The 2017-18 edition of the University of Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball team is currently 12-3 overall and 2-1 in the SEC. Despite leading at the half, the Cats fell on the road at Tennessee 76-65. With that loss, that’s now 5 losses in Knoxville since John Calipari became the head coach in Lexington. And as there is after every loss or a win that isn’t by a large enough margin, many in the Big Blue Nation begin to question Calipari’s methods, both recruiting and coaching.
This season has brought about a condition among some in the BBN that has been labelled One-and-Done Fatigue. Folks afflicted by this disease have suddenly grown weary of the huge roster turnover every year. Symptoms include difficulty in remembering players’ names and pointing out that each and every mistake made by a player is a freshman mistake and shouldn’t be tolerated because upperclassmen don’t make mistakes. Admittedly, when Coach Cal became the head coach I was leery of his recruiting methods and I wondered how a fan base that embraces its players would adjust to the one-and-done model. I thought that issue was rendered moot, but two years without a Final Four has brought it to the fore.
One-and-Done players, it seems are just passing through. They don’t care about the University of Kentucky or the history of its men’s basketball program. And with Calipari talking about helping players reach their dreams, which often mean the NBA, how much does he really want to win? I don’t know John Calipari personally, but I can guarantee that he wants to win every single game. And if you think that one-and-done players don’t care, listen to John Wall. And while it’s a quaint notion, you don’t have to be born in Kentucky to know and appreciate the great history of the Wildcats. What would that history be without the likes of Dan Issel, Kenny Walker, Jamal Mashburn, Tony Delk, Louie Dampier, Pat Riley, Kyle Macy, Mike Pratt or Sam Bowie?
Should Coach Cal have one more title under his belt in Lexington? It’s tough to say. Yes, he’s had a lot of talent, but if you’ve paid attention to the NCAA tournament at all you’ve had to notice that talent doesn’t always win. Weird things happen. Final Fours are hard to get to. Even as great and as legendary as Kentucky Basketball is, Final Four finishes (or better) are the only things we hang banners for. After an 11 year drought, Calipari has taken the Cats to 4 Final Fours in his previous 8 seasons (with two more Elite Eights). Yes, he missed the 2013 NCAA tournament, but I believe a healthy Nerlens Noel helps the Cats avoid that fate. Usually, when the calendar flips to March, it becomes Cal time.
In the NCAAs, Cal has been really, really good. No team has more NCAA tournament wins since the 2009-10 season than Kentucky. And when the Cats lose, it’s not to Lehigh or Bucknell, the Cats are defeated by really good teams and coaches.
It’s surreal that the worst team that the Cats have lost to in the NCAAs is Indiana in 2016, the Big 10 regular season champion.
I’m not saying anyone that has issues with Calipari’s methods isn’t a true fan or that Cal can’t be questioned. That’s not the case, but when we question Cal (and I do often), we have to agree that he has had some success as the Wildcats’ head man. He’s gone from “you can’t win with one-and-dones” to “you should have won more with one-and-dones” which is a subtle, but very telling shift in the critique of Cal as a head coach. He’s not the first UK coach to take a team into Knoxville and lose. Or Nashville. Or Athens. Or any other SEC locale. Rupp lost with higher ranked teams, so did Hall, Pitino, Smith and Cal has and will. No method is perfect and I can understand that some folks don’t appreciate Cal’s method. But the notion that he hasn’t had any on-court success isn’t factual, in fact it’s just plain madness.