue Nation for your warmth and hospitality. you have made us feel like we have been in the commonwealth forever.
We are grateful for the opportunity to be part of the next chapter in the Extraordinary story of University of Kentucky basketball.
We all see the history and the tradition and the nearly mystical quality of kentucky basketball at every game and in every season.
And we also know what it's like to come here as an opponent, where everything - and I mean everything - turns Blue All around you.
This team is not just about the 13 young men sitting behind me who proudly wear "KENTUCKY" across their chests.
It is much more than that.
It is the Eruption Zone . . . .
. . . It is the band. . .
. . . and the dance team. . .
… And It's our national championship cheerleading squad. . .
. . .It is ashley judd. . .
. . . and the Wildcat Mascot. . .
Most of all, though, it is you. . . the fans - the twenty-four thousand alumni, students and friends who flock to this arena for each and every game.
It's a group representative of our millions of fans from pikeville to paducah; And from our country to foreign countries and to lands where our men and women of the armed forces serve and protect our freedoms.
Kentucky Basketball is about Issel. . .
. . . Walker. . .
. . . Nash. . .
. . .And Groza. . .
. . . Robey. . . .
. . . Wawa Jones. . .
. . . Macy. . .
And it's also about
. . . Mashburn. . .
. . . Farmer. . .
. . . Riley. . .
. . . Delk. . .
. . . Padgett. . .
It's about Rupp's runts, the Fabulous Five. . . The Fiddlin' Five. . .The Unforgettables. . . And all of those who have left their indelible mark on Kentucky basketball.
Our history is rooted in our coaches: Rupp and Hall and Smith.
And It's intertwined with Cawood, claude, and a truly special man named Keightley.
But what ties all those things together is you - the fans, who are here tonight in this hallowed building.
And i know how you got here - I saw you camped out by my office two weeks ago. five hundred tents, more than a thousand people, All waiting in line for several days. You slept through the cold and the wet – Well, you didn't actually sleep.
But you lived outside while attending classes and going to work.
There were people in wheelchairs and kids on skateboards. we saw generations of wildcat fans sharing space, blankets and hot cocoa. there were grandparents Playing cards with their grand children, mothers keeping young ones warm and students creating memories for a lifetime. We played cornhole, ate pizza, delivered breakfast, told tales of UK's past and we dreamed of our future.
All of us united with the common goal of getting into this building on this night to honor this program. It Doesn't matter if you Are from a holler near harlan, a farm in frankfort or a humble home in hodgenville – everyone Is connected by the love of Blue.
I'll say it again – I'm excited, I'm humbled and I'm honored to be your coach, at your university.
Tonight though, we turn the page from anticipation to preparation as we move forward into the 2009-10 season with these special young men and all of you special fans.
The destination is clear and our challenges are many. we must Meld six new players together with seven returning wildcats and Get them on one page with one heartbeat. we must create a trust and a bond; respect and adoration; acceptance and affection. then, over time, those qualities will turn into love for one another.
When that happens – when they become a family in every sense, when they care more about their teammates than themselves – It's at that point when we will become unbreakable and unbeatable.
But that doesn't happen in days or even weeks. It takes hours upon hours of sweat and pain; it takes battles fought together; obstacles overcome; close games and heartstopping plays.
That's the challenge we have in front of us.
It is about becoming one unit with a single heartbeat; a single cause and a unified love shared among teammates, coaches, staff and the greatest fans anywhere.
My friends, we have an enormous mountain to climb. Tonight, We are at the base of that mountain. other programs begin this pre-season returning the same coach, the same players, the same offense. . . they are miles ahead of us and half way up the mountain.
Our team, on the other hand, has a new system, a new style, new players, new coaches. . .almost everything is foreign and unknown.
But what we do have is a wealth of skill, energy and determination. if I have my choice between experience and talent, I'm taking talent every time.
I look at this team behind me and the passion in front of me and I see the foundation for MY VISION FOR OUR PROGRAM.
It's a vision where we are THE GOLD STANDARD NOT JUST for College Basketball BUT FOR ALL College athletics.
THAT MEANS superiority in EVERYTHING FROM OUR ACADEMIC STANDARDS to our FACILITIES TO OUR LIVING SPACES. WE WILL be A PROGRAM rooted in INTEGRITY AND run with class and we will always remember that we represent this great commonwealth.
WITH those principles guiding us, we will earn the PRVILEGE OF BEING HELD TO a higher standard both as players and coaches. AND THAT'S exactly WHAT IT IS – A PRIVILEGE to represent all of big blue nation in everything that we do.
We are the all-time winningest program in our sport – on the verge of 2,000 wins – but there is still another level to reach. And how do we do that? By ensuring that Kentucky is a players-first program.
It's about service-leadership - we Serve them, they do not serve us. Our focus is on making players better IN EVERY WAY – BOTH ON AND OFF THE COURT .
I want to see EVERY ONE OF these young people graduate. Some – like Perry, Ramon and Mark - will do it in four years. Others – like Patrick will do it in three years.
Still others are going to leave early to pursue their dreams. I am okay with that and i ask that you also be okay with that.
You have my assurance that i will strongly encourage all of our student-athletes to obtain their diploma from this great univeristy – the way Ron Mercer and Wayne Turner are doing right now. Wayne? Stand up please -
Future players need to KNOW THEY CAN REACH THEIR DREAMS AT uk. My vision is for every high school player in the country to dream of putting on this uniform and when they do so, helping to lift the spirit of everyone in the Commonwealth and beyond.
My role – and that of my staff - is to serve these young people. We're not here to manage them, we're here to inspire them to climb mountains and achieve their goals and dreams of being professional players, successful businessmen, respected citizens and honored sons.
they will come here to play in college basketball's most exciting offense, the dribble drive motion. . .
. . . and to be a staple on national TV. . . and to be unleashed and challenged to break barriers, but also to be hugged and loved.
Above all else we want them to have fun.
Are we having fun yet?
Yeah, I thought so. . .
LOOK AT THis ATMOSPHERE YOU HAVE CREATED TONIGHT. IT'S THAT ENERGY, THIS BUZZ THAT WILL ATTRACT THE BEST AND BRIGHTEST STUDENT ATHLETES TO OUR PROGRAM. THEY WILL SEE OUR PLAYERS HUGGING AND HIGH-FIVING; CHEST-BUMPING AND CELEBRATING AND THEY WILL REALIZE – THis IS WHERE they WANT TO PLAY – at the UNiversity of kentucky. at the place where players are revered, adored and emulated.
They will reach their dreams while we live out our own through their efforts and accomplishments.
In closing, i have this question for you – if these players are having a ball, breaking barriers, doing more than they have ever done in their collective lives – don't you think they'll try to extend our season?
So let's have fun. All of us. And let these guys take us where they want to go. If they are really having fun they will not want this season to end.
My vision is one of celebrations and banquets; diplomas and banners; rings and parades. . .
. . . A return of this legendary program back to its rightful place atop the mountain of college basketball. . .
A vision that sees the you, greatest fans in all of sports once again puffing your chests and chanting in whatever language you choose, and however loudly you want to shout it, Go Big blue! Go big blue! Go Big Blue!
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