Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari made $700,000 in bonus gwop last season, after silencing naysayers and grabbing his first National Championship. Fast-forward to ’13 and Calipari’s Wildcats are just the fifth defending-champs since 1985 to not make the NCAA Tournament. Maybe he needs to run some of that cash back.
Kentucky’s ’12 freshman class was among the greatest in history. Believe it or not, the hype surrounding this year’s recruits was even bigger – if that’s possible – than last season’s kids.
Maybe the pollsters thought Anthony Davis was coming back for his sophomore year when they voted Kentucky No. 3 in preseason polls.
Or maybe, after finally getting that elusive ring after years of insisting he was more than just a star-snatcher, Calipari got complacent.
If he needed motivation, he has it now.
Where are the perennial Kentucky studs? Even with sensational frosh Nerlens Noel, Kentucky was not rolling with the rush. Before a torn ACL did his season dirty, the Wildcats were just 17-7 overall with shady losses to Texas A&M and Alabama.
Noel and a diamond-studded freshman class, also featuring baby-ballers Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress, were supposed to keep the factory percolating without a glitch. Noel has kept it 100 and is projected to be among the first picks of the ’13 draft, but Poythress and the rest of the fresh meat have been roller-coaster city.
In a recent Louisville Courier-Journal.com blog Calipari admitted that he hasn’t figured out how to transform his stubborn pups into hunting dogs.
“Oh, they can do it – if they choose to do this,” he said. “They just choose not to do it. Then by not choosing to do it, they don’t understand that’s selfish. Giving less than your best effort to cover for your teammate, that is selfish. You’re a selfish player.”
After a 72-62 loss to 15-17 Georgia on March 7th, Calipari’s post-game press conference revealed a shocking defeatist attitude. It was such a stark contrast from last season’s confident leader who seemed to finally have it all figured out.
“I am so disappointed in the job I have done with this team,” Calipari said. “I’ve done this 20-some-years. I’ve never had a team not cohesive this time of year.”
Calipari’s admission that his coaching game was saucy this season is honorable, but Kentucky’s underachieving season is still an indictment of his failure to mesh the product. Without the deficiency concealing conquests of a Derrick Rose, Anthony Davis or John Wall, Calipari was exposed. He should have rolled up the sleeves on his over-priced black suit and stepped up his coaching game.
He decided to tap out early, basically foreshadowing Kentucky’s 64-48 bubble-bursting at the hands of Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament. A bizarre concession for a perennial tournament coach leading a Wildcats program that had missed the Big Dance just once since 1991.
Downplay it all you want, but this is bad news for the boys in blue. The squad’s slow development combined with Noel’s departure leaves more holes for next season. It could be that Calipari’s one-and-done and wild-west recruiting practices are catching up with him.
Kentucky has been an NBA factory over the last three seasons. Maybe the mass exodus of Wildcat players to the League – five in ’10, four in ’11 and the super six in ’12 – has caused younger players to rush into the spotlight.
Whatever the case, Wildcat Nation doesn’t like inactivity during the NCAA Tournament. Calipari still has his rising iconic status, so he gets a pass from most heads. Next season, however, his coaching game better be wet. Another No. 1 overall NIT seed isn’t going to cut it. Ask Tubby Smith.