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Fans get their wish with national championship

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Darius Miller and the Wildcats celebrated the eighth national title in school history with fans in Rupp Arena on Tuesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Darius Miller and the Wildcats celebrated the eighth national title in school history with fans in Rupp Arena on Tuesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Since 1998, the year Kentucky won its seventh and most recent national championship, fans have sought an eighth. With Tubby Smith winning one in his first year, fans eagerly awaited the next one, predictably in the following few years. A few years turned into 10. Then 10 eventually led to 14. 

After Monday night, the fans need not wait any longer as the 2011-12 men's basketball team delivered the program's eighth national championship. 

Tuesday afternoon, a celebration was held at Rupp Arena after the team returned from New Orleans. With the arena jam-packed as if it were a primetime tip-off against an archrival, the team bus pulled onto the Rupp Arena floor.

The team was announced one by one off the bus with Darius Miller the last player introduced. With the championship game net around his neck, he stepped off the bus vaulting the trophy UK had won into the air to a thunderous roar as he made his way to the stage. The coaches followed with John Calipari the last introduced to the crowd. As he stepped off the bus, he put his fists in the air in triumph, waved to the entire arena, and gave one of the most memorable fist pumps in Kentucky history to the 20,000-plus fans wearing Blue and White.

"Nuts" is one of many terms that head coach John Calipari uses frequently to describe the fans of Big Blue Nation. They were in rare form Monday, not only in the arena, but at the airport when the team landed and on the roads as the team bus was en route to celebration. 

It was those fans that stood along the roads in between Blue Grass Airport and Rupp Arena who finally made the moment sink in for Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart. He took the stage set upon a blue carpet on top of a barren Rupp Arena floor first to address the Wildcat faithful.

"I've been in (college athletics) 30 years," said Barnhart. "I've been here 10 years, this is why I came here."

Barnhart has tirelessly worked toward this day throughout his tenure, but it took a perfect partnership with Coach Cal to get the job done. Calipari has been the epitome of what the head coach of Kentucky basketball should be, deftly dealing with the numerous pressures associated with the job.

If there is one man perfect at the head of college basketball's "Roman Empire," Barnhart believes him to be John Calipari.

"It wasn't made for everybody," said Barnhart about the head coaching position at UK, "but it was made for him."

And with that statement, the Rupp Arena patrons rose to their feet and brought down the house with a tremendous roar in support of the 22nd head coach in school history.

Calipari went to the podium and let out a sigh of relief and addressed the fans as he has done so many times in his three years at Kentucky.

"You people never cease to amaze me," said Calipari.

The head coach then talked about why his team was able to win the championship and how each member of the team had contributed this season. He praised Darius Miller for taking a less role for the greater good of the team. He talked about the two sophomores, Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones, who decided to come back to make a championship run. He mentioned the toughness and selflessness of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and his "bulldog" point guard who continued to improve throughout the season. Then a "long, skinny man" - Anthony Davis - who thanked his teammates for achieving all of the personal accolades he received.

But it was an unsuspecting Miller, Kentucky's sixth starter and "glue guy," who was chosen to speak on behalf of the players after Calipari. A gracious and grinning Miller stepped to podium to address the crowd.

"Me and my teammates we just want to thank you for all the support this year," said Miller. "And I want to thank y'all for all y'all support over my four years here."

And then it was time.

Calipari went back to the podium to address the crowd one last time. He went back to the very first time he had talked to the Big Blue Nation and how he said that he wanted the Kentucky basketball program to be the "gold standard" and to raise more banners.

On Calipari's cue, a video tribute to UK's two Final Four wins played and the 2012 National Championship banner was unveiled to anxious crowd. And just like that it was over. Calipari thanked the fans and the team got back on the bus. It would likely be the last time these fans would see this team in its current form, and they sent them off in style.

So, with mission accomplished, the Kentucky fan base gained a sense of relief and accomplishment thanks to the sacrifices of one of the most talented teams in program history. After a long awaited banner celebration and the hopes of No. 8, they got what they asked for.

Now all they ask is that it doesn't take 14 years to reach number 9. In fact, the Wildcat faithful are already hoping another banner celebration next year.

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