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Jeff Sheppard doesn’t think UK can win 2014 national title, not a fan of one-and-done players at UK

Jeff Sheppard spoke to staff and students at Jennie Rogers Elementary in Danville Thursday. Click on the photo to view a video of Jeff.

Jeff Sheppard spoke to staff and students at Jennie Rogers Elementary in Danville recently. 


MIDDLETOWN, Ohio — He was a Final Four MVP on a national championship team at Kentucky, still lives in the state and supports the UK basketball program any way he can.

Yet Jeff Sheppard admitted Saturday at the Ohio UK Convention that he didn’t think Kentucky’s inexperienced team could win the 2014 national championship.

“I am 100 percent for UK and the program and want them to win all their games and win a national championship, but I am not going to predict that. I am going to predict they will not be as bad as last year. I just don’t believe that a team this young can win a national championship,” said Sheppard. “I hope this year’s team proves me wrong.  Maybe the talent level will be so much greater that I will be proven wrong, and I hope that I am. All I can do is speak from my experience, and that experience gave us such an advantage when we were playing.”

Kentucky returns three players — senior Jarrod Polson and sophomores Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein — with extended experience off last year’s NIT team to go with eight signees, including six McDonald’s All-Americans.

Sheppard was on UK’s 1995 team that lost to North Carolina in the Elite Eight — “and we should not only have won that game but the whole tournament,” said Sheppard. He was on UK’s multi-talented 1996 national championship team and a redshirt on the 1997 team that lost to Arizona in overtime in the NCAA title game. He led UK to the national title in 1998 as a senior and then watched in 1999 when many of his former teammates lost to Michigan State in the Elite Eight.

“The Final Four atmosphere is different,” Sheppard said to defend his stance on UK’s lack of experience. “There is just something different about playing in a Final Four. If you have never played in the NCAA Tournament, that is a real disadvantage no matter what team or coach you play for. There are arguments against that, but I just believe NCAA playing experience is very valuable.

“A lot of players on those great Kentucky teams I was on had a lot of experience. When we showed up at the Final Four we were not celebrating just being at the Final Four. We were there to finish the last third of the NCAA. A lot of teams when they make the Final Four it is almost like they won the championship itself. If you are a first-year player and make it to Final Four, that is a very dangerous trap to fall into thinking we have won the championship already and not finish the last two games strong.”

Sheppard said UK coach John Calipari is “doing a great job playing the game he has to play now” with so many players leaving UK early for the NBA draft — 17 overall draft picks in the last four years and only two were seniors.

“You get great players on campus and then they are out of here,” Sheppard said. “It is a shame because Kentucky fan loves to know the player on the court but also off the court. What I learned during my career, and especially after, is the love fans have for the individual. You know things about me most fans don’t know about players. You want to get to know those players and follow them and see what they do and how they develop. All those things that you have traditionally been able to follow and build on has changed.

“I don’t like it. I don’t think the Kentucky fan overall likes it. We have had to accept because it is working. We have won a national championship, and that’s the way it is. I wish the NCAA or NBA would put in policies to change that. I think would make college basketball stronger.

“I don’t know how coach Calipari gets his guys together in such a short time. When adversity comes if you are really not a closely knit group, it can bust it up quickly. The individuals try to take over instead of letting the team take over. The neat thing about being part of a team is understanding how important that role is and sticking to it.”

Sheppard knows not every UK fan will feel the same as him and emphasized he meant no disrespect to Calipari for the “phenomenal” job he’s done at Kentucky.

“I don’t want to take away from the run coach Calipari has had at Kentucky. It has been phenomenal,” Sheppard said.

But here comes the old-school in Sheppard, a five-year player.

“I think too much emphasis is put on celebrating first-round draft picks. I would rather celebrate national championships,” Sheppard said. “But that is where the high school athlete is. To recruit, you have got to show a track record of putting players into the NBA. I am all for that as long as it is the by-product of team performing well and the team succeeding.

“I think it is a dangerous time when putting players in the NBA is put ahead of team success. We as Kentucky fans are not as excited about the draft as people think. We want our boys to do well, but we would rather our boys win national championships.”

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    I agree with Jeff. Love the Cats, but wish the players would stay in school longer. If some had stuck around KY may have multiple titles at this point. KY was unable last year to defend the title because the entire team left (1 senior). The reason U of L is successful at this point is due to the experience. UofL will most likely make a strong run to the final 4 this year, and has a legitimate chance to defend the title. I think coach Cal needs to encourage the players to stay for at least 2 years of college. Lets hope this group of freshman coming in can produce. The talent is there, but no real experience! GO CATS!

  2. Toicat

    Jeff, you may be right if you consider only the recent past as the sole criteria for winning. Last year was disappointing. However, if this team gels the way that they appear to be doing, they will at least be “in the conversation” about hanging banner #9 in Rupp. Talk to me in mid-January and we will know more about their trip to Texas in March.

    As for “one and done’s” or “two and through’s,” this is much more of an NBA issue than an NCAA problem. If the minimum age requirements were raised, then the “problem” would be solved. Do you need a phone number to David Stern’s office?

    Go Cat’s Go !

  3. Tcat

    Great read… I feel the same way, so glad Jeff said it. This has been debated upon many times and it almost always seems that the most popular “Forum Bully” argues against this and all the trolls come to his defense, well now I hope all the Forum bully’s read this, if anyone knows it’s Jeff.

  4. Larry Pup

    It is what it is until the rules are changed. I like our chances this year, Cal knows what he’s doing. He will have them tournament ready just like the 2012 National Champs! I sort of feel like Jeff threw a little water on our fire here. If other coaches could recruit these elite players like Coach does they would, and then they would have the same problem of one and done as UK. I don’t see what is wrong with instant millions for these athletes. You only live in the shadow of injury everyday with millions on the line. Yeah, I would like to see these players stick around. That is the selfish fan in me, but who can blame them for leaving early.

  5. Michael

    Jeff is right, but the problem is the NBA rule. The NBA is not gooing to change it’s rules, or anything about itself for the sake of college. I just don’t see what college can do about it unless the NBA deems that players must stay more than 1 year?

  6. Kokamo Joe

    Calipari makes no bones about it. He will take advantage of the system. His constant drumbeat of name on back of the jersey, kids first, helping change lives by getting them drafted etc. indicates that he is not likely to change his system.

    Many of us liked the old system. It ain’t coming back. As Larry Pup has said: injuries are common and some of them can be career ending. If we continue to get the best freshmen in the country we have to expect them to leave.

    So we have a new system. It is not likely that we will soon see players develop and play beyond the sophomore year. How could that happen with new and better talent coming each year.

    Yes, UL has another system and they have proven that it too can work. The Smith kid is a projected first or second team All American this year and I believe that he was a third team All American last year. He would never been recruited by Calipari. He was not a big time recruit and it took a couple of years for him to develop. But here is the catch: This year he may be a better COLLEGE player than the Harrison twins at the beginning or even the end of the season, BUT HIS DRAFT STATUS WILL NOT COME CLOSE TO THESE TWO. Great college players do not indicate good professional players. Two systems: both can work. Calipari’s system brings potential every year and excitement all year.

  7. Ben

    Jeff, I respect your opinion and enjoy hearing what you have to say! I have a problem when you try to speak for the Big Blue Nation! Other teams will try to use this to hurt KY. I can say that as a life long fan, that I have enjoyed watching Rupp, Hall, Sutton, Pitno, Smith And Calipari.

    I would take Cal’s system any day over Tubby ball. It would be great to keep players for 4 or 5 years, but it is not Cal’s fault. He is playing with the system that the NBA has determined is best for them. If you want to cast blame, place it on the NBA, where it belongs. This is the best way to build the KY Style and take KY back to the top. Our next coach may have the luxury to build a program where players stay longer.

    The reality is that college basketball has changed and it will never be the same that we all grew up watching.

  8. Kokamo Joe

    Yes, it is an NBA rule. The NBA likes it because the players that it drafts have had at least one year to mature and learn more about the game of basketball. Why should they change it?

    Here is a prediction: If Calipari uses the one and done thing to ride to numerous final fours and championships the NCAA will change it’s rules. There are ways to make players choose between not playing college ball and playing longer than one or even two years.

    Such changes would limit the number of quality players that any coach could recruit because those that he does recruit would have to stay in college longer. This would spread the talent around.

    Jealousy is a powerful thing.

  9. Larry Pup

    You are right Joe. When UK starts winning a few more championships with the one and done players Cal gets, the NCAA will change the rules quickly, just watch and see. They have to protect UNC, DUKE, and all the other blue bloods who will have been left behind. That is a valid assumption I do believe.

  10. King Ghidora

    I don’t get why Jeff wants to rain on the parade so much. He’s said more than a few things lately. I think he got himself into hot water calling Cal “the enemy” at one point and he’s dug himself deeper trying to get out. I believe if UK wanted him as the coach they would have him. I sense a bit of envy or something to be honest. He’s a grown man and a long way out from 1998 now. After 15 years he wants to drag everyone back to the way he got it done. Not gonna happen Jeff. Take it up with the NBA. Cal didn’t decide to make things like they are. He is NOT “the enemy”. I wonder if you are at this point telling people you feel more comfortable at UL and the like.

    I know athletes can be and really have to be a bit arrogant but come on. He’s been gone for 15 years. UK has already won with a team barely older than the one they will have next year. If Kyle hadn’t left they would have had an almost identical setup as the championship team as far as experience goes.

    It’s easy to say you’re behind the team but your actions make me wonder. I have to wonder if your failure to make a splash in the NBA hasn’t colored your view of things to be honest. If you want to pull out all the stops it can work both ways. You didn’t show up for the combine thinking the MOP of the tournament shouldn’t have to. When it turned out you made a mistake things went downhill for you. I’m sorry you didn’t get that big NBA money but sour grapes won’t change what happened.

    You may be behind the team but you have to know the media will use what you say to try to hurt the Cats. If you’re behind them give them your support instead of your criticism. They’re doing pretty well IMO. It isn’t Cal’s fault the top talent won’t stay in school 4 years. If Antoine had stayed another year UK might have had a 3-peat too. Your team wasn’t immune from the allure of big money. He was a two and through you know. And Walter might have made the difference if he had stayed too. He left after his junior year. Both set a new tone for UK sports. They were the first to leave early except for Chapman and the rest of that crew but we all know why they did it. Why don’t you go put down your team mates instead of hurting the current team?

  11. Tony

    I know Jeff LOVES UK!!! It was and still is his dream school. What he is sharing is just from his heart. I miss having players stay longer. However, I don’t miss losing. We as fans like championships. Players do too but they also have to make a living and the NBA is where many of them hope to achieve it. Both ideas can live together. That is Cal’s plan. Bring in future NBA caliber players, coach them up and into a team and win championships. We’ve always strived at UK to have the best players. The best players now are looking towards the NBA. Cal happens to get more out of them the quickest than other coaches. Unfortunately, it means we have to say goodbye sooner. I respect Jeff and his opinion. Don’t agree with some things but know his heart is for UK.

  12. Anonymous

    Jeff needs to be a little more careful with the words he uses to explain his position…the media is already jumping all over his comments in a negative way.

  13. BobbyBlue

    I read a lot of Jeff Shepherd, quotes,yesterday..had no idea he was such a “Dumb Ass”…no not what he’s saying,because I agree with most of it,but there’s a time when intelligent people keep their mouth shut,especially with the media…. the fact that he’s saying it out loud,can’t possibly help him,because whatever he’s doing to support his family,has always been connected to his Ky caree,and you can bet your last dollar,his Ky ties are his biggest asset.
    Best just to keep your mouth shut when talking in public…. what isn’t taken purposely, out of context by the Tipturds of our world,are easily misunderstood by a rabid fan base,and the haters, nationally.
    I read that he has Pitino ties business wise,and said he was more comfortable with Slicktino,then Cal,and says Ky can’t win the NC with the incoming group…certainly not a way to generate business,or add to his legend, in our state !
    I’m sure he means well,but the Vitale approach doesn’t help his hero, MVP, image.
    Course,today he’s trying for damage control ,on KSR,etc
    Really poor judgement like Sean Woods at Moreheads last year or just a dumb ass..IDK !
    Open mouth..insert foot !

  14. Larry Pup

    IMO a player who is true blue should never say publicly he is more comfortable at UofL than UK. That won’t cut it in my book. Terrible choice of words, and I think it hurts UK. The C-J and other media outlets will have a field day with those kind of remarks from a former UK great. Very disappointed in Jeff.

  15. Jason

    If you are referring to Walter McCarty, then he played for 4 years at UK, 1992/93-96. Antoine Walker left after 2 years in 1996, as did Ron Mercer in 1997. Jamal Mashburn left after his junior season in 1993. Nazr Mohammed left after his sophmore season in 1997. Most of the other players of that era stayed for all 4 years, or even 5, such as Sheppard. I can think of several players who had long NBA careers who who stayed for all 4 years such as Jamaal Magloire, Tayshaun Prince, Keith Bogans, Tony Delk, Walter McCarty, etc.

    I don’t agree with Sheppard’s assessment that UK will probably not win the title in 2014 because they lack experience. It helps to have experience, but I would rather have superior talent. I do not think it is fair to single out a young team for added doubt and criticism when so many teams with upperclassmen and lots of tournament experience get upset in the NCAA Tournament every single year!

  16. UKFMLY

    I agree with you Yvette on experience. But the reason ul is much improved over the last three yearsd is Cal. Before Cal arrived rp spent more time on restuarant tables than at final fours. Cal lit a fire under rp that all ul fans should thank him for.

  17. Kokamo Joe

    I really don’t think that Sheppard meant no disrespect toward either UK or Calipari. People tend to remember and respect the teams and the coaches that they played with and for. I also don’t think that his remarks will have any bad reflection on UK or Calipari. I think that UK is big enough to withstand real criticism from the press and I don’t see this as criticism.

    I see two systems with success coming from both. Sheppard’s 1996 championship team had this:
    Freshmen: Wayne Turner
    Nazi Mohammed
    Ron Mercer
    Scott Padgett
    Jamal Maglore
    Oliver Simmons
    Sophomores Allen Edwards
    Cameron Mills
    Antoine Walker
    Juniors Jeff Sheppard
    Derek Anderson
    Anthony Epps
    Jared Prickett
    Seniors Tony Delk
    Walter MCardy
    Mark Pope
    Obviously this is a far different from what we will have next year. Shep longs for the old days and that is reasonable since he was a part of that tradition. As a valued former member of UK basketball I think that he has a right to express himself. The fact that he still is loyal to his former coach does not mean that he does not completely support the program.

    Incidentally that roster was not short on talent. Nine names that I typed played in the NBA and some of them were big time professional players.

  18. paul

    What Jeff needs to understand and I am sure he does is the problem is the NBA..They are the ones who can change the age limit..Coach Cal has said he hates the OAD rule but he IS smart enough take advantage of it and you are now seeing other coaches try this..,Jeff was a good player at UK and is respected but he should never have made the coments he did to UK fans, only will get him in hot water, especially about Pitino…Also for the record Cal is much more accomendating towards ex players than Rick ever was at UK…

  19. AJ

    I think Jeff said all this to let this years guys go into the season with a chip on their shoulder and a “prove you wrong” attitude. But Jeff the comment about you feel more comfy at Loserville with Pitino!!!!! come on…..not cool.

  20. Chief McHeath

    Wait, so this upcoming year, say we go, Harrison/Harrison/Poythress/Randle/Cauley-Stein, that’s two sophs and three freshmen.

    A couple of years ago we went Teague/Lamb/Kidd-Gilchrist/Jones/Davis. That was two sophs and three freshmen.

    There’s precedent for this.

    Has Shep suffered some concussions we don’t know about?

  21. dennis

    Wonder who stepped on Jeff’s toes, he is really out there lambasting the team and players lately, did someone forget to kiss him before he went to bed or something.

  22. Kokamo Joe

    I am a fan who respects both our past and our present. To think that Jeff Sheppard should shut his mouth and not express an opinion goes against all that I believe about the BBN. I posted the national championship team that he played on. That team had 5 freshmen, 3 sophomores, 4 juniors, and 3 seniors. That was Sheppard’s experience. That was his UK. Most of us tend to favor what is familiar to us.

    I happen to disagree with him. Calipari’s freshmen and sophomores can win a national championship, just as the old system won it for the Sheppard crew. But that does not mean that Sheppard should play the role of cheerleader and not speak his mind. What you, I, Sheppard, players or even Callipari says can never trump what actually happens.

    Why not remember Sheppard as a Cat who played 5 years and was a great part of a national championship. Why not read the entire Larry Vaught story and see that Jeff makes some strong supporting comments about both Calipari and the present program.

  23. lunchbox

    sorry coach cal, we love the players, we hope the best for them but our fans, our players, an our coach should be about the name on the front of the jersey. if the team does good the players will do good……..team 1st KENTUCKY 1st

  24. Randal Lanham

    Jeff does a good job of pointing out his dislikes and how they are the same dislikes as many fans. What Jeff does not do is offer a workable solution to the problem that is better than Cal’s. I think Jeff did a very poor job of phrasing his angst and deserves the scrutiny he is getting. I also remember seeing clips on TV of UK fans celebrating Cal’s NC all night but nothing like that with draft night celebration. I also remember Cal taking the NC trophy around the entire State. Jeff needs to think things through a bit more.

  25. King Ghidora

    Jeff needs to stop being jealous IMO. I knew his comments would be used by the UK bashers. And they were:


    Thanks a lot Jeff. Maybe I’ll start bashing you in return. But I’m more loyal to the program than some I guess. I really wish you would just go hang out in Loserville to be honest.

    BTW I’ve never seen fans “dislike” a winning program like UK has put together. They are on one of their best runs ever and people want to complain??? Only in the BBN I guess. People wanted to fire Rupp too and that was in the early 60’s. They said the game had passed him by. Yeah right. Tell that to the Super Kittens. Rupp practically invented modern basketball. And Cal is the one that is showing the world how it’s done now. It’s not his fault the NBA takes his talent. People that bash him for that should keep it in mind that he’s not running players off so he can get new players. You think he wouldn’t want Cousins and Wall on his team right now? Cal is right that people are scared to death he will get to keep his talent longer. They won’t have a chance and they know it.

  26. Larry Pup

    Tell em King!! You are right on!!!!

  27. Kokamo Joe

    As I have posted before, I do not agree that Calipari cannot win a national with no upper-class leadership. The kind of talent that we are now getting have not played for the local school down the street with a coach who also teaches 5 classes of history or PE. They have had the best of coaching and they have been playing top flight AAU ball for years. They are not your typical high school kids. Some have repeated middle school grades (some of those “reclassify”) Calipari’s main task is to mold them and in the case of a kid with a super ego, teach them that they are not God’s gift to basketball, but a part of a team. Years when he does that the Cats are always capable to winning it all.

    But he has a right to have an opinion and he has a right to express it. I doubt that he is jealous or that he wants to hurt the program or coach. Folks, it is never good for every body to speak with the same tongue. It is never bad to question.

    Some of us need to get over our belief that every thing that we see as negative toward the program will hurt the program. Calipari and the UK basketball program is too big for the remarks of even an ex great (who helped us win a national title) to do any harm. Personally I respect Sheppard and I respect his right to express what ever his opinions may be. To attack him over an opinion is to degrade the program, IMO. I know that many don’t agree and they seethe with anger when any one strays away from cheerleading role that they think every member of the BBN must follow. Different strokes for different folks……and….I repeat what UK is or will become will depend on the coaches and players and words by no body can stop that, nor can it keep Calipari from getting the players that he wants to recruit.

  28. Larry Pup

    Joe thanks for the sermon. Sheppard has a right to his opinion yes, but Sheppard is not your average Big Blue fan. He is supposed to be, and says he is Big Blue through and through, but when he says he is more comfortable at UofL than UK wow! Now I can see his loyalty to slick Rick, but man come on! You and Jeff need to learn that there are some things better left unsaid when you have the following of a Jeff Sheppard. And when you have a ton of Big Blue fans who are going to take offense. He has a right to say that, and we as Big Blue fans have a right to challenge what he said.

  29. K

    Apparently everyone but me can express their opinion, right Joe? And whether he wanted to hurt the program or not is irrelevant. He “did” hurt the program that did a lot for him. Yes he did a lot for the program too but it’s been around a very long time and it’s bigger than just one player.

    You know Joe you are “constantly” attacking other posters here. Haven’t you noticed that you are the only one that does that? Everyone else here is pretty much on the same page. Some people love being the contrary one. Wouldn’t you feel more at home in Louisville with the other Cat bashers? You can hang out with Jeff.

    If you’re going to express your opinion about me it’s time I do the same about you. You come here looking to cause trouble pretty much every day. I’m clearly not the only one that thinks that. Why do you hang out where people think differently than you? Do you really think I’m going to be swayed by “you”? Not in a million years Joe. I actually like the program. I don’t like it when former players call the current coach “the enemy”. If you think that doesn’t hurt the program you’re off your nut friend.

  30. Kokamo Joe

    K: What you see as an attack I see as plain discussion. What you see as unity I see as lock step. In a free society there is room for a multitude of opinions. I simply cannot see telling a former great UK player to shut up. I also cannot see how his opinion expressed as he did can hurt the University of Kentucky. Calipari is going to roll on and it does not matter what Sheppard or any one else says. Do you honestly think that a hot shot recruit is going to see his statement about one and dones and decide not to come to UK and be one? So why get one’s drawers in such an uproar when one of our own says something that we disagree with.

    Take the word enemy. Some see that and think that Sheppard sees Calipari as the enemy NOW. I see it and think that Sheppard is looking back when Caliipari was at UMass and was the enemy THEN. To some it does not matter that Sheppard was careful to explain that.

  31. Kokamo Joe

    Larry P: You are absolutely right. Fans have a right to challenge what Sheppard said, just as Sheppard has the right to express his opinion. His opinion and other opinions about what he said is fair game for discussion boards. Some see it as damaging to UK. I see UK as being too big to be damaged by such remarks and shrug my shoulders and say..so what! Others disagree.

    I have stated that I don’t agree with what he said, but I am not in agreement with telling him to shut his mouth or simply spew out the party line. That is my simple point.

    Futhermore, there is a different opinion in the BBN about the one and done system. Personally I would rather have players hang around rather than one or two years, but I am more than willing to forget that and appreciate the wins.

    What ever a fan thinks about the one and done system, Calipari will prove or disprove it over the next three to four years. We can talk about it until the cows come home, but really it is up to Calipari. So we continue to talk, and ….enjoy the ride.

  32. King Ghidora

    Gee I don’t remember telling anyone to “shut up” but how expected of you to try to put words in my mouth. As for the rest of the junk you said you can think calling the current coach “the enemy” is not harmful all you want. I think that’s ridiculous but that’s my opinion and I don’t care to waste my time discussing it with you further. I can think of a whole lot more constructive and more pleasant things to do. My salvation is I don’t have to read your posts or pay any attention to you but you are stuck with you 24/7.

  33. Kokamo Joe

    Every thing that you have written indicates that Sheppard should not have spoken his mind. In my book that means shut up. What is it that you can’t understand about the word enemy. You have twisted that remark into meaning that you think that he sees Calipari now. You are wrong of course. Tell me please how Sheppards remark can actually hurt UK, except in your mind. For instance, do you really think that a hot shot recruit who wants a quick path to the NBA is going to turn Calipari down because Sheppard said that he once coached at UMass and actually was the enemy?

    In my mind, UK is far too powerful to have a minor thing like this impact the program. I have too much respect for the program and for Calipari to read jealousy and doom into what Sheppard said.

    Sheppard also was quoted with saying some positive things. Why do you not zero in on those, instead of hanging your head and imaginating “enemy” and disrespect.

    And, if you keep your word, I won’t have to see any more attack on a proud member of the UK family that just happens to have an opinion that I disagree with.

  34. Hello World

    Jeff didnt hurt Big Blue Nation. He has an opinion just like anyone else. Give the man a little respect for having the balls to say what he said. Im sure he still loves the program and Coach Cal. But I feel the same way he does. We get a bunch of Hired Guns in here every year. If they dont win the national title, its all a big disappointment. I like having some good veteran players. If we can win 1 title every 4 years, I think that is success. And if you got to the final four 3 out of 4 years, thats pretty darn good. There are so many great basketball players out there each year that dont even get seen. Its hard to put the perfect team together every year like we did with Anthony Davis and crew. Even John Wall and Cousins was kind of a disappointment.

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