By MIKE MARSEE, firstname.lastname@example.org
By just about any Kentucky fan’s standard, last season was a failure. By John Calipari’s standard, not so much.
The Kentucky coach said he was disappointed that the Wildcats didn’t have a better year — they finished 21-12 and lost in the first round of the NIT one year after winning a national championship — but he said that wasn’t the only measure of success for him or the players.
Calipari said all of Kentucky’s players got something out of last season — even those who didn’t play as well as expected. He talked about what he and the players took from the season Monday during his remarks to children and their family members at his satellite camp at Boyle County High School.
“In a lot of ways, it was really rewarding for me. We were disappointed. We finished second in the SEC, we were disappointed. The three (SEC) teams that went to the NCAA tournament, we were 3-1 against those teams,” Calipari said. “And you never use injuries as an excuse or any of that. Here’s what’s disappointing: We didn’t even get to the tournament; we played our way out of it.”
“But this is a players-first program. We had a 3.4 grade-point average as a team last year. Twelve out of 13 guys had a B average. Two had a 4.0. Aside from that, players benefitted from last season. We talk about players first, that’s what this is supposed to be about.
“Did we benefit from this, our staff? No. But did Nerlens (Noel) benefit from this past season? He may get drafted (number) one. He did all right. How ’bout Archie (Goodwin)? We would have like to have him come back, but we’re going to support him. Looks like he’s going to be a first-rounder, maybe a second-rounder; he’s going to get drafted.
“How ’bout Willie (Cauley-Stein)? No one knew who Willie was. He benefitted. How ’bout Alex (Poythress)? Oh, yeah, he benefitted. The benefit was you saw signs and he saw signs of where he can go, but knowing he’s got to change the path he’s on to get where he’s trying to go.
“How ’bout Kyle Wiltjer? Sixth man of the year. By the end of the year, though, what happened to him? What did every team do to him defensively? They went at him on defense, and he knew, ‘I’ve got to change my body.’ He benefitted. How ’bout Julius Mays? No one knew who Julius Mays was. Julius is going to get a contract to play in Europe.
“You may say, ‘Well, what about Jon Hood?’ Jon Hood benefitted. How ’bout Jarrod Polson? Did he benefit? Yes, he benefitted. Ryan Harrow. You may say, ‘Well, he didn’t benefit.’ Yeah, he did. In a lot of ways, he benefitted in that (he realized), ‘I’m not made for this.’ So now, that season got him to where he can go to have success.
“What I mean to say, again, when you’re about players first, it’s got to be that way, your principles, your core values, even when it doesn’t go good for me, it’s got to be about those guys first. We graduated 10 of our last 10 players in four years. Ten players who have used up their eligibility have graduated. Ten out of 10. We’ve had 17 draft picks? We just helped create 17 millionaires. Isn’t that nice. Wouldn’t you like to have that lottery ticket?
“Now, 10 out of 10 have graduated, 17 have gone on to pro careers. Some have done both: Darius Miller, Josh Harrellson. They stayed the (entire) time and they became pros. We call it a success rate. People have this graduation rate. OK, we graduate our kids, but it’s more than that.”
Calipari said he’s excited about the team he’ll put on the floor next season, but he said the incoming players will also need some work.
“This team we have coming in, with the players we have returning, we should be good. They will decide how good we’ll be,” he said. “And every one of those players, they need us in different ways. Some need us to be right on top of them, some need us to just teach. Some need us to encourage, some need us to bring them back to show we have no fear of coaching them as a player. They all need us in different ways.
“So I’m excited about the opportunities we have. I’m really excited about where this program is, what it stands for, what it stands for around the country, not just in the commonwealth. We’re about players first. We drive them. They don’t always like us, they’re not always happy with us, it doesn’t mean I’m trying to be everybody’s buddy, that’s not what it’s about. It’s about helping them reach their dreams. When we help them reach their dreams, they drag us to where we’re trying to go.
“Do we want to win national titles? Absolutely. And if we win a national title, I’m ecstatic. But you know what would disappoint me? If we won a national title and not one player was drafted. That would disappoint me.
“And you say, ‘Well, why?’ I should benefit from that, you should benefit from it, the school should benefit, the state should benefit, but those young people shouldn’t benefit? If you’re about them, it’s about, yeah, we want to do all this, but not at the expense of our young people. We’re here to help them reach their dreams.”