UK basketball is in the doldrums this season and is unlikely to make the NCAA field. Maybe not even the NIT.
Why? Because Coach John Calipari has finally run out of luck with his one-and-done philosophy.
Plus, he is also just doing a bad job of coaching.
I have heard many college coaches say Calipari can win as long as he has 4-5 five-star McDonald All-America type players, but his real coaching ability will be revealed if he ever gets a team with a lot less talent.
Voila! That time has apparently come.
I don’t think you can find many college basketball fans who would tolerate having a coach who puts his players’ interest above the university’s interest to the degree Calipari does.
Calipari has openly admitted his players come first. But fans, I believe, prefer the university’s interests to be paramount. Many will recall a few years ago when four UK players were selected in the first round of the NBA draft and Calipari declared it “the greatest day in UK basketball history.”
This season, Calipari has said he does not want to “break a player’s heart” by benching him when he should (hurting the player’s NBA draft chances). The player in question is Brandon Boston, a highly-ranked recruit who has failed to live up to expectations, taking 38 more shots than anyone on the team, shooting 34.7 percent from the field and 17.5 per cent (7 of 40) from the three point line. And, he has more turnovers than assists (but, for that matter everyone on the team has more turnovers than assists).
Calipari had hopes that Boston would be a first round NBA pick in the draft. As it now looks, UK likely will have no one in the first round, and possibly even the second — which would be a first. But Calipari doesn’t want to cut Boston’s playing time so as not to break his heart.
Aside from Boston, UK is likely to have no players selected in the first or second (maybe even the third) rounds.
UK has played seven games decided by 10 points or less, losing five, with Calipari’s strange late substitution moves being major factors.
With the UK scholarship rookies faltering, only the transfer players and unheralded in-state redshirt freshman Dontaie Allen are keeping the Wildcats halfway alive.
It is indicative of Calipari’s coaching prowess that he kept Allen on the bench most of the early season before Allen’s on-court skills practically forced Calipari to start playing him more (but still not near enough). Allen has emerged as the team’s leading shooter (45 per cent from the field and 47 per cent from 3-point land).
Which brings up another major Calipari fault. He is so enamored of the idea of signing one-and-done players each season he leaves many vacant scholarships. He would have been wise to sign a few in-state Kentucky players each year instead of letting those 2-3 grants go unused. Over a period of time, that would ensure UK having at least 2-3 two-star or three-star players on hand.
If Calipari is smart he will keep his most productive players on the court most of the time. That would mean a starting lineup of Allen, Keion Brooks, Isaiah Jackson, Davion Mintz and Devin Askew (with Boston, Olivier Saar. Jacob Toppin and Terrence Clark — when he recovers from his ankle injury — getting reserve minutes as deserved).
(Ken Mink is a journalist of more than 60 years, author of 26 books and a 70-year UK fan. He is a native of Vicco, near Hazard.)