Last season, Kentucky had four freshmen taken in the first round of the NBA Draft.
This season could very well produce two more in Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones, and that’s saying nothing of Enes Kanter.
So would it surprise you if I were to tell you that it was this season’s freshman after thought — Doron Lamb — and not one of Calipari’s other seven touted recruits that broke Jamal Mashburn’s 19 year old record for scoring as a freshman at Kentucky?
This afternoon in a 1:00 pm tip against Winthrop, Lamb caught fire. Well, “caught fire” really doesn’t do his performance justice. Lamb went for 32 points on 11-12 shooting — including 7-8 from three — as Kentucky rolled over the Eagles. Perhaps more impressive is that Lamb doesn’t start for Kentucky.
This performance carries more significance than simply leading Big Blue to a win over a SoCon team.
Last week, we did a post about the country’s top duos. Being on that list wasn’t necessarily a compliment, as it was essentially a list of the eight teams in the country that relied the most on their top two players. Kentucky was on that list, as Jones and Knight, who both play more than 32 mpg, account for nearly 60% of the Wildcat’s possessions used when the two of them are on the floor. It has to be nice for Calipari to know that he has a third option that can carry the team should one of his two stars get injured or in foul trouble.
More importantly, however, it showed a growth for this team.
Early in the season, Coach Cal was critical of the Wildcat’s for their inability to find the hot hand. His players were more concerned about getting their own shot than getting the best shot for the team. Perhaps this afternoon shows that point is finally getting through:
Earlier this season, Calipari noted that his freshman-oriented team could not be counted upon to feed the hot hand. That wasn’t the case against Winthrop.
“He didn’t have to say anything,” point guard Brandon Knight said when asked if Lamb called for the ball. “I recognized it. I told him, ‘Keep shooting it.’ ”
Big man Josh Harrellson suggested that Lamb benefited from being hot on Dec. 22 rather than, say, Nov. 22.
“A month ago, we probably wouldn’t have kept going to him,” Harrellson said. “Not out of hatred. Just not knowing what to do.”
The criticism against Calipari’s approach — recruiting a slew of one-and-doners each and every season — generally tends to be that it is not possible to win with a group of freshmen leading the team.
And while that very well may be true, it sure it fun to watch as Cal molds these individuals into the team that he wants out on the floor.
They aren’t there yet, but little things, like the ability to find a teammate that is shooting well, show that this team is moving in the right direction.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.