Back in 1996, the Kentucky Wildcats had not won a national championship since Joe B. Hall lead them there in 1978. A guy by the name of Rick Pitino took over the Kentucky job in 1989, and began forming a contender from the very beginning. In 1993, the ‘Cats made the Final Four. Three years later, they were back in the Final Four and taking on a John Calipari led UMass team. After defeating the Minutemen 81-74, the ‘Cats were on their way to the national championship game vs. Syracuse. The ‘Cats prevailed over the Orangemen 76-67 and won the school’s first championship in 18 years.
Nowadays, it is commonplace for players of a national championship winning team to receive rings. The 1996 Kentucky squad never received any rings except for the ones given out by the NCAA. On Wednesday night, that is all going to change for one of the best teams in college basketball history. For the guys on the team, they say it’s like winning the championship all over again. The team will be honored at halftime of the Kentucky/Mississippi State game on Wednesday night, and receive their rings.
Derek Anderson said it was a sign that UK was giving back to the team that gave so much to the university. Usually, players come and go to their schools and are just forgotten about. At the University of Kentucky, that is certainly not the case. The team as a whole was like a true brotherhood, loving one another and were much more than teammates. That fact is still relevant today as they stay in touch and reunite. While John Calipari may not encourage the hotel room wrestling that the ’96 team did before the Final Four, he would love and wish for his teams to have the love and togetherness the ’96 team has.
For me, the 1996 edition of the Kentucky Wildcats was my very first team I followed as a kid. I loved watching that team and grew up under the impression that Kentucky was always that good. They always won, and they always dominated. If they lost, something was horribly wrong. As an adult, I have tremendous respect for the one of the greatest teams of all-time. It’s not the commonplace for teams to go 34-2 anymore, nor to have 9 future NBA players on the same roster. I always wonder if ’97 would have been any different without Derek Anderson hurting his knee. That team was the start of Kentucky being a national title contender again, and created the birth of a whole new generation of Kentucky Wildcat fans. “The Untouchables” earned their nickname, and their rings.