Calipari Knows Kentucky is Making ProgressPosted by David Changas on January 12th, 2014
All college basketball teams change from year to year. Players graduate, leave early, transfer, and new recruits fill their spots. But as everyone knows, no team changes year over year like John Calipari’s crew. And regardless of the fact that he brought in what many considered the greatest recruiting class in college basketball history this year, he knew that it would take time for his team to come together. After a Christmas week win against archrival Louisville and opening SEC wins over undermanned Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, he is finally confident that things are in fact starting to coalesce. “We’re still not there. But I’m looking around the country, I don’t see anybody there. I like my team. I like our progress. We have the biggest upside of any team in the country. We’re the youngest team in the country; that’s where we are. I just have to try to [have] patience when I have none,” Calipari said after Saturday’s 71-62 win over Vanderbilt in Nashville.
Calipari knows that bringing in such a haul of talent and that playing almost an entirely new set of players (only Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Jarrod Polson are significant contributors from last year’s squad) will require him to exhibit that patience. “I got a brand new team, and every year it’s something different, and as we go, you start figuring out how we have to play,” he said. Calipari was particularly pleased by the performance of the sophomore Poythress, who has not lived up to the lofty expectations set for him coming into college, and someone whom Calipari thinks has been limited by his lack of self-confidence. “Like I say to him, ‘You’re as good as anybody in the gym. Why won’t you play that way?’ And I asked the team, ‘What’s holding him back?’ [They said], ‘He is,’” Calipari said. The talented veteran forward will be a key for the Wildcats as they try to develop into a team that can win Calipari’s second national championship.
Kentucky also got a strong performance from another sophomore, Cauley-Stein, who scored 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting and had his way with the Commodores’ thin frontcourt. But while these two veterans are important pieces for the Wildcats as they continue to improve, their ultimate success will depend on the ongoing improvement of the sensational freshmen. Calipari, in particular, was encouraged by Andrew Harrison’s performance on Saturday. “He’s finally starting to get it. He threw it ahead, made quick plays, moved the ball,” the head coach said. Along with Andrew’s twin brother, Aaron, James Young, and the jewel of the class, Julius Randle, Calipari’s belief that his team has more upside than any other around the nation is realistic, but whether the Wildcats can progress enough to be ready to compete for a trip to the Final Four remains to be seen. Given the relative weakness of the SEC, the Wildcats will have a clear talent advantage in most of their contests the rest of the way. They weren’t at their best on Saturday but were still good enough to control the game throughout, and its outcome was never in doubt in the second half. Not until Kentucky faces Florida more than a month from now will they get a chance to measure their development against another elite opponent. For now, all they can do is continue to improve each day, and listen to the directives of Calipari. Coach Cal has no doubt they will do just that.