It’s not how you start but how you finish.
Although he knows his team could open at 0-2, Kentucky coach John Calipari hopes the Wildcats emulate last year’s performance down the stretch this season.
Kentucky was picked to finish first in the Southeastern Conference by members of the national and conference media on Monday. The Wildcats went 38-2 last season and won the school’s eighth national title. Kentucky breezed through the conference with a 16-0 record. Kentucky received 17 of 24 first-place votes, followed by Florida, conference newcomer Missouri and Tennessee.
Kentucky freshman Willie Cauley-Stein said being asked to follow the success of last year’s national championship team “puts a target on your back.”
“They were beating everyone so badly last year and we have a target on our back to see of we are going to be as good as them or if we are going to fall,” he said. “That’s the biggest challenge we have.¿We (just) can’t compare ourselves to them. We just need to keep going out there and playing and doing whatever coach Calipari tells us to do and being effective about it.”
Calipari lost five starters and a sixth-man from last year’s team, including top draft pick Anthony Davis, but the Kentucky coach said being successful in the next five months will require patience.
He cited Marquis Teague’s progression last season as a example of his willingness to allow his players to progress into their respective role on the team. It paid off for Teague and the Cats.
Teague was selected as the 29th overall pick in the NBA¿Draft and was one of four ex-Wildcats players chosen in the first round.
“I’m not the most patient guy, but I’m going to try to be as patient as I can to drag them along,” he said. “We were patient last year with Marquis Teague and it paid off, didn’t it? We had some people say you can’t play him at point guard — let somebody else play the point guard and let it go.
“We just said we’re sticking to this and we’re going to be patient with him. We were and by the end of the year, he was the best point guard in my opinion.”
UK Basketball: Calipari relying on patience early on
Kentucky coach John Calipari pumps his fist to the crowd during Big Blue Madness earlier this month at Rupp¿Arena. The Wildcats were picked to win the Southeastern Conference title Monday. Photo by Clay Jackson.