Player’s Perspective: Where The Wildcats Are
By Reece T. Williams
Nov. 24, 2015
When I was in the eighth grade, my AAU basketball team, the Greenburgh Kings—a group of 13 boys from across the Westchester County town of Greenburgh, NY—was matched up against a supposedly grittier, more skilled collective of young men from “The ‘Ville:” Mt. Vernon, NY. We had scrimmaged them two summers ago, and the expectations (or fears) about their superior skill and athleticism were proven to be accurate—they destroyed us.
Thus, as we prepared to play them two years bigger, stronger, and more skilled, we, the eclectic group of a few suburban hobbyist basketball players were indeed nervous.
Yet, my father encouraged us with these words: “They put on their drawers [boxers] the same way you do: one leg at a time.”
Once we were reminded that the ‘Monstars’ form Mt. Vernon were indeed human, we loosened up and played our game, and to both ours, and likely their surprises, we won.
Fast forward to Friday night, Nov. 13.
We, the University at Albany men’s basketball team were slated against arguably the most popular collegiate basketball program of the last decade—the University of Kentucky Wildcats.
Their eight NCAA championships seat them second all-time, only three behind UCLA. At the beginning of this NBA season, 21 of the league’s players had previously sported UK’s trademark blue and white checkered uniforms—the most of any other of the 111 Division I schools across the country.
All of that lends to UK’s impressive legacy. But, in relation to this year’s team, it’s only history.
I’m convinced that through their early-season, non-conference campaign, amidst their noted size and athletic advantages, this year’s University of Kentucky men’s basketball team will thrive on one thing: intimidation.
The 2015-16 assembly of top-100-ranked recruits has yet to prove anything in the NCAA. If there’s one thing I wish I could’ve told my teammates Friday night, it would have been that the Wildcats put on their drawers—one leg at a time.
As we warmed up Friday night, separated from the Wildcats by the midcourt line, Robert Harris, the team’s assistant strength and conditioning coach, asked me: “’Aye! How much do you bench? 225?”
As I began to answer, he interrupted, “Doesn’t matter. I’ll still beat you!”
I laughed, taking his unwarranted aggression as a joke. The next time I walked passed him, he suggested: “You should’ve braided that hair homie.”
Jon Iati—an assistant coach on our team—had seen the exchange and came to stand between us the group of Wildcats stretching on the other half of the court.
My teammates asked me what Harris had said, and once I told them, they sucked their teeth with promises to make him pay for his attempt at intimidation.
But, when the game started, the fire appeared to have been fanned.
There’s one key for a David school to unseat a Goliath in men’s college basketball: play mad.
The smaller school has to be fearless, taking open shots when they get them, crashing the offensive and defensive glass and defending with fervor.
We started a little slow, giving up a few offensive rebounds—more than anything, that murders momentum.
We missed eight free throws, and 13 three 3-point attempts.
You’ll read of how we faired well against the Wildcats, as they didn’t begin to pull away until midway through the second half. Yet, I contend that while we played hard, we didn’t do so well.
And from my seat on the bench, it looked as if we spent the first half, and part of the second half surprised at their human fallibility.
The atmosphere in the locker room following our loss was one of disappointment in knowing that we were more evenly matched with the Wildcats than maybe some of us had expected.
But, we had our opportunity to shock the world. I’m only disappointed that it was us who seemed to be dazed by how deserving we were to be on that court.