You could hear it in John Calipari’s post-game comments from last night… If he has a mental checklist of things left for this team to prove to him before March begins, you can tell that the list is shrinking. Calipari doesn’t always sound excited after wins. Sometimes he takes the cautious approach, and sometimes he throws out a laundry list of things that still need to improve. Calipari wasn’t ready to storm the court over yesterday’s overtime win, but he– along with the fan base– seemed to have seen something from his team’s win last night that pushed him (and his team), one step closer to the finish line.
Calipari has been expending an obvious amount of energy in these games though. A few weeks back he said that he was going to have to coach like he was 35 again to get this team where it needs to be. “Right now, do I look exhausted?” Calipari asked of the Rupp faithful who stayed after the final buzzer to hear his thoughts. “I am.”
One of the final steps Calipari still wants to see from his team is for the team to be “player-driven” rather than “coach-driven.” Calipari knows that a fine line exists between good, great, and special. “We can be good with me doing all the pushing and dragging– but if it’s a player-driven team from within, this team will be special.We are getting there.”
One by one, this young and at times very frustrating Kentucky team has answered questions and crossed more things off of Calipari’s check-list for what it takes to be special. Perhaps the most important step that still remains has little to do with actual basketball skill and knowledge. It’s something that comes from within– the type of thing that is often times hard to define and hard to put into words. It’s the kind of thing that somehow makes Team X beat Team Y in a Sweet 16 game, even though both teams on paper and on the court are dead even.
“They gotta wanna do this more than any of us,” Calipari spoke to the Rupp crowd, but the message was clearly intended for his players. “Are they getting close?” Calipari asked, as the blue-clad fans responded in a resoundingly positive way. “Isn’t it nice to see? Cuz they are getting close.”