Don’t Hail Mary, Hail Meeks

Emily Rawdon

There is a lot of controversy in religion. Hailing from Kentucky, I feel the influence of it everyday. People argue over who did what wrong or right, theorize on “what he was thinking”, and stray and repent constantly. It doesn’t matter if you are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or anything else; you have an opinion.

Don’t you feel sorry for Billy Gillespie? He is, of course, the head coach of this “church.” Whatever he does, criticism is not far behind. When it comes to my state, our one true religion is University of Kentucky Men’s Basketball. My family, season-ticket holders since the Adolph Rupp era, is true believers. Raised in the recent “golden-era” of Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith, I, like most fans, have rather high standards for basketball success.

Last Tuesday, they were met. Any good basketball fan went to bed giddy that night. Because out of nowhere, a team that had been in a serious slump burst on the scene. Well, perhaps not a team, but at least a valued individual on it. In case you missed SportsCenter, or the papers, or the blogs, Jodie Meeks scored 54 points, a new school record.

Up until rather recently, I wouldn’t expect anyone to be familiar with my second-favorite team player (first goes to high school comrade Jared Carter, whose rare appearances are what I live for). Last year Meeks was a nothing: eleven games, average stats and one big injury. Recruited originally by Tubby Smith, Meeks was seen as a risk coming out of high school because, of all things, they said he couldn’t shoot.

Yet, there he was, sinking ten three-pointers and fourteen free-throws in fourteen attempts. The next day the headlines, Facebook statuses and buzz swept over every major media outlet. Suddenly there was the question of his contention in the Player of the Year race. A man named Ryan Pareker even penned the insanely catchy YouTube hit, “Jodie Meeks Song.”

Despite the heraldry, there are some essential facts that are being overlooked. First, there is the status of the SEC. Kentucky is tied with Mississippi State for the top honors in the SEC, and gliding through conference play. This is only partially due to the lack of tough opponents. There is no doubt that the SEC is down this year. An article on by Pat Forde compared the state of the conference to that of the auto and banking industries. Don’t you wish Barack Obama had a secret weapon like Jodie Meeks?

Another overlooked item on the list is Billy Gillespie. After Tubby Smith left, no fan saw him coming. Gillespie is an enigma to us all. He coaches however he wants, and answers to no one. Everyone knows the story of “the Garner-Webb Incident” and “The VMI Tragedy.” Fans statewide called for the man to be fired. But this season, something appears to have changed. Suddenly, the Wildcats are no longer mediocre. Players struggled last season to adapt to his coaching methods, which have seemingly clicked into place recently.

Fans may still not like him, but it is clear that something is working. Maybe they all got sick of constantly being in the doghouse? No one knows, but I think most of us are impressed.

Forward Patrick Patterson, unlike Meeks, was expected to dominate. Patterson lives for the double-double and is the reigning king of the paint in both rebounds and points. He’s even pitched in 37 blocks this season. However, no one man can carry a team, forcing the question, can two men lead a team to greatness? Meeks and Patterson are great, but can the team as a whole support them when they fall?

Ultimately, turnovers will make or break this team in post-season play. However, I still have high hopes for this season. Pending our back-to-back home meetings with Mississippi State and Florida in February, I think the ‘Cats could pull off another SEC title. The last crucial point before the SEC Tournament will come on March 7. For the last game of the regular season, Meeks and his crew will have to storm the swamp in Florida. I’ll be glued to my TV — fingers crossed, prayers said and cell phone connected to my father in hand.

For once, since the recent golden era, I think we could actually go for number eight. Can I get a “Hallelujah!” from the Church of Kentucky?