Friday, March 30, 2012
Kentucky still taking circus in stride
By Eamonn Brennan
NEW ORLEANS -- The circus is just a short walk away.
Here's how you get there: Step out of the Louisiana Superdome onto Poydras Street, swing a left on Carandolet and follow it through downtown New Orleans until you reach Bourbon Street. This is the French Quarter, where everything you assumed about this Final Four has come true.
Yes, the Kentucky fans are everywhere. They congregate in bars and saunter down Bourbon with beers in clear plastic cups, and the atmosphere is equal parts Big Easy and anticipation: This is Big Blue's national title to win. Only those pesky Louisville Cardinals and a championship game -- it doesn't really matter who it is -- stand inconveniently in the way.
Anthony Davis and Kentucky are avoiding the circus on Bourbon Street.
When you walk back to the Superdome and take another series of turns, you may (with proper accreditation, of course) find yourself in Kentucky's locker room. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist squats with a towel on his shoulder. Marquis Teague leans back in his padded chair. Anthony Davis (somehow) hunches into his locker ledge. Darius Miller and Terrence Jones casually saunter back from the press room podium, sit down, and begin answering the same questions being asked of their teammates.
What does this mean to your fans? Are you guys feeling any pressure as the favorites? Do you feel the hype? How are you staying focused?
It is a credit to this Kentucky team, and the coach who leads them -- and perhaps to the circus-like atmosphere that always pervades this program, making this week nothing more than a slight enhancement -- that no matter how many times these questions are rephrased and re-asked, no matter how often the circus tries to invade the pristine calm of this locker room, the Wildcats couldn't be seem more relaxed.
"I can't wait to play, I'm ready to get started," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "It's a lot of talking and stuff like that, but I just want to play the game of basketball."
What about the massive Superdome gym, the imposingly raised floor?
"It's a lot of seats," Kidd-Gilchrist deadpanned. "It's just a regular floor to me."
As Miller admitted, this team is, if anything, tired of hearing about What This Game Means. Coach John Calipari has kept them "above the fray," as he put it, and the strategy appears to have worked. Bourbon Street and its sweaty, beer-swilling, trash-talking circus were offered no quarters in the sanctuary of the Kentucky locker room Friday. There is only calm, businesslike focus to be found here.
"I know the fans on both sides are going crazy, and that's great," Calipari said. "That's part of why you do this thing. But we're not buying into it. I don't believe their team is buying into it.
"If you want to buy into the drama, then you buy into it," Calipari said. "If you want to play basketball, we're playing a terrific basketball team tomorrow at five o'clock. That's all we're dealing with."