In search of Darth Vader

Kentucky is not playing in the national title game, but it has, via coach John Calipari, inserted itself into the running for finalist of self-described most-hated team. It’s rival for this title, Duke University.

Why all the hate? I don’t think I’m imagining things.

Calipari got on his Twitter machine last week and said, via an audio post on Lexy, “I’m at Kentucky, are you crazy? The biggest program. But it’s Darth Vader now. And there’s a lot of haters out there because it’s Kentucky.”

He later used the Darth Vader line with ESPN.com.

Meanwhile Duke got featured by the Indianapolis Star in a story about Duke being the school people love to hate, and the paper doctored a picture of Mike Krzyzewski by drawing a target on his forehead, plus horns, glasses and a mustache. The photo ran in about 30,000 editions before being yanked. Editors visited with Duke personally Saturday to apologize, and printed a front-page apology today.

Well, you know, it feels good to be the team that’s done it before, you know, the program that has done it before. You’d rather be that than trying to do it the first time.

You know, I don’t really look at it like — I don’t play because somebody might not like you. I know a lot of people who like us. So I just think it’s really easy to talk about not liking us because we’re a private school. We’re not a state. We don’t have a state press.

You know, people wouldn’t take the shots at us that they do if we were a state school because the people of that state wouldn’t like it and there would be a filter there. And there’s no filter for us, a Notre Dame.

So if we’re gonna be really good, we’re gonna get that because there’s nobody to hold anybody accountable before you even start talking. It’s just true. That’s just the way it is, and I’m okay with it. I think it helps us keep our edge.

The only problem is that I just watched ESPN and I can’t find anybody, ANYBODY, who is picking against Duke in the championship game. And every time Duke does even the slightest thing well, it gets magnified into a major national deal by the folks on that same network.

If there’s national backlash against Duke, it’s likely to be as much from media fawning over the Blue Devils as anything Duke is doing.

As for Kentucky, it has caught its share of critical press this season, but it has been just that, critical press. Everybody gets it. Does UK get more than its share? Sometimes I think it does. Most of the time, not. I thought DeMarcus Cousins got criticized for doing some things that a lot of other players do. There’s a certain segment of the media that’s going to criticize Calipari no matter what. It comes with the territory. UK fans were forewarned.

(The UK fan base also gets a bad rap from time to time. UK fans actually took the Elite Eight loss to West Virginia better than some of the media did. A number of commentators were critical of Calipari falling short. UK fans seem satisfied, or at least less miffed than the media would make it out to be.)

Still, the paranoia that attends some UK fan reaction is not insignificant. And UK went for and got an apology from ESPN’s Jemele Hill when she wrote that UK fans would support Charles Manson if he were a closing coach.

But is UK Darth Vader? Nah. Get back to the Final Four, and then you can be Darth Vader. That Death Star isn’t exactly fully operational yet.

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