LEXINGTON — Not only will this season benefit any Kentucky players that return next season, but coach John Calipari says his team's struggles at time will help him in the future as well.
“It’s a learning experience for me. It’s going to make me a better coach for next year’s team, some of the stuff went on that won’t go on next year, holding the bar to a higher standard, not accepting we’ll have enough guys," Calipari said. "The bench is going to be my best friend. All of those kind of things that will come back into play.
"You start to figure out why have my teams been so good for so long. Can we now get this stuff going? Can we turn this? This is about when we did it two years ago. Those guys made an effort to listen, to say we’re going to do what we’re asked to do, we’re going to play at another level, we’re going to take it up a notch. We’re going to really fight like heck and play to win. This group can do that same thing, but we’ll see.”
Calipari even hinted that several players could be back even though freshmen Nerlens Noel, Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein are being projected as NBA first-round draft picks.
"You could have this team and next year’s group on the same team. Now all the sudden your bench your best friend, practices are at a level that are ridiculous," Calipari said Tuesday. "My hope is as we wind this down, we go to this tournament, next tournament, that these guys just say ‘enough’s enough,’ and they hold each other accountable and they get each other to do what they need to do cause this team’s good enough. I still believe in this team.
"This team could do whatever they want, but you can’t say ‘Well, I want to do that but I don’t want to do this to get to that.’ You can’t. It doesn’t work that way.”
Calipari has not used Kentucky’s bench often. With Noel down, he’s basicall stuck with a six-man rotation even though at times he’s used guard Jarrod Polson for extended minutes. He’s said he wishes he had played Jon Hood more, but he’s not done it.
“I like winning more. So I’m going to do everything and try to get the team across the finish line. What happens is it just, as a coach, you’re doing everything in that in your heart of hearts, in your bones, you know you wouldn’t do or accept or wouldn’t even consider to try to get your team across the finish line, knowing at the end of the season (it’s) time to regroup, going back to how we do things,” Calipari said when asked if he regretted not using the bench more.
He also said it was hard to have to compromise his coaching instincts at times with a young team with little backup help on the bench.
“It was very hard. I had bloody lips going home, biting my lip many, many nights. My wife was like, ‘Did you get in a fist fight?’ No, I bit my lip for like 25 minutes straight,” Calipari said. “This team, they can turn this on if they choose to. We were in practice yesterday; guys going so hard, dadadadada. What does this prove to you? Oh, they can do it – if they choose to do this.
“They just choose not to do it. Then by not choosing to do it, they don’t understand that’s selfish. ‘I don’t shoot all the balls.’ That’s not what selfish is. Giving less than your best effort to cover for your teammate, that is selfish. You’re a selfish player.
“Again, dealing with 18-year-olds, 19-year-olds, they don’t even know this stuff. And the teams I’ve had in the past, you can win with young kids. You have to have a few veterans that can tell them what to do, and you have to have a few guys so you can sit them on the bench. This team has that.
“I tell you who’s been playing well — Jon Hood. Jarrod Polson giving everything he can. I’m comfortable going with Jon Hood. I may even play him at four (power forward) some. So he’s been playing well. But again, we still — the great thing: we’ve got a lot to prove. What do you want to be? How do you want to do it? We’ve got a lot to prove and we’re going up into an environment that’s going to be a great testing ground for us. Here we go. Let’s see what we’ve done.”