Calipari tells doubters UK’s ‘in great shape’
by Kyle Tucker, USA TODAY Sports
MOON TOWNSHIP, PA. — Forgive John Calipari if he wants to put this whole mess behind him and talk about next year. To say this season, which started with his University of Kentucky basketball team ranked No. 3 in the nation, did not go according to plan would be quite an understatement.
Calipari lost 14 games combined in his first three seasons coaching the Wildcats. He lost 14 combined in his final four seasons at Memphis. He lost 12 this year. Calipari had been to the Sweet 16 or beyond in each of the previous seven seasons – the Elite Eight six times, the Final Four three. He won a national title last year.
Tuesday night, Kentucky ended its season with a stunning loss at Robert Morris. In a 3,000-seat gym with roll-away wooden bleachers. In the first round of the National Invitation Tournament. It marked the first time a Calipari team hadn’t either made the NCAA Tournament or won three-plus games in the NIT since his 1990 Massachusetts squad – his second year as a head coach.
“Nobody thought the season would be like this,” freshman forward Alex Poythress said. “This is very surprising. Last year’s team was just so good, they made it look so easy. In reality, it’s not.”
Calipari called it humbling. He said he learned some valuable lessons. But then he basically said: Look out, world.
“They’ll say, ‘Well, maybe you can’t do it with young guys.’ And I come back to: We did it last year, won a national title with young players. But that’ll be out there. So we’ll have something to prove,” Calipari said. “If there’s any doubters, have at it. You can doubt all you want. This program’s in great shape.”
Calipari is bringing in the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class. Yawn. That’s his fifth straight. But this one is different. With an unprecedented six McDonald’s Americans in the group, including Julius Randle, the nation’s No. 2 overall prospect who picked the Cats on Wednesday, most recruiting gurus are calling this the best class ever assembled.
“Kids across the country still want to come here,” Calipari said. … [For more on With season over, Calipari tells doubters UK's 'in great shape', click here.]