A few weeks ago, I wrote about how one of the big things this team is missing is a player from the state of Kentucky. A few of you commented, letting me know that there is in fact a player from the state on the team in walk on Dillon Pulliam, but you get my point. Last night was just another example of this team playing more for the name on the back of the jersey than the one on the front.
Each one of Cal’s successful teams has had a player from the state. What would the 2012 National Championship team have been without Darius Miller? In 2013, what player did we see possibly the most fight from? Jarrod Polson. Where would last year’s team have been without Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins?
Putting on the Kentucky jersey for someone who grew up with Kentucky basketball in their blood is just different. Does this mean a player who had no true connection to the state/program can’t truly understand it? Obviously not. Tyler Ulis, Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Davis all understood it.
For most of us, we dreamed while growing up of putting on a Kentucky jersey and leading the Cats to a National Championship. The dream for the players on Calipari’s teams has changed. It is simply to go to the NBA. Don’t get me wrong, that SHOULD be their dream and should be a goal for the program, but when did we stray away from the true goal. Recruiting players that care about not just themselves, but their teammates and the jersey they put on.
Calipari has been open into admitting that he will only recruit players from the state if he feels they are good enough to play at Kentucky. I don’t disagree with his philosophy, but he has let a lot of players go to other schools. These are players that could not only just be playing on this team, but also helping it be more successful.
High School: Paul Lawrence Dunbar (Lexington)
Current Team: Western Kentucky
Stats: 13.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.8 apg
Taveion Hollingsworth is a star in the making in Bowling Green. The freshman from Lexington is averaging over 13 points per game and has scored in double figures in 18 of his 25 games. After Thursday’s win over Florida Atlantic, where Hollingsworth played with a broken nose and scored 20 points, WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said that Hollingsworth has one thing that he cannot teach… “toughness.” If there has been one MASSIVE criticism of this year’s Kentucky team it is just that. They are not tough.
Hollingsworth is also a candidate for the Conference USA all-defensive team. Stansbury consistently gives the WKU freshman the assignment of guarding the opposing team’s best player. He has consistently impressed.
Hollingsworth committed and signed with WKU on November 9th, 2016. He was thought to be a Kentucky lean throughout most of his high school career, but Calipari could never fully commit to giving him an offer. You can’t tell me this is a decision that Calipari doesn’t regret. Hollingsworth has been huge for the Hilltoppers this season and will be for the next three years.
High School: Holmes (Covington, KY)
Current School: West Virginia
Stats: 9.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.0 apg
As Kentucky fans learned last month, James Bolden can play basketball. In the Mountaineers loss to the Cats, Bolden scored 17 points in as many minutes to give Bob Huggins’ team a nice spark off the bench. Fans of high school basketball in the state have known his name for a lot longer.
As a sophomore, Bolden led Holmes to the KHSAA Sweet 16 where in the second round he went head to head with a familiar name… Dominique Hawkins. John Calipari and Orlando Antigua were both in attendance to admittedly evaluate Hawkins, but as an article by Ben Roberts of the Herald Leader said, they were blown away by Bolden. You can read that in its’ entirety by clicking here.
As we all know, Kentucky did not really continue to recruit Bolden despite his desire to play in Lexington. Just think what he would mean to this team.
High School: Taylor County (Campbellsville, KY)
Current School: Xavier
Stats: 8.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 5.0 apg
Goodin is the starting point guard for a team that will very likely end up with a #1 or #2 seed when Selection Sunday comes around next month. His scoring might not blow you away, but his nearly 2.5-1 assist to turnover ratio should.
To me, Goodin is the player that this Kentucky team needs more than anything else. He is a guy that is truly okay with being the facilitator. Or in other words, he doesn’t have much of an ego.
Goodin was a four-star coming out of Taylor County High School in Campbellsville. He held offers from schools like Louisville, Tennessee, Florida and Indiana before ultimately signing with Xavier. His Crystal Ball prediction had Kentucky at 20% with the Cats not even offering him.
These are just three players that could easily be getting quality minutes on this year’s Kentucky team. There are obviously plenty of players in the state that are talented enough to take the floor at Rupp. Calipari needs to lose the notion of waiting until March/April to recruit players from Kentucky. The top players in the state will not wait. Instead, they will continue going to programs like Xavier, West Virginia or even to other in-state programs like WKU.
Looking ahead to next year, there are five players listed as D1 basketball recruits from the state of Kentucky. Why can’t the Cats just get one? Someone who truly knows what it means to put on the uniform. Even if they average five minutes a game, Calipari’s teams need a leader from the state that can fully explain what it means to wear the jersey. We know, but will they? That is up to Calipari.