For a victory three decades in the making,
Kentucky coach Rich Brooks didn't let his players spend too much
time celebrating Saturday's 40-34 upset of Louisville.
Save for a brief emotional speech during practice on Sunday in
which he congratulated the Wildcats on becoming the first Kentucky
team in 30 years to beat a Top 10 opponent, Brooks remained his
pragmatic self, even on the same day the Wildcats cracked the
Associated Press poll for the first time since 1985.
"He said 'You know what guys, what you did Saturday was one of
the most exciting things I've ever been through,' and he started to
get all teared up," said center Eric Scott. "Then he said 'You
know what? It's over, let's move on.' To me, that was amazing
because he's been through great victories. If he can just throw it
behind him then we can throw it behind us and get ready to go."
Over 40 years in coaching has taught Brooks that seasons are not
defined in September. And for a program which has struggled for
legitimacy, Brooks knows the 21st-ranked Wildcats (3-0) appearance
in the Top 25 will just be a cameo if they can't keep going.
"What we need to do is build on this," Brooks said.
It won't be easy. Kentucky begins SEC play on Saturday at
Arkansas (1-1) with a chance to start the season 4-0 for the first
time since doing it under Guy Morriss in 2002. That year, however,
ended without a bowl bid because the program was on probation for
violations under former coach Hal Mumme.
Morriss bolted for Baylor after the season. Enter Brooks, whose
first three years were a steady mix of disappointing and
disheartening losses. He began last season on the coaching hot
seat, and things looked bleak after a rocky start that included a
59-28 rout at the hands of the Cardinals.
Behind the play of quarterback Andre Woodson and the imaginative
playcalling of offensive coordinator Joker Phillips, the Wildcats
have been one of the better teams in the country over the last 10
months. Kentucky has won eight of its past nine games - including
wins over Georgia, Clemson and Louisville - dating back to last
But despite all the progress the Wildcats have made, the players
don't view Saturday's win over Louisville as the summit, just
another step in a process of becoming a contender in one of the
nation's toughest conferences.
The memories of Brooks first three years - when Kentucky went a
combined 9-25 and won just four conference games - are too fresh
for the Wildcats to get too full of themselves.
"Once you've been down in the gutter, you know what it's
like," Scott said. "You work your butt off to stay out of it.
We've been there. We don't want to become the team that could have
been or should have been. We want to become the team that is
something to contend with in the SEC."
The players attribute their single-mindedness to Brooks, who
never wavered even as the chorus of disapproval grew last year. He
remained steadfast in his resolve, and the players rallied around
"Everyone understands where we could be, where we want to go
and what it takes to get there," Scott said. "I think Coach
Brooks understands you can't be satisfied, you can't be happy."
To a degree, they're not. The joy over their ranking was
tempered by which team they saw three spots above: Louisville.
"It's crazy," said running back Alfonso Smith. "We beat them,
and they're still ranked higher. I don't know what to say about
that. We really do have something to prove. It seems like it's a
never-ended story, like until we beat USC or something."
Smith laughed as he said it, though the idea of Kentucky
competing with the nation's elite isn't quite as funny as it was a
"I really will do whatever it takes to get the respect," Smith
For now, it means trying to put the giddy scene at Commonwealth
Stadium on Saturday - when thousands of fans stormed the field in
the kind of frenzy normally reserved for the school's basketball
team - behind them and look ahead to one of the most daunting
schedules in the country. In addition to the Razorbacks, the
Wildcats face No. 2 LSU, No. 3 Florida and No. 12 South Carolina.
As gratifying as snapping a four-game losing streak to their
arch rivals was, Brooks said the Wildcats know better to get caught
up in the moment.
"I told my team all along that we're in a marathon, not a
sprint, and I'm pleased that we're ranked," Brooks said. "Where
we're ranked is not as significant as we're ranked. The hard thing
is to stay there. The most difficult thing is to be there at the
end of the year, and that's what we would like to achieve."