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The Offseason of a Lifetime

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Hartford v Kentucky Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The words were honest, raw, and stinging…Enjoy your time now. Next year’s gonna come soon enough.”

Those were the words that Kentucky head coach John Calipari offered during his last call-in show, capping what was one of, if not the worst season of his hall of fame career.

There was no NCAA tournament bid, no SEC title, no surprise SEC Tournament run, not even an NIT appearance.

Coach Cal also shared with the Kentucky faithful, “There are things that happened that I’m not happy about, and it’s unacceptable to me.”

Honestly, fans of the bluegrass understood completely because they too saw things they were not happy about and to say they were unacceptable was an understatement.

But with those words, the offseason began. There have been some in the Big Blue Nation that have been wringing their hands, sulking over the year that was, griping about the way things played out. That is the stuff of the offseason for a fanbase that has grown used to winning.

But something else has been happening as well. This is the offseason of a lifetime for Kentucky basketball, and if you look real closely, you might be witnessing the remodeling and rebirth of the Blue. This very well could be the offseason of a lifetime!

As with any career, especially a Hall of Fame career, there are ups and downs.

In John Calipari, the Wildcats have managed to have the premier coach locked into the premier program, and now we begin to see how he can bounce back to the top of the college basketball world.

A few years ago, Cal released a book called Bounce Back: Overcoming Setbacks to Succeed in Business in Life. The book drew upon his experiences of the past, his departure from the NBA, and how he faces and most importantly, bounces back from setbacks. He offered what he called PractiCal Points in the book, and they are worth mentioning because that is exactly what he has been doing in the offseason revamping, reimaging, and remodeling of the University of Kentucky Basketball team.

For starters, he offers the following PractiCal Points:

Let your emotions run their course, and then focus on starting your bounce back with a positive attitude. Take stock of what has happened, and be prepared to attack your bounce back with passion and a positive attitude - no matter what.

His warning to “enjoy your time now…and the mention that what has happened as being unacceptable” reminds us all of the year that was, but you can’t spend too much time whining about what didn’t happen. Instead you have to take inventory of where you have been and how do you get to where you want to go next?

PractiCal Point: You have to move forward and not backward.

John Calipari rolled up his sleeves and began a revamping of the coaching staff. Chin Coleman, and the return of former Kentucky coach Orlando Antigua are welcomed additions. Plucking them both from Illinois, insiders and experts believe this is an upgrade making the staff second to none.

Chin Coleman is a fresh face to most Kentucky fans. His Chicago roots had him coaching Chicago youth leagues after his pro career ended. Chin worked on various staffs before being hired at Illinois, where he became a top notch recruiter and developer of talent.

Calipari said, “You are talking about another upbeat, positive coach who is going to bring the spirit that has always been a part of our culture. He has earned his stripes through hard work and building relationships around the country. Chin is a grinder, someone who relishes that time in the gym with the kids to help add value to your current players, yet he never takes his eyes off the lifeline of our program, which is recruiting.”

Coleman is a definite win for Kentucky but Orlando Antigua, is the biggest offseason addition of them all. A fan favorite on his first run at UK, he was always considered one of the top assistants in the country. Antigua is an outstanding recruiter, a proven winner at Kentucky, a trusted kitchen cabinet voice Calipari will listen to, and he already has earned Cal’s trust. Putting these new faces in with the rest of the staff has built a coaching unit that is ready to return Kentucky to the next level

More PractiCal Points: Trust that good things will come from where you are now. Prepare yourself for an honest self-evaluation and serious introspection.

No coach has a better track record than John Calipari of taking and developing young talent. His reputation as a One and Done coach may not be as accurate as critics insist, but the one thing Cal has proven time and time again is that he does understand the way college basketball works. Now he is leveraging the rules and changes that allow players to enter the transfer portal and switch schools. This brings players on the team with some college experience and less of the early development and transition issues that often accompany the high school blue chippers.

If you do a deep dive and honest evaluation of the previous version of the Cats, one of the problems that was so frustrating is that you never knew where the points were coming from on the floor. Often they never came at all. Coach Cal went out and found some points with the addition of Kellan Grady, the transfer from Davidson with over 2,000 career points and four straight All-Atlantic 10 selections. Grady will bring experience and scoring versatility to a team that didn’t have enough of either last season.

Cal said it this way. “Kellan has established himself as one of the best players in the country,”

Calipari then added another proven scorer in CJ Fredrick, a standout 3-point shooter from Iowa. Fredrick arrives in Kentucky with a 47 percent 3-point shooting percentage on almost 200 career attempts. How good is that? Pretty good! Right now, he’d rank third in UK history in career 3-point percentage (think Doron Lamb and Cameron Mills) on the all-time list. He also has a Kentucky connection and is a bit of a homegrown talent, which the fans really appreciate. As a high school baller, he played at Covington Catholic and won the KHSAA State Championship. As a high school senior, he averaged 27.8 points per game and was named the MVP of the Sweet 16. And it is also worth mentioning that the state championship was played in Rupp Arena. So Fredrick is coming home. He will join another homegrown favorite in Dontaie Allen, who emerged as a potential scorer last season, and for many was the high point of the Wildcat season.

As encouraging as those additions have been through the transfer portal, the addition of former Georgia guard Sahvir Wheeler brings to the Cats a playmaker with 7.4 assists per game last season. The leading scorer for the SEC Bulldogs, he brings another important cog to the Kentucky offense with the ability to control the ball, shoot the ball, and run the floor from the guard slot.

Not to be lost in the mix is the need for some strength and bulkiness in the low post. To bang underneath, Cal added West Virginia’s Oscar Tshiebwe, who led the Mountaineers in scoring and rebounding two seasons ago.

PractiCal Point: Realize that you have been to the mountain top before and you can get there again.

Who better to build a ball club than John Calipari? Navigating the transfer portal doesn’t mean that he still is not able to land the top freshman recruits as well. The announcement of Ty Ty Washington as an addition in the backcourt was huge. He brings his five star scoring ability and meshed with the veterans in Wheeler, Fredrick, Allen, and Grady, he has room to develop and blossom as a player with plenty of help around him.

Bryce Hopkins also comes in as highly touted freshman that will bring a big presence underneath the bucket to play alongside Tshiebwe. (And perhaps unnoticed are the commitments for the 2022 season that are already lining up) The offseason is still young and there is still more on the horizon, but it is easy to miss the fact that Calipari has been hard at work and checked off each box needed to return the Cats to the elite swagger they and their fans have come to expect. New coaches, strong recruiters, point guard play, three point shooters, physical presence underneath the bucket, and a blend of youth and veteran leadership all will be on display next season. In a year where Coach Cal will have the chance to have a normal routine to develop this team, perhaps his end of year promise of “next year’s gonna come soon enough” can’t happen quick enough for Big Blue Nation that is ready to start winning again.

One more PractiCal Point: Be open to every opportunity, and view everyone you meet as a potential character in your bounce back story.

This offseason is a Kentucky bounce back story. Hang on Wildcat fans, the Cats are coming back!

PractiCal Points found in the pages of Bounce Back: Overcoming Setbacks to Succeed in Business and in Life- John Calipari, Free Press (Simon and Schuster-New York, NY 2009)