In just his first two years in Lexington, John Calipari has had six former Wildcat players get selected in the first round of the NBA Draft. All but one fell under the one-and-done generation of players.
His career has benefitted greatly from the “one year removed” policy. After each season, Calipari sees talented players head to the NBA, while he welcomes in another crop of blue-chip prospects. But through it all he’s missed one thing: an NCAA Championship.
Calipari said he would love to win one, but it’s not his only focus.
“All I want is our players to reach their dreams,” said Calipari. “If we’re about these players, they’ll drag this program to national titles, whether I’m coaching here or someone else is.”
Even though the season is young, Kentucky looks like an early favorite to secure a spot in New Orleans at the end of the season.
Like usual, Kentucky’s freshmen class is a star-studded one. Anthony Davis, Marquis Teague, Kyle Wiltjer and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were all McDonald’s All-Americans.
Match them up with returners Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller and the Wildcats have a nice blend of talent and experience. What’s even more impressive is the way the team shares the ball.
At the press conference after Kentucky’s dominating 85-47 win over Penn State, Calipari read off Davis’ stat line. The 6-10 freshman had three points, six rebounds and three blocks.
“And it ain’t close, he’s the No. 1 pick in the draft,” said Calipari.
Calipari also referred to senior Darius Miller, who played 24 minutes without a point. Calipari thought he played well, but it just happened that today Lamb was the one with the hot hand.
The next day against Old Dominion, Miller came off the bench and scored 13 points and dished five assists.
“We have different strategies for different games and we go to different people each game,” said Jones.
The defensive side of the ball is where the Wildcats are most impressive. In all four games this season, opponents haven’t shot higher than 34 percent from the field. With length down low, if shots aren’t blocked, they’re altered. And on the perimeter, it is unusual to see a jump shot that isn’t contested.
In the last four seasons, Calipari has had Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall, and Brandon Knight run the point for his team. Teague has a lot to live up to. But if it’s one player who will get better during the course of the season its Teague.
“By the end of the year I want people to say, ‘I want him to be my point guard’,” said Calipari. “They’re not saying that right now. So I just have to keep coaching him. He’s a great kid, he listens, but I’m not settling for anything less than he’s capable of doing to run our team.”
Looking down the schedule, Kentucky will only get more and more experience taking on teams like St. John’s (Dec. 1) and Louisville (Dec. 31). But the real test is a Dec. 3 matchup with top-ranked North Carolina.
We’re not even past Thanksgiving yet, but this could be Calipari’s best shot at cutting down the nets to his first NCAA National Championship.
Will this end up being Calipari’s best team? Will they win a championship?
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