I've been around college basketball for a long, long time, probably longer than a fair number of people reading this piece have been out of diapers. In all that time, I have never seen a college basketball coach make a statement like this:
"What we need to do is have a team come out and go nutty on us," Calipari said after UK went nutty on Florida 78-58 Tuesday. The UK coach wanted to "have us have to respond to that, and then hold on to win a tight game."
In all honesty, and I'm pretty sure Calipari didn't mean it this way, this statement sounds chock full of hubris. What Cal is trying to say, I believe, is he wants to see how his team responds to genuine adversity, and he doesn't want that to happen for the very first time in the pressure cooker of the lose-and-go-home NCAA Tournament.
I don't blame him for that whatsoever, but if he is looking for a way to motivate Kentucky's opponents without saying something overtly contemptuous of them, he just found that way. I expect this statement to wind up on the locker of every player that we face from here on out.
For a coach who says he is trying to warn his team off getting cocky, this might have been a sentiment better kept out of the media. These young freshmen have shown no signs of swell-headedness so far, but we have all seen it happen over and over again, which is why so many well-meaning Kentucky fans are half-wishing that we drop a game or two before the tournament just to return the team to Earth from the high orbit they currently occupy.
But as with last year's team, the 2012 Wildcats seem to be on the path of maturity, and with guys like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist driving that buss, it will be hard for too much vanity to creep in. These days, every child who plays basketball at the highest levels in high school have had plenty of experience with what happens when you read your press clippings.
I don't want this to come off as criticism, because honestly, I think that Calipari has pushed all the right buttons with this team, and this may just be another one -- certainly, he knows better than I do what they are. Playing with confidence is the reason Kentucky is as good as they are, and even though it is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, it's a line every great team must walk.
Comes with the territory, I'm afraid.