LEXINGTON – December 27, 2020 – KEITH TAYLOR
Let’s face it. This hasn’t been a fun season for Kentucky coach John Calipari, no matter how he tries to convince you otherwise. It’s been a struggle and it’s been real.
It’s been more than three decades — 1988-89 — since the Wildcats have lost six straight games. You would have to go back even further to 1911 before you discover a Kentucky team that lost six of its first seven games to open the season.
Those records aren’t ones that any coach, in particular Calipari, would want to be associated with at a school that prides itself on winning games and stacking up SEC and national championship banners.
The ongoing pandemic hasn’t done Calipari, or any coach for that matter, any favors. Now, more than ever, teams are isolated from each other. Team bonding, especially for teams that flip rosters more frequently than others that stock their programs with three- and four-year players, has been more difficult this season.
Calipari has mentioned it more than once how his team is at a disadvantage compared to other teams this season when it comes to veteran leadership. That hasn’t been a problem for the Kentucky coach in the past and his point of no bonding time may have something to do with his dysfunctional Wildcats.
Calipari has always relied on talent to overcome the lack of college experience and he does have some veterans on this year’s squad. Those upperclassmen, however, haven’t been part of the program at Kentucky and know little about that unique culture. The only difference between the freshmen and veterans on this year’s squad is collegiate experience. All of them are newcomers when it comes to knowing what to expect from Calipari and the coaching staff.
Already, Calipari has suspended a player (Cam’Ron Fletcher) and has brought in a sports phycologist to deal with his team’s internal issues, so he can deal strictly with coaching, and the season isn’t halfway finished.
He has taken the blame for the team’s schedule, which hasn’t been typically freshman friendly. The top-heavy schedule is one reason the Wildcats haven’t been able to gain any traction with losses to Kansas, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Louisville, not to mention Richmond and Notre Dame.
This year’s schedule lacked appetizers before the main course and Calipari’s has certainly missed the cupcakes although most UK teams would normally be expected to defeat Richmond, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech.
“You have to play games you can win to build confidence,” he said. “This was the stupidest schedule I’ve ever put together, and I’d like to smack myself in the mouth.”
The good news is there’s still time to get things right and Calipari’s teams in the past have been able to find light at the end the tunnel. This team has yet to find the on switch, but the veteran coach remains confident daylight is on the horizon.
“I don’t believe it’s over,” Calipari said. “We haven’t played a league game yet. I don’t believe it’s over. Let’s go do what we do. Let’s keep coaching them. Our true fans – the fans that are really with these kids – keep cheering them on.”
If Kentucky doesn’t turn the proverbial corner soon, an uncomfortable fan base – and it’s wily coach – will have to be talked off the ledge.