Among the reasons why many have picked Kentucky as their preseason favorites to win the national title is their depth, with head coach John Calipari having the ability to use two five-man groups against opponents without suffering a drop-off in production. And to take it one step further, Kentucky also has two players in Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis who aren’t expected to play much for them but would receive good minutes on many teams.
It’s rare that a college basketball team would go to such a large rotation, with many coaches preferring to go with eight or nine players at most, and there’s also the matter of having that many talented players to force a coach to figure out how to get them all on the court. But to say that what Kentucky’s aiming to do this season hasn’t been done before in college basketball would be a tad bit inaccurate.
The precedent was set during the 1999-2000 season, when Florida head coach Billy Donovan used a ten-man rotation to lead the program to its first-ever national title game appearance. That group, led by sophomore forward Mike Miller, won 29 games and finished the season with four players averaging between 10.0 (guard Kenyan Weeks) and 14.1 (Miller) points per game.
In a story written by Kevin Brockway of the Gainesville Sun, former Florida guard Teddy Dupay noted that the system helped Florida dictate tempo on both ends of the floor.
“A lot of times we were five-in, five-out,” said former Gator standout combo guard Teddy Dupay, a member of the 2000 squad. “Especially early in the season. Coach would play us four minutes (each) and we would just go crazy with the press. We were able to dictate tempo that way.”
Are there any lessons from that group that can be applied to Kentucky’s current team? Yes, and it has everything to do with keeping in mind the ultimate goal and being willing to sacrifice some minutes for the common good. In the same story, Donovan made note of the issue his team faced on its way to that national title game appearance.
“We had to kind of go through some ups and downs, some bumps in the road because some good players wanted to be out there longer, and that’s what you want from any player,” Donovan said. “You don’t want anybody to ever accept, or say ‘Listen, I’m content sitting on the bench.’ If you’re a competitor you want to be out there, but there’s things I think you definitely have to work through.”
That will be the balance Kentucky’s players will have to deal with throughout the season. The talent to win a national title is undoubtedly there, and the way in which they’ll look to accomplish that goal is something we’ve rarely seen in college basketball. But while the ten-man platoon is uncommon, it isn’t unprecedented either.