By LARRY VAUGHT
Finally John Calipari is admitting that perhaps Kentucky’s biggest problem during the 2012-13 NIT season was not having Marquis Teague.
Teague was UK’s starting point guard on the 2012 NCAA championship team, but he played so well late in the season that he put his name into the NBA draft and became a first-round pick. Calipari had expected to have Teague for at least two seasons, so that left UK with Ryan Harrow as its starting point guard last season and he was not a match physically or emotionally for the type of point guard Calipari prefers.
“I never thought Marquis Teague would leave after a year. That kind of got us last year. Even as the year wound down, I thought this kid’s going to stay,” said Calipari. “When he comes in, ‘I’m going to go,’ now all of the sudden I’ve only got this guy (Harrow) in the program. Do I want to go out and get one or two more? How do I do this? He’ll be good enough, we’ll do … Then all the sudden you get trapped.
“That’s what happened. But it was my choice. Part of my choice was I didn’t want to bring anybody scaring away the class I knew we had coming in. All right, then eat it. You just went through what you went through, and it was your choice. So, that’s why I didn’t blame anybody.
“And I’m not taking the credit for us winning the national title. I had good players. Went to a Final Four. I had good players, good players. They wanted to come together. They were good kids. We’ll do our job, but I’m excited about coaching this team.”
That’s because this team includes twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison, two players Calipari did not want to “scare” off by adding another point guard last year. Andrew Harrison was the top-ranked point guard in the 2013 recruiting class — and projected NBA lottery pick. Aaron Harrison is a talented two guard who can also play the point if needed.
How is Andrew Harrison’s approach to point guard in comparison to Teague or former Calipari point guards like Brandon Knight, John Wall, Tyreke Evans or Derrick Rose?
“We’re trying to figure out,” Calipari said in an interview last month. “I don’t know everything these kids can do yet, and that’s one of the reasons why I want to do pick up, controlled, coached five-on-five. So I can watch and see, ‘OK, wow.’ Everybody’s saying Andrew is way above Aaron, that’s not true. You won’t believe this: they really look the same. Like, they do.
“ And I’m telling you he (Aaron) went to his left hand, shouldered and laid easily, like lefty. And I’m like saying, ‘He may be a strong left driver.’ Andrew seemed to want to go a little more right. When he went left, he didn’t do it as well. I told Aaron after, ‘You need to teach your brother what you’re doing going left because I’d like him to be able to go left and maybe start the offense on the left side instead of the right side.’ But I can’t do that unless he can go hard left like that. But Aaron did stuff, like, I’m like ‘Wow, I didn’t realize.’ So, I’m going to learn about them. I don’t know all the stuff about these kids. But there’s a lot of stuff we can do with them.”
Calipari is not using last year’s season to motivate this team. Instead, he’s barely mentioning what happened last season.
“That thing is so far behind me, it ain’t even in my mindset. I don’t want them to think about last year. They have nothing to do with last year. The only thing we’re talking about is, ‘How do you get better? How do you come together as a team? How do you sacrifice for your teammates?’” Calipari said.
“Do you know we played Louisville in the Final Four (in 2012), no one on the team took more than nine shots and we win the game. Go back and look, I bet it’s never happened in the history of the Final Four that no one on a winning team took more than nine shots. So my thing to my team is, what happens, they all sacrificed for each other. Are you willing to do it? And now, what happens here? And they’re telling me they’re sharing the ball, like it’s amazing, they’re passing it to each other.
“I think they know what’s out there. I think the twins know. They know what’s said about them. You don’t think they look on the Internet and this stuff? Whether it’s James (Young) … James will defer a little bit like Eric Bledsoe, so he’s…’Don’t defer. You’re as good as any of these guys. Don’t defer. But you’re not being selfish. Just attack, be strong, know you can play with these guys.’”
Calipari says the best way to “cure” what happened last year is by having better players, and he has that thanks to a recruiting class that includes six McDonald’s All-Americans.
“Some of it wasn’t their fault (last year). I had guys in the game that needed to be out,” the Kentucky coach said. “I’m worried about this group moving forward, not using last team to try to say, ‘Hey, this could happen.’ No, that doesn’t happen unless we chose to make it happen with this group.”