COLUMN: Spencer has been tough opponent for now state-champ Collins

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By John Shindlebower

In just four years, Collins High School in Shelby County has risen to be one of the perennial powers in Class 4A football in Kentucky. They’ve advanced deep into the playoffs each season, last season making it to the championship game, and this year claiming the title with a 38-35 win over favored Ft. Thomas Highlands.
But if you look at the record books over the last couple of seasons, you’ll notice that one of the toughest opponents Collins faces each year has been Spencer County. During the 2012 campaign, Spencer County came up just a couple of yards short in the final seconds of upsetting the Titans, who held on for a thrilling 38-35 victory at home.
This past season, Collins brought their high-powered offense to Taylorsville and Spencer County’s tough defense had an answer. The Bears held the Titans to a season low 21 points and again the game wasn’t decided until the final minutes as Spencer County lost a 21-14 matchup.
While no one hangs banners for moral victories, it is an encouraging sign for Spencer County that the state champion Collins Titans will forever regard them as one of the toughest opponents they faced on the road to glory. With many of the stars that paced Collins this season and last graduating this spring, it could make for yet another very interesting game next fall when the Bears make the short trip over to Shelbyville.
The Bears have yet to be intimidated by the big team in the new school and their impressive facilities. I doubt Spencer County will be intimidated by a championship banner either and football fans can probably expect another exciting contest.

Need another sign
of encouragement?
The just-completed state football playoffs provided evidence that you don’t have to reside in a big city to taste success. A look at the championship games reveals that only one team playing for a trophy hailed from the state’s largest city. Louisville DeSales was the lone representative of the Derby City, which in the past has counted on programs like Trinity, St. Xavier, Louisville Central and others to compete for titles.
Meanwhile, the other two metropolitan areas of the state had only two representatives. Northern Kentucky was represented by the aforementioned Highlands and Newport Central Catholic, both of whom lost in their title games. Lexington had zero representation.
That’s encouraging for teams out in the state. In 2013, winners hailed from small places like Mayfield and Belfry (although both of those schools have multiple state titles to their credit) while others who made it the final game came from places like Williamsburg, Wayne County and Meade County. Reading those scores makes you realize that seeing Spencer County in a title game one year is not an unrealistic goal.

Are UK fans beginning
to question?
You know that scene in the Wizard of Oz where Toto pulls the curtain away to reveal the mighty wizard as a hoax? I wonder if a similar scenario is being played out across Kentucky as fewer and fewer fans are standing in awed wonder at the brilliance of one John Calipari.
Last year’s first-round bow-out in the NIT to Robert Morris opened some eyes, but Calipari and the hype machine that he has with Kentucky Sports Radio and other outlets seemed to convince many that last season was just a aberration. Fans were told to calm down because the twins were coming, and they were being joined by the greatest recruiting class the world has ever known.
So far the results have not been so amazing. The young Cats have played two ranked teams, and they have lost both of those games. Many in the nation had crowned Kentucky’s young squad the preseason number one team in the land, and there were some UK fans pounding their chest and boasting of a 40-0 season. T-shirts with the 40-0 record were even printed.
Now there’s fear that a repeat of last season could be unfolding.
More fans are questioning Calipari’s coaching ability, and more importantly, many fans are finally waking up to the fact that the one-and-done philosophy, in which Calipari assembles his team every eight months with an ensemble of likely NBA first-round picks who are 18-years-old, may not be the best recipe for success in major college basketball.
These 18-year-old kids are just months removed from playing high school basketball, when on many nights their competition was drastically lower than what they face even against the lowest ranked NAIA team for an exhibition. The UK freshmen are no doubt amazingly talented, but they’re also dangerously untested. They may have averaged 25 points in high school, but they did so against much slower, much smaller and much less talented opposition.
These super freshmen then get even more hype from their AAU play when teams rarely play defense and winning and losing takes a back seat to individual exposure. By the time a highly-touted recruit makes his way to Lexington, the coaching staff, fans and various media have made them out to be the greatest collection of talent to ever grace Rupp Arena.
Then reality hits. These 18-year-old kids square off against 21 and 22-year-old men who may not be as talented, but who are stronger and wiser. Pure talent may put UK over the top against vastly inferior teams, but when a team like Baylor combines experience with some quality talent of their own, the results are not so favorable.
Kentucky basketball was built not on the backs of 18-year-old kids. Kentucky basketball was built on the backs of young players who truly loved the state, the school and the program and they would never dream of leaving after only one season.
I long for the day when I see young men in Kentucky uniforms crying on senior night because they have to leave after their four years are complete. Instead, we see whining 18-year-olds arriving in Lexington for a brief stay and acting like they can’t wait to leave and join NBA Commissioner David Stern on draft night. Of course, it was Calipari himself who has lectured Kentucky fans again and again that NBA draft night is the most important moment in UK basketball history.
True Kentucky fans, the curtain’s been moved. Can you finally see the truth?