What a fun season. I have no complaints in regards to this team or John Calipari. If you're looking for an article crushing them, and I don't expect you are, then this isn't the place.
While this season had it's ups and downs, as most seasons do, the Kentucky Wildcats ended on a high note making it to yet another Elite Eight under Coach Cal. While the result isn't what we all wanted, the journey was fun and the season was a success.
The ‘Cats won the SEC regular season, the SEC tournament, and they were a buzzer beater away from five more minutes at a chance of a Regional Title. That's a great season by all accounts.
I Grew to Love This Team
It's a difficult process year in and year out. As Kentucky fans we are asked to embrace a new cast of players every season and sometimes it takes a little longer than others. But as the team started clicking during the latter part of SEC play, I fell in love with the guys.
There were questions in January about desire, the will to win, and overall basketball IQ in regards to this team. But they persevered through a number of injuries and illnesses to become a formidable team.
Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo, and De'Aaron Fox are some of the three best freshmen that John Calipari has coached. Monk and Fox comprised the best backcourt I have ever seen at Kentucky. All three players gave it their all in the postseason and their tears in the locker room after the game said it all as far as their love for each other and the Kentucky jersey.
The question about their desire for at the collegiate level was out the door. None of them wanted to talk about the NBA in contrast to Lonzo Ball who made it official minutes after a loss that he was out of Westwood.
This is what Calipari does that amazes us all: he gets them to buy in at 18 years old, and by the end of the season they are 100% invested.
And let's not forget the heart and soul of the team: the senior Kentucky boys. Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis made us all proud as they matured and carved pivotal roles for themselves. We are going to miss them, maybe more than anyone else.
This was a fun group to watch and listen to. We may never see a scorer like Monk again or a player as fast in the open court as Fox. Isaiah Briscoe's tenacious defense and New Jersey attitude cannot be replaced. I'll miss Bam dunking on people's faces.
No matter what the haters say, this team loved Kentucky, and they loved BBN. We need to return the feeling.
Coach Cal is One of the Best in the Business
Don't believe the snark: Coach Cal flat out gets it done in March. As usual, the Cal haters come out every March if and when the ‘Cats lose in order to tell us all that Cal can't coach or that he is underachieving.
There isn't a more consistent coach in the tournament right now than John Calipari. Check this out from my ESPN 680 cohort Jason Anderson:
Those are convincing numbers. Add to the fact that he does it with a new cast every single season and he makes it to the Final Four almost 50% of the time, and that makes these numbers even more staggering.
Cal doesn't normally have top notch veterans to rely on in order to show his new guys the ropes or to continue the success from the previous season. He has to build from the ground up every year. He has to get new kids to buy into defense every year. He has to get news kids to buy into Family every year.
This season Coach K had the perfect blend at Duke. He had high caliber vets mixed with an elite recruiting class. They struggled all season and lost in the first weekend of the tournament. Kansas has elite freshmen every year. Bill Self has had the number one draft pick twice. The Jayhawks are routinely beaten by lower seeds in the tournament.
Tom Izzo tried his hand with an elite recruiting class as his team and failed miserably. Rick Pitino routinely is busted out of the tournament with veteran players. Roy Williams has been good at North Carolina but he can't hold a candle to Cal since he's been at UK.
So enough with all the talk. Calipari is the best there is when it comes to March. He's been to at least an Elite Eight every season but two since he has been at UK and there isn't another coach in America that come close to what he does.
Who Stays and Who Goes
It's pretty much a given that Fox, Monk, Bam, and Briscoe will all be headed towards pro careers of one form or another in the coming weeks. Monk and Fox are looking at lottery picks while Bam must certainly be in the first round of the draft. There have been some rumblings of his return to UK (fingers crossed) but I think there's an 85% chance he is gone.
Kentucky is also losing three seniors in Hawkins, Willis, and Mychal Mulder. And then there is the case of Isaac Humphries who left the door open. Here is what I'm thinking:
Fox- 100% gone
Monk- 100% gone
Briscoe- 90% gone
Bam- 85% gone
Humphries - 60% he returns.
The front court will be loaded with some elite guys next season and Hump may have been a little worried about that. But with the way he played in the Elite Eight may have proved to him and Cal that he can make a difference at UK. If Mohamed Bamba commits, things could be interesting.
Wenyen Gabriel - 75% he returns.
Wenyen started the season well but saw his minutes diminish as Willis took the starting spot and never looked back. He hit a freshman wall and his draft options aren't promising. But a Gabriel with another offseason under his belt and practice at small forward could be scary good.
Sacha Killeya-Jones - 80% he returns.
SKJ had a disappointing year but he has made it clear that he isn't going anywhere. Unless someone gets in his ear and tells him he needs to move on due to the influx of guys, I expect him to come back.
Tai Wynyard- 100% he returns.
I'm not sure Wynyard is concerned about playing time. I think he enjoys being at UK and isn't looking to go anywhere else.
Hamidou Diallo - 99.9% he returns.
There is feeling that Diallo may be half and done at UK but I don't see it. This is a guard heavy class and I doubt NBA GMs would take a chance on a guy based on workouts alone. There has to be more of a sample. Also I think he likes it at UK and he now has a taste for it.
Cal has another stellar class lined up. It's highlighted by point guard Quade Green, point guard Shai Alexander, shooting guard Hamidou Diallo, forward Jared Vanderbilt, forward PJ Washington, and center Nick Richards.
Add them with returning players and Kentucky will be right back in the thick of it next season.
A couple of things:
- I still think Cal needs one more guard. Right now Green, Alexander, and Diallo are it as far as big time recruits. Maybe he goes after a 5th year senior or a JUCO guy, but one thing is for sure, this team may be in trouble if Brad Calipari is called upon for big minutes.
- Mohamed Bamba is still deciding and has the ‘Cats high on his list. He commits, and Kentucky has one of the most elite recruits in the country and that coveted rim protector that Cal has missed the last two seasons.
- Kevin Knox is another elite guy. At small forward, he can stretch the floor on the perimeter and also drive to the basket. He will announce after the Final Four.
Look for all of these guys in the McDonald's All-American game on Wednesday night.