UK Basketball: Calipari expects another sound defensive team next season
Kentucky coach John Calipari signs a ball for 5-year-old Corey Conner during Calipari's satellite camp Monday at Boyle County High School. (Clay Jackson / June 12, 2012)
But it remains to be seen whether those newcomers will jell as well as last year’s freshmen, which of the returning players will play larger roles and just what the Wildcats will look like come November when they begin defense of their national championship.
One thing is certain, however: If coach John Calipari has his way, Kentucky will once again be a great defensive team.
“I want us to be a great defensive team like we have been. I want us to lead the nation in field-goal percentage defense, in blocked shots like we did this year. It would even be nice to have the best winning percentage in college basketball, which means you’re probably playing the last weekend of the season,” Calipari said Monday during his visit to Boyle County High School for one of his summer satellite camps.
As for the offense, there are question marks, but there are also options. And Calipari said he thinks his work with the Dominican Republic national team this summer will help him answer some of those questions.
“I don’t know how this team will piece together. I do think the stuff I’m doing this summer is going to really help, because we will be a European(-style) team,” he said.
Calipari shared his thoughts on how some of the newcomers will contribute, and on other subjects from the expanded Southeastern Conference schedule to the importance of pre-draft workouts for those former Wildcats about to enter the NBA during an interview Monday at Boyle:
Question: Are there concerns given the fact that this year’s team will be even younger than last year’s team?
Calipari: “I would rather everybody came back. That would have been fun. But ... they win a national title, they have a 3.2 grade-point average the second term, 10 out of 14 guys have a B average, Darius (Miller) and Eloy (Vargas) walk and get their college degrees, and now six of them are going to be drafted. That’s like a whole day right there. So that happens, and you move on to another group.
“And now my challenge to the other group is, ‘Look, you didn’t win a national title. You’re not defending a national title, because they can’t take it. It’s already there, it’s on the shelf, it’s done. What you’re trying to do is be the best team you can be and not worry about it.”
Question: How easy or difficult is it to get that message across?
Calipari: “The good news is, I don’t have any problem with them. Two years ago, three years ago, all those teams talked about Final Fours and national titles, they all did, and that doesn’t bother me. This team is the same: Let’s go out and win another one.
“It’s very hard (to win a championship), especially at Kentucky where you’re everybody’s Super Bowl. Two years ago we lost six league games, we were 10-6. I kept saying, ‘I like my team.’ We ended up getting to the Four, and probably should have won the national title if we’d have just played a little better in that semifinal. We played awful.
“I’m excited about the team, but it’s not going to be easy.”
Question: How might center Nerlens Noel be different from last season’s center, Anthony Davis, and how do you think you will use him?
Calipari: “Hopefully in the same way as we used Anthony. Hopefully he ends up leading the nation in blocked shots. But what I’m trying to tell him is you want to be a player who happens to block shots, not a shot-blocker. Anthony was a player who happened to block shots versus being a shot-blocker.
“But it’s nice when you have that, you have Willie Cauley, you have Kyle Wiltjer, you have three guys that are 6-10 or better that you have in the program. That gives us three guys with pretty good size along with Alex (Poythress) and Archie (Goodwin), who have pretty good size, too.”
Question: Little has been said about freshman center Cauley, but might his upside be greater than most because he will be playing only basketball instead of splitting his time between basketball and football?
Calipari: “And tennis. He’s one of those guys who can play all sports. He could play soccer. And he’s excited. The best part with him, he’s up to 230 (pounds) already, (and) he’s excited about getting after the weights and getting after the conditioning, because he knows that he’s never done it.