Once the final buzzer sounded at Auburn Arena on Saturday, Kentucky fell to 4-8 on the season as they once again could never find any rhythm offensively. UK Head Coach John Calipari then proceeded to defend his starters despite some of their lack of production, and stood by his message on his weekly Monday radio show.
What you’re trying to do is, I’m not trying to —I want to win every game I coach, but the other side of it is, I’m not trying to take anybody’s heart away,” Calipari said after the game when asked why transfer Jacob Toppin and redshirt freshman Dontaie Allen did not start in the second half despite combining to score 16 of the team’s 25 first half points.
The UK head coach dove more into his thoughts on the radio show, saying he is considering the mental well-being of those who are not playing as well.
“I said some stuff the other night that didn’t come off right, but I’m trying to protect these players. When I said those words, they came out wrong, but I stand by what I meant. What these kids, and what all of us have gone through, on top of the COVID, the isolation, the loneliness, the uncertainty, all this stuff, I’ve got to deal with that too,” he said.
“When people say, “Cal’s different this year,” I am. I am different. I’m coaching emotion more than I’ve ever coached in my entire life. As a staff, we all are trying to stay in tune of their mental well being, more than ever before. Probably should’ve done it sooner, but I’m being way more protective of these kids and their emotions than I ever have because that’s what’s best for them right now.”
Despite wanting to be more protective, Calipari told the players at the beginning of Monday’s practice that starting positions were “up for grabs” and that could lead to four new starters in the road matchup against Georgia on Wednesday.
“Today in practice, I opened practice and said, “If anyone wants to start, go dominate.” You know what happened? I had a couple of guys who haven’t started that have moved into a starting position,” he said. “Looking at all of this, we could have four different starters this game. We’re going again tomorrow, and if guys come in on fire and are ready to go, have great emotion, fight, shoot, I may say “Let them start.”
With all that said, the UK head coach is adamant that players are in fact rooting for each other, and specifically pointed out freshman forward BJ Boston and redshirt freshman Dontaie Allen who have been the talking points of the season so far for opposite reasons.
“I will tell you, BJ is rooting for Dontaie, Dontaie is rooting for BJ,” he said. “What we have to do is make them uncomfortable like I did today, but still keep an eye on things. I’m having individual meetings trying to make sure no one is going into that dark place. That they’re staying in-tune, staying engaged, staying off the internet.”
The door is closing for Kentucky’s opportunity to grab an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament, so maybe four new starters can turn the season around quickly.