Kentucky basketball misses TyTy Washington

Kentucky’s first-round loss to St. Peter’s University in last year’s NCAA tournament left a grotesque scar on what was otherwise a beautiful season. Not casually discounting the most embarrassing loss in school history, but much of the 2021-22 season was a bastion of success.

As of the end of January 2022, Kentucky was 19-4. The only loss that pundits would consider bad was at Notre Dame, but the other losses were understandable. They fell to Duke earlier in the season in the Champions Classic, a ranked LSU team on the road, and #2 Auburn, again on the road.

These losses were offset by major victories, including blowouts over eventual National Champion Kansas and National Runner-up North Carolina.

But perhaps as important as the team’s success, the players were having fun. Fun led to confidence that led to freedom on the pitch that led to victories. And from the perspective of this humble outsider, Ty Ty Washington had a lot to do with it.

Going into this season, it looked like Kentucky was going to be, at worst, as good as last year. First, Sahvir Wheeler Y Oscar Tshiebwe they returned. anthony reeves Y C.J. Fredrick were the shooters on par, if not better than Davion Mintz Y Kellan Grady. The combination of a greatly improved jacob toppin and McDonald’s All-American, Chris Livingstonwould definitely replace keion streams‘ production. And finally, Cason Wallace was the future lottery pick that replaced first round pick TyTy Washington.

To say the least, these projections have not panned out. There are a plethora of shortcomings we can point to, however, one underrated attribute this team lacks is what TyTy Washington brought to the table, and I don’t mean his ability to consistently beat his man off the dribble.

It is his personality.

TyTy Washington’s personality shone brighter than his jump shot

Kentucky fans differ from the rest of college basketball schools in many ways, but one of the highlights of Big Blue Nation’s enthusiasm is a desire to bond with these players on a personal level.

Of course, I mean that in the least creepy way possible.

It’s one of the many reasons fans used to get so frustrated with the one-time draft strategy despite the wins it produced. They wanted to love these players for more than one season. Fans have an affinity for players with great games, but are more drawn to those with big personalities. They want to dance alongside John Wall, go to war with DeMarcus Cousins, and wear Jorts jorts.

Last season, TyTy Washington was that personality. He led the team on the griddy after every win, asked Tom Brady to come watch them play in Tampa Bay and exuded an infectious smile that makes him his grandmother’s favorite player.

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This year, that same grandmother wants to rap the knuckles of all the players with a ruler to make them sit upright and stop sulking.

Perhaps last year’s early season wins spawned the dance more than the dance influenced the wins, but the two were inexplicably linked. With Washington leading the effort, people like Sahvir Wheeler and spear items they were often right behind him hitting the Griddy with the brand of gleeful exuberance that was the equivalent of firing a cannon full of confetti at a birthday party.

This year, the only party anyone wants to throw is the pity variety with upside-down candles in a warm, musty frosting. Even Kentucky’s wins draw more sighs of relief than celebration. Would a TyTy Washington personality solve all of Kentucky’s problems? Maybe not, but it would certainly help, and this team just doesn’t seem to have it.

The Kentucky staff is doing their best

The rumours, the buzz and the looks from anyone who has seen Kentucky play would indicate that the disconnect goes beyond a coaching staff yelling more than a bunch of post-pandemic Gen Z youth want to hear.

KSR OG and Kentucky Director of Player Development TJ Beisner wrote an insightful LinkedIn post highlighting some of these struggles. He said:

“As our season progressed, we had some challenges on the pitch, like every team, but we also had some unique challenges off the pitch, both as a group and individually. We are using a number of resources to support the team, but this is an area where we want to continue to improve…”

T. J. Beisner | LinkedIn

Good luck to TJ and the rest of the staff. Evolving motivational techniques to match the best response of today’s generation is a workplace struggle as old as time. The spotlight on Kentucky basketball makes it that much more challenging.

However, in addition to professional outside resources designed to lift a group of people out of a slump, sometimes it takes a partner like TyTy Washington to come in, smile, crack a joke, and lead everyone in a dance. That’s something the staff can’t do, despite Chin Coleman’s best efforts.

Does NIL influence team discontent?

One of the main complaints from NIL’s detractors was that disproportionate gains would create divisions among teammates. Jealousy would infect the locker room, generating some confusion.

Could income inequality be a factor of discontent? Of course. So can almost everything else. Do you think the autograph line wrapped around the building for Anthony Davis made Eloy Vargas’s head sink a little when he saw only two people at her table?

How much do you think the horde of groupies following Devin Booker created jealousy among teammates eager to get their cars licked too?

The point is that NIL is just one more factor in a litany of inequalities that every team faces in basketball and in life. Do you let the fact that your neighbor makes more money than you affect your invitation to your Memorial Day cookout? Well, if your homemade barbecue sauce and cornhole skills are still on point, then I guess not.

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This year, however, it’s not unreasonable to see how independent Oscar Tshiebwe seems to be and not to think that his newfound wealth has anything to do with it. What college kid walks into Jeff Ruby’s like it’s the student union cafeteria? Going back to our hypothetical Kentucky-loving grandmother, I might say that it looks like he’s getting too big for his pants.

That being said, TyTy Washington drove a Porche to practice every day last year, and yet the whole team loved it. NIL could be a factor, but it’s not, by default, bad for college athletics. Good chemistry conquers all, but it often needs a spearhead in the TyTy Washington mold.

The turning point towards the current state of Kentucky basketball

Some people point to the pandemic as the root cause of Kentucky basketball’s recent decline. Others say that John Calipari signing a lifetime contract discouraged him. Still, others blame the departure of key staff members, namely John Robic, DeWayne Peevy and Kenny Payne.

While all of these almost certainly played a role in the program’s fall from grace, Kentucky was the No. 2 seed last year, and all of the above excuses occurred before last season. For a good chunk of basketball games, last year’s team was really good.

The turning point was that TyTy Washington was injured a second time. After that, the team stopped winning, but even worse, they stopped dancing.

TyTy’s first injury sustained at Auburn didn’t help, but he fought his way back early. Kentucky beat Kansas at Phog Allen Fieldhouse, and his knee was healthy enough to hit the Griddy logo at Jayhawk.

But after Washington injured that same left leg against Tennessee, something changed. The entire behavior of the team took a sharp left turn towards gloom-town. You could see it in the players’ faces, their body language and their lack of post-victory celebrations.

It was almost as if the injury hurt Washington’s soul more than his ligaments. It culminated in a downward spiral that saw the team’s early departure to Saint Peter’s, a catalyst for the downtrodden state where Kentucky basketball currently resides.

This year’s team really misses TyTy Washington. Sure, they would benefit from your soft, triple back-step floats (the same ones you’re using at a professional level), but this group could really use the charm he brought that made this game fun.

And at the end of the day, it’s supposed to be about fun.

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