In 1994, the greatest sports story and greatest sequel ever were combined into one incredibly epic film. I’m of course referring to Disney’s Mighty Ducks 2. If you have never seen it, I encourage you to stop reading this article, and watch it immediately. You are sure to be inspired by this group of pee-wee hockey players (who played for a team called The Ducks in the first movie) who unite to represent Team USA in the Junior Goodwill Games. To say this film was a staple of my childhood would be an understatement. I could quote the entire movie, and it still ticks me off that Iceland’s coach took that cheap shot against USA’s coach Gordon Bombay (played by none other than Emilio Estevez). But is it possible that Estevez’s finest work, was actually a prophecy for the 2021 Kentucky basketball team? Here are 6 reasons why this year’s team is eerily similar to those Mighty Ducks.
# 1: Both teams cruised in their first game.
Everyone remembers that opening game, right? If you listened to any post-game shows after Kentucky’s 81-45 victory over Morehead State, you would hear fans calling this one of Cal’s best teams, and a certain Final Four and national championship contender. Expectations were immediately raised for a team that was already ranked in the pre-season top 10.
Similarly, Team USA destroyed Trinidad and Tobago 9-2 in their first contest at the Goodwill Games. Establishing themselves as the favorites to win the tournament. Although the true winners were the spectacular uniforms the team from the Caribbean brought with them.
I would still rather see Kentucky wear these uniforms than seeing any more checkerboard.
# 2: Things fell apart quickly.
Richmond, Kansas, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, North Carolina, and Louisville. Few expected the Cats to go unscathed in the non-conference schedule (although I did foolishly predict them to be 7-0 in my pre-season preview), but nobody could have predicted a 1-6 start. We brushed the Richmond loss off as a fluke against an underrated team, and Kansas is well Kansas, but after the unacceptable losses to Georgia Tech and Notre Dame, it appeared to everyone in Big Blue Nation that the wheels had fallen off.
Similarly, Team USA was pushed around all over the ice by a bigger, stronger, (and more facial-haired) Iceland team. Led by their star sniper Gunnar Stahl, Iceland dominated in a 12-1 victory. Coach Bombay’s team had let their early success go to their heads, and they were now one loss away from being eliminated from the tournament.
#3: Coach Cal and Coach Bombay work on team cohesion.
On December 24th, video from the UK Basketball team Twitter account showed the team practicing…walking? Each player, with their arms on the shoulders of the person next to them, began taking one step at a time, in unison. Meanwhile you can hear Calipari offering words of encouragement, “Everything we do is one heartbeat, one step, and we are together.”
Coach Bombay utilized a strikingly similar technique, forcing his players to skate together as one by tying them all up together in a rope. Of course, the team immediately falls down because everyone wants to move in their own direction. “Everyone goes their own way, everyone falls down,” Bombay says with a smile on his face. Eventually after several failed attempts, the new Ducks and old Ducks learn to fly together.
#4: Both teams have a secret scrimmage that appears to turn the season around.
Unable to find a replacement on the schedule after South Carolina had to cancel the SEC opener, John Calipari instead decided to hold a closed scrimmage against the Division III Transylvania Pioneers. No official announcement was made prior to the scrimmage, but once it started word began to leak out. And then came the reports from some media folks that fan-favorite Dontaie Allen hit 7 3-pointers, BJ Boston looked like his high school self, and backcourt mates Mintz and Askew were the hardest workers on the floor. Since that scrimmage, Kentucky is 3-0.
As Team USA was exhausted, tired, and seemingly falling apart, they are approached by a fan named Russ Tyler (played by Kenan Thompson of Saturday Night Live) to come play a game against his street hockey crew so that they could show them what it means to play like the REAL Team USA. An epic montage with to the sounds of “Whoomp! (There It Is)” quickly ensues.
#5: An unused player finally gets their chance.
After getting a total of 13 minutes playing time in Kentucky’s 6 straight losses, the low grumblings for John Calipari to play Dontaie Allen turned into an uproar. The fanbase became outraged at Cal’s lame excuses: “I have to let the top guys learn from their mistakes.” “I was going to put him in the second half but didn’t because he hadn’t played in the first half.” Then finally, it happened. In what we will always remember as The Dontaie Allen Game, the freshman from Pendleton County went wild when finally given a chance in Kentucky’s SEC opener at Mississippi State. 23 points, seven 3-pointers, clutch shot after clutch shot in 2 overtime periods, and the legend of Dontaie Allen was born.
Coach Bombay also had a player dying to get their chance to shine. This was of course, the all-state goalkeeper from Maine, Julie “The Cat” Gaffney. Team USA’s starting goalie, Greg Goldberg had been on a roll and Bombay was hesitant to make a switch when he was performing so well. When Julie confronted her coach and asks when she will get her chance, Bombay replies, “Just give it time, you will show the world. I promise.” I swear this is like déjà vu thinking back to how Calipari kept telling fans and reporters that Allen would one day get his chance. For Allen that came against Mississippi State, for Julie Gaffney it came in the championship game re-match with Iceland. After regulation ends with a tie-score, the game ends on a penalty shootout. With Team USA up by 1, and Iceland down to their last shot with Gunnar Stahl, Julie is inserted to make the game-winning stop. I still get chills watching this scene:
#6: The injured player returns.
After missing the first 9 games of the season, some of the Big Blue Nation began to wonder if Keion Brooks (the only returning player from last year’s roster) would ever see the floor this year. Then, a few days before their game at archrival Florida, UK announced that Brooks would in fact be ready to play. The news seemed to come out of nowhere, and while UK fans were excited, the coaching staff seemed to be tempering expectations for how much he would truly be available. Then Brooks exploded for 12 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists in helping lead Kentucky to their largest victory at Florida in the John Calipari era.
Team USA appeared on the verge of a daunting task as well. They had already been crushed by Iceland the first time, but now in the rematch it appeared they would be without their star player, Adam Banks. After Bombay discovered Banks had been nursing a secret wrist injury, he told his star player he was a “no-go” for the championship. But then, as only a Disney script can do, Banks miraculously woke up the next morning with a completely healed right wrist (because who needs any actual medical evaluation? As long as you can appear to rotate a hockey stick, it must be fine).
Only time will tell if this year’s Cats will truly replicate the success of the Mighty Ducks and win a championship, but I’m starting a movement now that we embrace the similarities. How cool would it be if all of Rupp Arena quacked like a duck while the other team is shooting free-throws? We could even get Emilio to come be the “Y” for a game (he’s not doing anything, right). Who’s with me??? quack…Quack…..QUACK…..QUACK, QUACK, QUACK, QUACK!