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What has Calipari learned from last two years that will help this year?


Did John Calipari learn anything from each of the last two seasons that could help him this year? That’s the question I posed to Sporting News college basketball columnist Mike DeCourcy.

“The first thing he learned last year is not to make a mistake at point guard. He has clearly invested a lot in making sure Andrew Harrison is the right guy and has to make sure it works for Andrew,” DeCourcy said. “All his point guards have been different players. John Wall played more above the floor and Derrick Rose used his physical strength. Brandon Knight was a shooter, Tyreke Evans a driver. He made it work for all of them but it can take time to find the right formula. He has to be patient with Andrew but at the same time forceful and make sure he knows what is expected of him. He can’t let it get away like he did last year.

“The success he had with Marquis Teague (on UK’s national championship team), who was probably the least accomplished individually of anybody up to Ryan Harrow last year, says that John needs to have talent there but he also needs a point guard to manage the expectations on him and make sure he understands that winning solves a lot of problems. Remember, Marquis got drafted in the first round, too.”

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  1. King Ghidora

    I think Cal already knew how important a PG is to a college team. UK fans have known that since long ago. I remember the long line of great UK PG’s just in the post-Rupp era. From Larry Johnson to Kyle Macy to Anthony Eps to Wayne Turner and Teague UK has always had a great PG on their championship teams. Sometimes Rupp would play with guards that didn’t have the traditional role of PG and SG. But that was Rupp. His style of play required his guards be able to play either the point or the wing well. If you’re familiar with the old standard of UK basketball, the second guard around offense, then you’ll know why PG’s weren’t the same under Rupp. The guards switched positions several times during every trip down the floor that resulted in running the half court offense.

    Cal thought Harrow could do the job I’m sure. He had established himself as a decent PG in the ACC. I guess that indicates which league is really tougher. Actually I think Ryan was distracted big time during the season. Maybe it was the massive fan participation and maybe it was his family issues. I know not everyone is cut out to play the role of superman for a few million people. Some PG’s have thrived under that pressure (think Macy) while others haven’t. Some have done very well until the pressure was really on at which time they blew up. I don’t want to bring up that nightmare game but it’s a good example if you get my drift.

    I think Cal has the position in good shape for a few yeas to come at this point. His next PG may not win the MVP of the NBA but he can be a great college PG and who knows, he could be a HOF player in the Association. Smaller PG’s have won that MVP title and are in the hall.

  2. TheProfessor

    I think the greatest lesson of the last 2 years is the importance of having at least 2 players on the roster, getting significant playing time who have been there before. The team 2 years ago had 3 (Lamb, Jones and Miller) This team will have two, and arguably three (Poythress, Cauley-Stein, and Polson). The quality of the talent coming in each year is very high, but with Freshmen, the time it takes to transform into college players varies. MKG was there the day he walked on campus, but Terrence Jones needed a little more than one year to make the transformation.

    I think the lesson learned is reflected in Calipari’s recruiting approach, a little bit seen in the current class, and will be more obvious next year and moving forward with the mix of players that will provide a supply of those seasoned players on future teams.

    Yes, point guard is important, but Calipari already knew that, and he knew before last year’s team played a single game that his point guard situation was not what he wanted, but he was caught.

  3. King Ghidora

    The more I think about it I think he might have learned that having a solid outside shooter was very important. His first team at UK lost because they failed to make open 3’s against WVU. They were clearly more talented but that weakness was exploited by a sagging defense and with your main scoring threats being a driving PG and a center it made it tough to score consistently. I don’t really know if Cal realized he couldn’t win it all with just the dribble drive.

    I don’t think you can win with just a bunch of scorers with no real shooters if you understand the difference. One can score by creating his own shots generally by driving to the basket while the other can shoot over defenders from the outside consistently enough to draw the defense out. That first team might well have been his most talented so far actually. They just didn’t have a consistent outside shooter and I think it hurt them. They did win 35 losing only 3 including going 19-0. That’s pretty impressive for a team with no real leadership from upperclassmen except for Patterson who took a secondary role on the team to allow the younger players to develop. I think maybe that was a mistake too. As the Professor said, leadership from experienced players is needed. But in that season I think the failure of Dodson and Miller to score from the outside is what cost that team the title IMO. Patterson was there providing leadership but he wasn’t the team leader he could have been. Wall and Cousins led the team and for good reasons. They are very talented players. Patterson did provide a steadying influence but he wasn’t the guy taking the big shots. That was Wall. And he couldn’t carry the team against WVU when they really needed him. He was 7 of 18 in that game but more importantly IMO the team was 4 of 32 from behind the 3 line. That’s an awful lot of missed shots. I know Cal has to be aware of the John Starks legacy in the NBA and his seriously awful game where he just kept shooting (encouraged by Pat Riley) and he just kept missing. That was like 1994 against the Rockets and it cost the Knicks the playoff series. That WVU game reminded me for the world of that Knicks game because it was the same thing. Players just couldn’t hit the 3’s and the opposition just kept sagging on them making them shoot 3’s if they were ever going to score. I thought at the time that Cal would do something different to break up that quagmire but I guess there wasn’t really anything he could do except make sure he never got in that situation again. Riley ran off to Miami after Starks blew up. Cal signed people that could shoot from outside consistently and he taught Miller to do it well.

    I have to be honest here and say that I’m worried that this incoming team may have some of that weakness with the departure of Wiltjer. He was their outside threat although I think a lot of the incoming playes can shoot outside pretty well. But they are primarily scorers and I’ve seen lots of analysts wonder about their outside shooting ability under big pressure. Let’s hope Cal really did learn the lesson of that WVU game which is to always have someone who can break your back shooting from long range. Rupp lived and died with his shooters. Pitino took it to new heights (although Dampier held the season 3 point record until Starks broke it by one made 3 – it’s been bested by a lot since then – Curry has it now with about 75 more 3’s in a season than Dampier put up). But I look back at the Super Kittens and remember that Rupp liked his long range shooters long before there was a 3 line. Now you simply must have at least one guy who can fill it up from outside.

  4. TheProfessor

    King, it seems ironic that the missing element you point out from last year could be shored up this year with a player from last year’s team who really failed to deliver the very element, consistent outside shooting, that you would look for him to deliver this year. I like Kyle Wiltjer, and I wish he had remained, but I don’t think he would have cracked the top 8 rotation with this group. I think he knew that too, so he left so he could see the floor during real minutes.

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