SHANE SHACKLEFORD: Even Though Calipari's Wildcats Lost to Duke, All Is Not Lost
Let me say this in very clear terms. I hate losing. At anything at any time. The one thing I cannot bear is when I lose. It makes me mad. It aggravates me to no end. It makes me feel like I’m some type of failure.
As a coach for over 20 years, losing drove me insane. After a loss, I can guarantee that my angel of a wife would attest that I became a cross between a sad clown and Attila the Hun in altering states. Not good.
This feeling goes for the teams I support. Doesn’t matter the sport, when my team loses all those awful feelings associated with losing come flooding back into my consciousness. It is terrible.
When my beloved Kentucky Wildcats got throttled by the ever-despised Duke Blue Devils 118-84 Tuesday night at the Champions Classic in Indianapolis, needless to say, those feelings associated with losing were running rampant in my psyche. As I watched the contest, I could feel the anger rising up in me, raising my voice to the TV and scaring our sweet, innocent dog Lady.
But it dawned on me a quote that I learned from a John Wooden autobiography years ago that went something like this: “Failure isn’t fatal, but not learning from failure is.”
Sometimes in life, we fail. Sometimes in life, we lose. It stinks, but it’s surely the truth. In competition, there must be a winner, a victor. Conversely, there must be a loser. Cold hard facts.
But BBN, I want to tell you that even though it's been tough sledding recently in light of the football Cats losing the SEC East to Georgia and the basketball Cats losing to Duke to open the season, it’s not the time to panic.
It can be really easy to lash out and strike at anything that moves when you lose. I’ve said and done some things that I am not proud of in the midst of losing, but as I have grown as a man I found there are positives that can be taken from a loss.
First, losing provides a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow. As a coach, I found that when my team lost, it allowed me and my charges a chance to see where we had shortcomings in our team and our preparation and what needed to be done to improve ourselves and our squad. Coach John Calipari said before the Duke matchup that the game would give the team a lot of film to see what needed to be improved. The old coach saying “the big eye in the sky doesn’t lie” applies here. UK was exposed in several areas, especially on defense. The film will surely be used to build and repair the Cats.
Next, the Cats loss will serve as a tool to temper the wild expectations the club has had since this summer when they ran roughshod through the Bahamas on their Big Blue Caravan tour and opening up as the second-ranked team in the country. The loss exposed the fact that while talented, the Wildcats are still really young and need time to mature and develop into a team that can make serious noise in March. Any basketball coach will tell you championships aren’t won in November and great teams peak in March. There’s no question that the schedule in front of UK has some big tests, and more than likely a few more losses. But to be the best at anything, you must measure yourself against the very best. Kentucky has the opportunity to be great; this loss, however bad, doesn’t change that.
Last, and most importantly, don’t overreact because of the loss. Yes, UK got drilled by one of their arch-rivals on national TV. But it’s important to understand some things about the Blue Devils’ performance. The trio of RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Zion Williamson combined for 83 of the Devils 118 points. That’s amazing. Duke also shot 54 percent from the field. Very impressive. The bottom line is Duke played out of their minds against UK. Everything went right for them, while if it could go wrong for the Cats it seemed like it did. That just happens sometimes. The Cats played hard, Duke was simply better.
It’s important to have perspective now. It’s a long season with many ups and downs in front of the Cats. If the fan base flips out over one game and fails to support the team, what kind of message does that send? We support you only when it is going good and you are on your own when it's bad? To be honest, losing is hard enough but it's worse when it’s compounded by a lack of support. Let’s do the right thing and shake off this game and prepare for the rest of what can still be a magical season.
Shane Shackleford is a regional sports writer in Speedwell, Tenn. You can reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, his website Coach Shack’s Corner at www.coachshack50/wixsite.com/coachshackscorner, Facebook, or Twitter @shack_daddy_1.