By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky has been part of the Champions Classic since it started with Duke, Michigan State and Kansas — four of college basketball’s top teams. Kentucky has also been part of the CBS Sports Classic with Ohio State, North Carolina and UCLA.
Kentucky plays Michigan State tonight in New York in the Champions Classic and then takes on North Carolina in the CBS Class in Las Vegas in mid-December.
“With this thing, early in the year, it’s a hard deal. Last year we beat Duke, it made it a nice couple of weeks. Then we go back and lose to Ohio State or whoever we lost to. I mean, it’s an early game. It’s great for fans (but) it’s tough for coaches,” Calipari said Monday.
“But for us, what I am excited about is that the issues we have, if we don’t improve them in this game, you will see it glaring, and then we have the attention of this team – like, if you really want to win. We have good players, but that is not what wins. It’s the grind, the toughness, the grittiness and the offensive rebound attempts. I’m not going to get beat to a ball. He’s not going to beat me to a ball.
“All of those things you will see in this game right now. And the other thing you guys talked about is, OK, lights are at Madison Square Garden, it’s a nationally televised game, everybody is watching. It’s like the presidential debate. How do you do now? Can you make a shot? Can you make a free throw? Can you think? Great environment for that, to find out early.”
Tonight’s event has 12 of last year’s top 20 recruits and most of them where players that Calipari tried to recruit.
“You don’t get everybody. That’s why I don’t go crazy over recruiting. Our fans do. They want to read everything and see everything. I could care less. We’re going to get the four or five guys we need to get that want to be here, both feet in. They’ve got no problem – they’re not afraid of this. They’re not afraid to share,” Calipari said.
“They want to come here and be coached. They watch me coach in practice. I don’t cuss and swear. That’s not how I coach. But, the bar is raised high. Then the question is: Can you make it through this practice? If you can’t make it through this practice – this is every day – then don’t come here. If you think that eventually you can, then it’s probably a good place to come.
“If you walk in the gym and when you see no players, and that’s where you want to be, you’re not coming here. If you walk in the gym and see a bunch of talent and say, ‘Oh, my gosh,’ and you love it, you want to be here. We’ve got some guys (in the early signing period), we still may sign a couple more. We may not. Then if we don’t, we’ll sign a couple late, which is like we’ve done. And that will be fine. You get yours, I get mine. Then we eventually got to throw it up and see who’s who.
“Where they rank us – one year this team was ranked duh, duh, duh. I don’t think Karl-(Anthony) Towns’ team was ranked like the best recruiting class. What? Who ranked that? In other years there were other players that were ranked higher and we were ranked higher than them and we shouldn’t have been. So, the rankings don’t matter. I mean, it’s who did we get, how do they play and do they want this? This is not normal. It’s just not normal here.”