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By MIKE MARSEE
It was the Crown Jewels, the Mona Lisa and the Holy Grail rolled into one, at least as far as Kentucky basketball fans are concerned. And for a little while Monday, it was the center of attention at Boyle County High School.
All eyes and quite a few hands were on the NCAA championship trophy during its brief appearance at the John Calipari Satellite Camp.
Calipari brought Kentucky’s 2011 Final Four trophy to his one-day camp last year at Danville High School, but that one wasn’t quite as big or quite as significant as the chunk of wood, glass and gold plating he has shown off this spring everywhere from supermarkets to baseball parks to a Shoney’s restaurant and the back of a moving train.
This was the trophy that many Kentuckians have waited years to see, and for the youngsters at the Boyle camp, the sum of those years covered their entire lives.
“It’s just cool how it gets from New Orleans all the way down here and to get to touch it,” said 11-year-old Grant Loy, whose father brought him from Columbia to the camp.
Loy and the 100 other campers — and the parents and relatives who brought them to Boyle — were fixed on Calipari later in the afternoon as he talked about the sacrifices and successes of the players who won that trophy.
“This was a team that was responsible to each other and looked after each other,” Calipari said. “Now, they were really talented, but I’ll tell you what they did: They truly played for each other. Would you say when you watched that that’s what you thought, that this team all played for other?
“It’s hard. How many of you if your son was a sophomore and a junior and he started would accept him coming off the bench as a senior? … Or your son was a pretty good scorer but he was only taking 10 or 11 shots a game. … Our No. 1 (draft) pick and No. 2 pick took the fourth- and fifth-most shots on our team. For all of us, what a great lesson about coming together and sacrificing for each other.”
By the time they got that lesson, the campers had already gotten their chance to see and touch the national championship trophy, and they were photographed in groups.
And while they knew they would get the chance to meet and get autographs from Calipari and some of his players, many of them didn’t know the hardware would be on hand as well.
“I had no idea,” Logan Pisula of Berea said. “It was pretty good.”
Another Berea camper, 16-year-old Kayla Hargis, said it was one of her favorite parts of the afternoon.
“It was great,” she said.
The trophy is heavier than you might think, and it is some other things that the youngsters didn’t expect as well.
“It was cold,” Austin Getter, 11, of Danville said.
“Smooth, it felt smooth,” added 9-year-old Jacob Moberly of Elizabethtown.
That was only part one of the things the kids enjoyed at the camp, where many of them said they were much more interested in meeting Calipari, his assistant coaches and the players — Twany Beckham, Ryan Harrow, Jon Hood, Brian Long, Jarrod Polson and Kyle Wiltjer were on hand — as in playing basketball or learning new skills.
“I’ve already done all this stuff at home,” said Moberly, the son of former Boyle boys basketball coach Andy Moberly.
Getter said he had, too.
“We get to meet the players and the coach,” he said.
Hargis said her favorite part was “getting the players’ autographs and playing basketball,” even though she’s not really a basketball player. She plays softball but not basketball for Madison Southern, though she loved her first experience at one of Calipari’s satellite camps, which he is holding for the third straight year.
“Because I just love Kentucky basketball,” she said. “My room is all decorated in Kentucky.”
Hargis was one of six finalists in the camp’s “knockout” competition, though she was the first one knocked out. Moberly was the runner-up, and he said that was the best part of the day for him.
But the one who enjoyed the knockout contest most was Loy.
“I won it,” he said, adding that he didn’t expect to even after he made the finals.
Many of the kids and adults on hand Monday are surely already counting the days until Calipari and his team have a chance to raise another championship trophy, and they know he’s probably counting, too.
He noted that five coaches have won NCAA titles at Kentucky, compared to no more than two at any other school, and he said one of the things that attracted him to Kentucky was the chance to compete for championships on an annual basis, something even the youngest fans fully expect the Wildcats to do.
“How many of you think we should win it every year?” Calipari asked, as virtually every camper raised a hand. “How many of you think it’s reasonable that we should win it every year?” he asked, and only a dozen or so hands were raised.
“People say to me, ‘How hard is it to coach there? They want you to win it every year.’ Well, yeah, they want us to, but they know we can’t do that. … But the biggest thing is being up at bat every year. You’ve got a chance every year. … And you should expect us to win. You know we’re not going to do it every year, but we’re going to be in the hunt every year. We’re Kentucky.”