Darius Miller gets it. He knows what it takes to be successful.
Today, Coach Cal put up his components to building a culture for success on CoachCal.com, and when you look at these, they make sense in a lot of ways. So what I thought I would do is examine each of them, and to the extent possible, determine how this year's team is doing. This, of course, is only my opinion, one among many.
The first on Coach Cal's list is "Players First," and what he says he means by that is "basically creating a family." Family can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, and sometimes it gets bandied about in ways that are inappropriate. In this case, what family appears to mean is a condition where the players care about each other to the extent that they are willing to sacrifice for each other. That's primarily what distinguishes a family from a circle of friends -- sacrificing is much easier and more willing for family than for friends.
This year, I think we have seen some of that, but as you would expect, surely not quite as much as we should expect down the road, and the trust is not completely there yet.In particular, this team seems reluctant to trust defensive rotation and get out on shooters tightly. That's one reason why we defend the three so poorly right now.
3-point shot defense requires that you get on your man close, and make him put it on the floor. You could see in the last game that UK was backing off shooters on the perimeter, trying to trust their length to bother the shot. That works fine for teams like Marist, but not for talented teams like Indiana or North Carolina. Great 3-point defense means that you are going to be beaten off the dribble, and you must trust your help. Right now, this team seems to have trouble with that trust.
Until the players learn to trust their teammates not to let them be embarrassed on a blow-by, they will not be a family. You cannot have a family without trust.
Unbreakable Work Ethic
This is one that we really can't judge, because a lot of that happens in practice, and in the classroom. Work ethic is hard for outsiders to see, except on the court. We know Jones worked really hard this off-season to get into shape, but after the IU game, Kentucky fans can be forgiven for wondering if he gave it up when classes started.
We have seen Michael Kidd-Gilchrist leave it all on the court most every game, and I think most of us would assume he does exactly the same thing in practice. We all knew Brandon Knight brought it, both in the games, in the classroom and in practice, because we were told so. We all saw what Josh Harrellson did after the scales were thrust from his eyes.
How is this team doing in this regard? Based on my observation, about as well as the other two so far.
Burning Desire To Win
This is one where Kidd-Gilchrist definitely shines, and I have seen that same desire in Doron Lamb, Marquis Teague, Darius Miller, and Anthony Davis. I think the jury is still out on Terrence Jones, and until he develops more consistency, I think Kentucky fans can be forgiven for wondering if that desire burns hot enough on its own, or requires frequent stoking.
In short, I think this team has it, but I do think there is a way to go for them to reach the critical temperature it takes to make the competitive fire intolerably hot for Kentucky's opponents.
This is one I really don't know for sure. Based on reports we have received from Guy Ramsey, it seems like they are. To be sure, we have largely seen good results one the floor for a team so young, so I'm inclined to think this team practices as hard and as smart as any in the nation.
But then again, I don't really know, and neither do you.
Love of Team Before Self
This one, I don't think this year's team is quite there yet. They are making solid progress, and this team is truly the youngest we have ever fielded. It seems to me like the 2011 group might be ahead of the 2010 team, and a touch behind the 2009 group in this area, but that's pure perception on my part at this point. It took a while for Brandon Knight, Josh Harrellson, and the rest of last year's team to develop the true love of team first, but they unquestionably got there. I think 2009 got there relatively early in the process, shortly after conference play began.
What I do like about this year's team, in particular, is that they seem to understand how critical this element is to success, and how difficult it is to actually achieve. By the end of the year, I think both 2009 and 2010 easily met this test, and given what I have seen so far, I expect the 2011 team to be there by mid conference season, and that would be something really good.
There are undoubtedly many different takes on where we are at this point in the year with respect to Calipari's five building blocks for a culture of success, and this is just mine. I'm sure Coach Cal, and probably many others would disagree, and that's just fine.
So what do you think? How far along is this team, and how far do they have to go to reach each of these objectives in your opinion?