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The Platoon System At Kentucky Will Survive, And Thrive, Because Of John Calipari's Integrity

Those predicting the demise of the "platoon system" at Kentucky due to Alex Poythress' injury are likely to be disappointed.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Seth Greenberg says that Alex Poythress’ injury somehow helps the team. I’m sorry, but I can’t agree. Yes, he may be right that it gives Calipari an excuse to trash the platoon system, but I don’t agree that losing an athletic, experienced, unselfish guy like Poythress ever helps a basketball team.

Besides, Calipari is more likely just to continue using the platoons in a "missing man" formation — one player stays behind — and because Kentucky’s size makes them so flexible, that could be anybody. Most often, I think you’ll see one of the Harrisons or Willie Cauley-Stein replace the missing man in the second platoon.

So many people are non-believers in the platoons, it amazes me. No, the platoons are not a suicide pact — you have to be smart about how you use them.  If you ask me, though, they have been extremely successful against all levels of competition. But if you listen to the Greenbergs and the Dick Vitales of the world, they’ll assure you that the platoons are doomed to die in the course of the season.

If injuries continue to mount, then the platoons could of course disappear. Realistically, one more injury and the platoons are probably out the window — the need for them, their raison d’être, is not for the sake of just putting line substitutions on the floor. Their purpose is to get as many players who really should be playing starter’s minutes on the floor for as much time as possible. That becomes less necessary with fewer players available. Nine instead of ten doesn’t get there, but eight instead of nine almost certainly would.

Calipari, all year, has broken up the platoons when the game situation seemed to call for it, be it for fouls or other reasons, like certain players (WCS over Marcus Lee, for example) deserving more minutes. Otherwise, he’s been completely loyal to the system, and for good reason — it has worked spectacularly well.

Calipari has always been unconventional; it’s part of what makes him a great coach, and that fact seems to have escaped the notice of far too many people. He innovated the Dribble Drive Motion offense back in the early 2000’s, and most coaches who innovate an offense or defense stick with it no matter what, and recruit to its best advantage. Not Cal. He adjusted his thinking to his players, which are his first priority, contra the apparent belief of his many detractors and would-be advisers. Not only that, he has engineered most of his teams to be as flexible and interchangeable as possible, providing opportunities for every player to best utilize the strength of their game.

I love that Coach Cal does this, not just because he wins, but because he does it with integrity. He is honest with his players and puts their needs (needs… not wants) before his own or even those of the program itself. It is that integrity that makes his players love him, and work so hard to win for him. Somehow, too many smart people watching Kentucky from afar are blind to this fact, and assume he's just like every other coach out there.  He isn't, and that's a fact.

The platoon system will probably go on in some form or another, because it must. These players are earning the right to play this way, and Calipari is not going to give in to conventional thinking because others think he should.