John Calipari missed out on the best prospect that has come through the high school ranks since he’s been at Kentucky, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Wildcats will enter this season as the No. 1 team in the country.
And it doesn’t change the fact that they are the favorite to win the national title, a fact that is backed up by Vegas. He still has the greatest recruiting class of the modern era at his disposal, and enough high school all-americans on his roster that his second five is probably talented enough to be a top 25 team this season.
Most importantly, missing out on Wiggins isn’t changing Cal’s outlook on the season. He’s still expecting greatness.
“We’re chasing perfection. We’re chasing greatness. We’re chasing things that have never been done in the history of our game,” Calipari said. “What I like about that, people say, ‘Pressure!’ Man, pressure brings out the best.”
“Now, I’m not sitting there saying, ‘If we los a game, it’s not a successful season.’ No. But you’re chasing greatness. What’s wrong with that? ‘Well, we want to talk moment to moment and we’re not putting that on the kids.’ Well, we are. Any pressure on these kids when they come here? It’s on us.”
I like that attitude. I don’t think that Kentucky is going to be able to go undefeated this season — not with the non-conference schedule that they’re playing — but there’s nothing wrong with striving for it. No one plans to lose games, and when you are the No. 1 team in the country, you should, theoretically, be the favorite in every game that you play.
The doubters will cite the disappointing performance that last year’s Kentucky team had, dropping to the NIT and losing to Robert Morris in the first round. But it’s important to remember that: a) Kentucky didn’t have a point guard that was good enough to lead them; b) the Wildcats lost their best player to an ACL injury in the middle of SEC play; and c) Kentucky didn’t have a leader last year.
As Cal put it, “The alpha males that we didn’t have a year ago, I think we have.”
I’ve said this over and over again: what made Kentucky so special in their run to the 2012 national title wasn’t the fact that they were overly talented, it was because their two best players — Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — were essentially complimentary pieces. They were glorified role players. Davis was a defensive force that dominated the paint on both ends. MKG was a junkyard dog, a defender and a rebounder that epitomized that ‘alpha male’ description.
Which players on Kentucky’s roster will embrace those roles this season?
If Cal can convince his guys to accept the fact that there won’t be any stars on next year’s team — that Julius Randle is needed to rebound, and Willie Cauley-Stein’s job will be to block shots and dunk, and that the Harrisons will need to be distributors and jumpshooters — than there is a chance that Cal’s goals of going undefeated could end up being realized.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.