ARLINGTON, Texas - Late Monday night, as the band plays on and the confetti falls in AT T Stadium covering this season's celebrating NCAA men's basketball national champions, my lifelong dream will finally come true.
Ladder in place under one of the baskets and with scissors in hand, I'll snip a piece of the net. The crowd of almost 80,000 will roar with approval, and I'll shake my fist knowing I got us to the Promised Land.
This was all accomplished without me playing a minute, hitting a shot, grabbing a rebound and passing for an assist.
All I had to do to motivate the winning team to the mountaintop was write about them with a critical eye. Translated by coaches and players, it means I, a member of the wretched media, "disrespected" them.
Playing the "disrespect" card -- "nobody ever believed in us but us" -- almost always makes an appearance when teams are on the cusp of ultimate in-your-face redemption.
Thus, the outcome of this national championship game between Kentucky and UConn won't have anything to do whether UConn's backcourt of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright can slow down Kentucky's Harrison twins.
Or who wins the power forward showdown featuring UConn's smooth and long DeAndre Daniels and Kentucky's chiseled Julius Randle.Kentucky forward Alex Poythress (22) reacts after a three-point basket during the second half of an NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball semifinal game against Wisconsin Saturday, April 5, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. Kentucky won 74-73. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
It's about which team has been disrespected more, which appears to be Kentucky. But that's if you only ask Kentucky and forget to poll UConn.
The Wildcats entered this season armed with seven McDonald's all-Americans (six of them freshmen) and a preseason No. 1 ranking. When Calipari was asked at Kentucky's media day about embracing a possible 40-0 perfect season, he said, "I've said, before I retire, I'd love to coach a team that goes 40-0."
Then, Kentucky played like, well, like freshmen.
"We had no college experience," Randall said. "It wasn't attitude or effort. We were still learning our way. We were trying to figure everything out."
Calipari was clearly exasperated, including running out on the court next to his bench in road loss at LSU and shoving one of the Harrisons into position on offense. The Wildcats lost three of their last seven regular season games and were given a No. 8 NCAA tourney seed before Calipari's mysterious, magical offensive "tweak" positioned UK to win its second national championship in the last three years.
And all because we, the nasty 'ol media, bypassed bleeding Kentucky blue and dared to criticize the struggling Wildcats. We thoughtlessly disrespected their ridiculous talent level.
"Late in the game, they have an unbelievable will to win, and part of that has come from how they've been treated all season," Calipari said of his team nicknamed `The Tweakables.' They have been ridiculed and criticized.
"There's constructive criticism and then there's destructive criticism. They got that (latter) kind, questioning their attitudes. Are they good people? Are they selfish?
"They were absolutely mauled. I think it made them stronger and come together."
Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison, whose game-winning 3-pointers in three straight NCAA tourney games have made him a Bluegrass State historical figure ranking somewhere between Adolph Rupp and Secretariat, agreed with Calipari.
"It's a good feeling to prove people wrong when they say bad things about you," Harrison said. "The criticism we got is a big part of us coming this far. We fed off it and the scrutiny. It's fueling us right now."
UConn also hopped aboard the disrespect train, which continues to make timely stops.
Maybe it was because the Huskies of the first-year American Athletic Conference lost three times by double digits this year to defending national champion Louisville, including a 33-point waxing on March 8. Or it might have been UConn getting swept by SMU that convinced the NCAA tournament committee to make the Huskies a No. 7 seed.
Who cares about the reason? Disrespect is disrespect.
"We've been disrespected through the whole tournament," Daniels said. "We talk about it sometimes. People still doubt us in Monday's game. It makes us want to play even harder. We want to prove a point."
Daniels and teammates didn't note that most of the Final Four media horde gushed about UConn's Napier and Boatright handcuffing Florida's vaunted guards in the Huskies' 63-53 semifinal victory Saturday.
Boatright, in particular, made the Gators' senior Scottie Wilbekin, the SEC's Player of the Year, look like a jittery freshman tossing up airballs and getting his pocket picked.
Yet Boatright threw gas on the disrespect bonfire one last time this season, noting he still didn't receive his proper kudos from the talking heads.
"We were watching TV, and as much as I put in the game, and as much as I play defense," Boatright said, "a lot of people were saying that Scottie Wilbekin didn't play well because his knees were hurting.
"Maybe his knees were hurting. But at the same time, they still aren't giving us the credit we deserve. We like that, though. It fuels us to go out there and prove the world wrong."
Obviously, there's such an astronomical level of disrespect for both teams in Monday's championship game that there's a rumor CBS is considering changing its traditional "One Shining Moment" postgame video tourney highlight song to Toby Keith's "How Do You Like Me Now?"
Meanwhile, I'm practicing my net cutting and getting fitted for my championship ring.
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