I have been musing over this topic for some time. It is not sparked by the recent troubles.
Years ago in a Sports Illustrated article the acknowledged inventor of the Dribble Drive Motion offense was asked why he told John Calipari about the DDM. The answer was, '"Cal was the only coach who ever asked what I ran. He asked, I told him."'
Nothing Cal has done since has caused me to doubt his desire to learn. Let's count a few changes we have seen at UK: The DDM has disappeared, the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop are the sets of choice, UK fouls at the ends of games to prevent a three point attempt, zone is played from time to time, he doesn't wear a tie all the time (just checking to see if you are paying attention), he has changed how he coaches players, pays more attention to non stars, he looks for innovations in conditioning (though he hasn't picked up yoga yet) and changed how he communicates with some players.
Calipari claims UK is a player first program and all indications are that he means it. He urges players to leave in order to get that big pay day. Don't worry about Kentucky he says, go get the big check. The cynic in me waits for the other shoe to drop, but it hasn't so far. A coach that endures less success by encouraging players to leave, claims he wants to just coach his team, encourages players to lose themselves in the team, and is a marketing genius may just be authentic. Unbelievable.
Remember that Canadian exhibition tour two years back and Jarrod Polson sitting on the bench? My daughter asked, who is the 13 year on the bench and why is he there? I said he must be a friend of the family. Then he went in and we were wondering, Are rules different in exhibition games? Can high school kids play? To the Internet we went and learned that the "13 year old" was the same age as my daughter and a walk-on. Three years later and that very young looking kid is a man and just about the best point guard on the team. Heck, he may be the best, but sadly he isn't good enough to take the team (even with Nerlens) deep in the Dance. Or maybe he hasn't played enough to fully develop. Or maybe he hasn't been coached enough before this year. What it is is what it is.
Let's do a thought experiment and to do that you need to ignore reality and in particular the mighty dollar. Ready? Here we go! What if Jodie Meeks had returned to UK in Cal's first year? Does anyone believe that team with Jodi would have lost a game?
Again ignoring reality, what about the next year? With limited playing time his freshmen year could Eric Bledsoe have gone pro? Daniel Orton would have gotten even less PT than he did. Could he gave gone pro? So the year the Cats lost to UCONN, Eric and Brandon Knight are the mouthwatering combination at guard. Are you kidding me? Unstoppable. In the front court Orton is sharing time with Josh "Jorts" Harrellson, or even playing at the same time. Terrence Jones, Darius Miller, DeAndre Liggins and Doron Lamb are the rest of the rotation. Sorry UCONN you are just another bug on the windshield.
From last's years team who should have stayed another year? Marquis Teague and maybe Lamb, but forget Lamb. What if Teague had stayed another year to improve his skills and was playing PG today? How many losses would the Cats have? 1? 2? 3? No more than that because this team with leadership at PG, as we have lamented over and over, would be much better.
The thought experiment is over. Back to reality, so answer this question: Which of the players I have mentioned would not have benefited (ignoring the risk of injury) by staying another year? Eric with a year at PG would have been a top 5 NBA pick. Orton, maybe top 15, but probably much more skilled and not currently in danger of crashing out of D League. Teague ..top five pick this year. Honestly I think with a second year Teague is being compared to Derrick Rose.
So where is all of this going? Back to the beginning. Cal learns. Cal wants to win.Cal will continue to walk the talk and continue to move players out of the program when it is in the player's best interest. He will do this regardless of whether it is in the best interest of UK or if it makes his job easier. Yet, Jarrod challenges Cal. After three years that young walk on from the country is almost good enough. What if I Cal had coached him up a bit more? Or played him a bit more in the past? Or encouraged him a bit more? Or to head in a different direction what if Cal had recruited Anthony Hickey two years ago? Smaller than Cal likes at PG, but wouldn't he look good at PG today?
Cal looks at Jarrod and thinks, "Almost." So what does Cal do? Maybe he recruits a little differently. Say every year or every other year he recruits a PG or a 4 or a 5 that wants to play at UK but that is not mature or talented enough to play as a freshmen. That player practices. He gets coached. He lifts. He grows. He becomes a man. Maybe in two years or three years he is good enough to be a very good sub or even a quality starter if one of the 5 stars crashes to earth because of attitude or injury.
Cal learns. Of that I am convinced.