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2018-19 Basketball Preview

68 Things To Be Excited For in the 2018-2019 College Basketball Season

Photo by UK Athletics

By my count it’s been 218 days since the last college basketball game was played between Villanova and Michigan, but folks, we’ve made it. We’re finally here. Today is the day college basketball begins.

Sure, you might not tune in for the technical first game (anyone got the spread on Wisconsin-Lutheran vs. Green Bay?) but yes, there will be actual college hoops on our TV’s today and no shortage of good games. And it will be that way straight from now through the beginning of April of 2019.

Forget Christmas, this truly is the best time of year.

So what do you need to know heading into the season? Well hopefully you’ve been paying attention here as I’ve given you no shortage of good content, ranging from a bunch of major conference previews (including the SEC), to the strengths/weaknesses of each title contender and even my projected field of 68.

But even still, there is plenty more to get excited about.

What exactly, you ask? Here are 68 reasons to get excited (and if you stick around to the bottom of article, I’ll even give you my National Player of the Year, Final Four picks and 2019 national champion).

Enjoy!
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© Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The 8 Questions Kentucky Must Answer to Win the 2019 National Championship

© Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Look, I know that Kentucky is a football school, and that the sole focus this week is on a potential SEC-East clinching game against Georgia on Saturday. I get it. I totally do. But as some of you might have heard, the Wildcats have a pretty good hoops team entering the season too.

Crazy, I know. But yes, they’re really good. Coached by some guy named Calipari. No. 2 in the preseason polls or something. Nine deep with McDonald’s All-American caliber talent. Again, I just wish Kentucky wasn’t such a college football hot bed, and these guys might get a little more attention!

In all seriousness, I’ll leave the heavy-hitting analysis of the football team up to Nick Roush and the football guys, but if you’ll excuse me for a second, I would like to indulge in a little basketball talk. Kentucky is now just days away from that opener against Duke, and the start of what could be a very special season. As I’ve mentioned many times throughout the summer, I really do believe they’re the best team in college basketball and should be a favorite to cut down the nets next spring in Minneapolis.

Still, as good as the Wildcats are, they have questions like everyone else. So what questions do they need to answer this season to ultimately win the school’s ninth national championship come early April? Let’s take a look:

Are the veterans ready to lead?

I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but history tells us that John Calipari’s most dangerous teams are the ones that have veterans sprinkled in on the roster with younger guys as well. I’m also not sure if you’ve heard, but Willie Cauley-Stein also once played football, Kevin Knox’s dad won a national championship at Florida State and Bam Adebayo got his nickname when he broke a table as a kid.

Again, I wish announcers really would talk about these storylines more.

Still, even though this will be a talking point that is beaten to death by the end of the season, it really is important here. The Wildcats have three sophomores with major experience and one fifth-year senior. The question for me is, are they ready to lead?

After all, it’s one thing to have older guys, but it’s another thing to have a Tyler Ulis/Darius Miller/Patrick Patterson type presence to grab guys when they’re in the huddle, push people when they’re down and to fight through adversity.

For all intents and purposes, it seems like some of those older guys (P.J. Washington, Reid Travis) and even a couple of the younger ones (cough, Keldon Johnson) are ready to take on those roles. But we won’t know for sure until we see it on the court.

What will Kentucky get from the point guard position?

This is kind of a trickle-down storyline from the one above. But we all know that the point guard is the leader on the court, and in the past, Kentucky has had wildly strong personalities in that spot, ranging from John Wall to Ulis to De’Aaron Fox.

But this year it’s more of a wild card. The talent is there. But all three players are being asked to take on roles they’ve never had before.

What makes things especially interesting – at least to me – is that all three of the point guards in question have slightly different skill-sets. Immanuel Quickley is probably the best at running an offense out of the group, but doesn’t necessarily look for his own shot a ton. Ashton Hagans is by far the best on-ball defender, but his offensive game still seems to be lacking at this point. And Quade Green seems best playing off the ball and getting buckets, which is fine. But with Johnson and Tyler Herro also on the wing, at some point will it make more sense to insert them into that spot?

Again, we’ll start to get answers here soon. But at the same time, it’s really hard to make a deep run into March if you don’t know what you’re getting from the point guard position. And right now, it’s hard to know exactly what UK will get from that spot.

Sophomore Nick Richards was real and spectacular in the Bahamas. But will it translate once the games start?

Credit to my buddy Drew Franklin, who sniffed out Nick Richards’ sophomore emergence months ago, like it was a half-priced happy hour special at KSBar or something. Richards – along with a few other guys – was one of the real revelations of the entire trip to the Bahamas, thanks in large part to that breakout, 19-point performance in the opener.

At the same time, what’s sort of gotten lost in the shuffle is that Richards has been relatively quiet since that opener. Despite putting up 19 points in the Bahamas, Richards finished the trip averaging just 12 points per game over the course of the four games in the Caribbean. He also had 13 points in Kentucky’s exhibition win over Transylvania last week.

Now on the one hand, it’s important to note that Kentucky will gladly take 12 or 13 points per night from Richards once the season begins. If they get that, they’d be through the roof. The more important question though is can he play with the intensity he showed early in that Bahamas trip on the defensive end?

Look, it’s no secret that Richards is just about the only shot-blocking, rim-protecting presence on the roster, and because of it, it’s important that he plays well enough on both ends to warrant playing time. It won’t be easy with a loaded front court of E.J. Montgomery, P.J. Washington and Reid Travis.

Point being, Kentucky needs to get some version of “Early Bahamas Nick Richards” all season long, if they truly want a chance to compete for a title.

What will Kentucky get out of E.J. Montgomery?

Montgomery was limited in the Bahamas, but once healthy he has already shown why some people believe that he’s the best NBA prospect on this roster. Montgomery absolutely balled out at Kentucky’s pro day and was maybe the best player on the floor in the Wildcats exhibition win over Transylvania, scoring 14 points on 7 of 10 shooting.

And really that game is what has me so darn intrigued about Montgomery. That’s because as good as the other bigs on this roster are, no one has a skill-set quite like Montgomery, who is as comfortable stepping out and hitting 15-foot jumpers as he is banging down low. And the former is important – if Montgomery can consistently hit that mid-range shot, it is one more threat from the outside, and will create more spacing and driving lanes for Kentucky’s guards.

If Montgomery can continue to play like he has since the team’s pro day, he adds a whole new dimension to this roster.

Will the three-pointers continue to fall?

Honestly, I’m not as worried about Kentucky’s three-point shooting as some of the national pundits. If you watch the Wildcats games you know that they can shoot the hell out the ball, with everyone from Tyler Herro to Keldon Johnson, Jemarl Baker, P.J. Washington, Quade Green and Immanuel Quickley capable of hitting from deep.

Still, even with all those shooters, there are questions: Will Baker be available at all? Will Washington (and to a smaller degree, Reid Travis) be able to show the consistency that they have early in the season. And what happens if Herro has an off-night, or Green falls down the depth chart?

Again, I’m not as worried about Kentucky’s shooting as most. But it is something to keep an eye on going forward.

Can Keldon Johnson, P.J. Washington and Tyler Herro… umm… ahh…

On second thought, I really have no concerns about any of these guys.

Both will be awesome.

Let’s just move on.

Will the weight of the NBA get to any of these guys?

Again, this is something I’m not all too worried about, because at the end of the day, every Kentucky team is filled with a bunch of guys who want to get to the NBA and John Calipari always seems to figure out a way to make it work.

Yet this year it feels like, more than ever, the stakes may be higher in terms of guys going out of their way to impress NBA scouts.

Think about it. Reid Travis is a grad transfer, who specifically came to Kentucky for the exposure that playing at one of the most prominent programs could bring. And he needs that exposure to prove that he has evolved as a basketball player. Will that – at any point – impact how he plays.

P.J. Washington was thiiiiiis close to staying in the draft, and he too came back to show that his game has evolved into a more “NBA friendly” version.

Tyler Herro has been adamant that he came to Kentucky because he believes he is an NBA guy, not a four-year system guy at Wisconsin. What will that mean for him? Quade Green and Nick Richards both want to show they’ve improved, and Keldon Johnson and E.J. Montgomery are playing for lottery spots as well.

Again, impressing NBA teams has never held back Kentucky before. But it might be something worth watching here.

Finally, can they get the breaks and the bounces?

This one is obviously less quantifiable, but at the end of the day every national champion needs a few breaks and bounces along the way. Rarely does a team just blitz through the NCAA Tournament relatively untested. Even that 2012 Kentucky squad needed big plays down the stretch against Louisville and Kansas to seal the title.

So can Kentucky get all those breaks, avoid the key injuries or bad foul calls at the worse possible time?

We’ll start to find out soon – because folks, the season is finally here!

 


The Biggest Weakness for Every Top 10 College Basketball Team Entering the 2018-2019 Season

Although I’m not quite sure how we got here, we are basically 10 days from the start of the college basketball season – and believe me, I am not complaining. After six months of analyzing and overanalyzing everything about this season (seriously who is the ninth best team in the SEC, Vanderbilt or Arkansas?!?!), we are finally here. The latest clue that basketball is reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally close came this week when both the AP and Coaches released their preseason polls.

Still, while there is unquestioned optimism coming into the year, if you ask any single coach, there is also plenty of cause for concern. After all, as good as some of the top teams in the country are, no team is perfect, and everyone has concerns coming into the season.

So what are the biggest concerns for the top teams in the country? Let’s take a look at one for each team ranked in the Top 10 of the Coaches Poll, which was released on Thursday:

1) Kansas Jayhawks – The FBI

Not sure if you’ve heard, but it’s a bad few weeks for Bill Self. As we all know now, text messages obtained by the FBI and released in court over the last month basically revealed that Self worked closely with Adidas to ensure they landed the commitment of forward Silvio De Sousa. De Sousa has already been suspended and almost certainly will never play again for Kansas (ironically, I actually think his suspension helps Kansas on the court, where they had too many players in the front court as is). More importantly though, everyone wants to know what will happen with this program, and Self specifically.

Ultimately I’m not positive that the texts alone reveal enough to cost Self his job, and even if more evidence comes out, it seems highly unlikely that any resolution will come before the end of this season. At the same time, how much will the scrutiny of the investigation weigh on this program? We saw the FBI backdrop take a toll on schools like Arizona, USC and Louisville last year, and eventually you’ve got to think it will on Kansas as well. Everywhere Self goes he will be asked questions about this FBI probe (no matter how much he continues to issue “no comments”) and in every opposing arena players will be serenaded with “FBI” chants from fans.

My hunch is that like Arizona last year it will eventually wear on one of the most talented teams in the sport and keep them from fully reaching their potential.

2) Kentucky Wildcats – Will They Peak Too Soon

Since the day Reid Travis announced his decision to enroll at Kentucky, I’ve been adamant that this team has no real weaknesses, and four games in the Bahamas only strengthened that belief. This is a team with all the components to win a title: Size, athleticism, skill, mental and physical toughness and experience.

However, when I was watching Kentucky’s “Pro Day” a few weeks ago, I found one comment John Calipari made to be very interesting: He said that he has to do everything he can to make sure that this team doesn’t peak too soon. As he said, this team had to ramp up the intensity for those four games in the Bahamas and will need to keep that edge through a season-opener against Duke, a brutal November and December that includes games against North Carolina and Louisville, and an SEC slate with a handful of Top 25 caliber teams. Is there any chance that mental edge fades the deeper they get into the season? Can they really keep it up for what amounts to 10 months straight?

It will be interesting to see how Calipari handles this group, and the ways he finds to motivate them. However outside of that, it really is hard to find too much to pick apart with this team.

3) Duke Blue Devils – Can the “Big Three” Co-Exist Together

I’m getting kind of tired of typing this so I’ll try to keep it brief. But since the day that Zion Williamson committed to Duke last winter and signed up to play with R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, I really have questioned the ability for all three to play together on the same court.

Sure, signing the top three players in a recruiting class sounds sexy on paper, but putting together a basketball team isn’t like putting together a line-up full of home run hitters in baseball. Guys have to be able to play together, styles have to mesh. And what I see from those three Duke players are three insanely talented players – but three that are all essentially the same. All three are incredible athletes and future NBA stars, but all three are also players who are best at creating their own offense and most effective when they have the ball in their hands. None are great three-point shooters, which will limit spacing and driving lanes when they’re on the court together. And much like Duke two seasons ago when they had Jayson Tatum, Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen, I could see a scenario where this simply doesn’t’ work out.

To Duke’s credit they did look good during their trip to Canada, but that was without Reddish on the court. It’s clear that Barrett and Williamson can play together, but what about when they add a third piece to the mix?

We will find out soon enough when Duke faces Kentucky a few weeks from now.

4) Gonzaga – Uncertainty at the Point Guard Position

Ask most casual fans about the Zags, and they’ll tell you that their biggest problem could be weak competition in their conference, where outside of BYU, they probably won’t face an NCAA Tournament caliber team once league play starts. But considering that the Zags have made it to the Sweet 16 or beyond in each of the last four seasons – something Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Michigan State, Arizona, Kansas and UCLA can’t say – I’m not so worried about it.

What I am worried about however, is the point guard position.

Gonzaga does return fifth-year senior Josh Perkins, but he isn’t a natural point and was kind of forced into the role last year. It showed, as Perkins finished with a 3-2 assist to turnover ratio and to make matters worse, he missed the whole off-season after shoulder surgery. I talked to Perkins a bit this summer and he claimed that his injury was a blessing in disguise as it allowed others to get more ball-handling reps, and the Zags did get a reinforcement the last few weeks as they welcomed in grad transfer Geno Crandall to the program from North Dakota. Again though, Crandall is more of a combo guard and not someone suited to run an offense.

At the end of the day, the Zags are talented enough to win a national championship. But until we see production from the point guard position, we will continue to question whether they can actually reach that goal or not.

5) Virginia Cavaliers – Will Tony Bennett Actually Switch Up His Coaching Style Come March?

One of the reasons that I think so many of you like me so much is that I always tell it like it is. And as part of telling it like it is, I’m just about the only national media member that refuses to endlessly gush over Tony Bennett. Do I think he’s a good coach? Good enough, sure. Do I think he’s a James Naismith and John Wooden all rolled into one like so many claim him to be? Come on, man.

And if anything, I think it’s fair to call into question his actual “coaching” merits. Because while he has a system built to rack up wins in the regular season, his inability and refusal to change up his style of play continues to cost his team in March. Seriously, just watch that UMBC game. Everyone remembers the loss, but few remember how the Cavaliers got there. When they fell behind early, they  continued to run the same boring, plodding offense, which took 28 seconds off the clock every possession.

At a certain point, Bennett had to switch up his team’s style of play, switch up everything that is comfortable to him and he couldn’t do it. And until I see otherwise, I believe it will continue to hurt the Cavaliers to come tournament time.

It was backed up when I talked to a coach following that game, one who had been to multiple Final Fours. I remember him telling me (and I’m loosely quoting him), “That guy will never win a title until he changes as a coach. In the NCAA Tournament you’re just going to face too many different teams, that play too many different styles, and if you can’t adjust, you’ll never be able to win a title. You need to be able to win more than one way.”

That has stuck with me all summer and will continue to stick with me until I see change in Bennett. He is great at what he does, but part of being a “coach” is adjusting your game-plan based on the opponent and situation.

Until I see otherwise, I’ll continue to pick against the Cavaliers.

6) Tennessee Volunteers – Have They Already Peaked?

I’ve made this argument so much throughout the summer that I will try to keep it brief here. But is it possible this particular group of Vols have already peaked?

It sounds crazy, but think about it. This is a group of fourth and fifth-year players who have grown, developed, matured within Tennessee’s system. Also, if we’re being perfectly honest, they’ve all kind of hit their “ceiling” as basketball players. While young teams like Duke, Villanova and Kentucky will no doubt get better throughout the year, how much better can 22 and 23-year-old grown men like Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield really get?

To me, it’s a fair question. And it’s why I’m not as high on the Vols as some other teams.

7) North Carolina – Another Team with Point Guard Issues

This one really is a no-brainer. The Tar Heels have arguably the most balanced frontcourt in college basketball. Luke Maye, Cameron Johnson and Nassir Little are each All-ACC caliber players (Maye and Little both could mess around and win Player of the Year) with perfect skill-sets to complement each other. It isn’t the deepest frontcourt in the country. But it is the one where the pieces fit perfectly together.

The problem is in the backcourt, where Joel Berry is gone and there is no adequate replacement. Freshman Coby White will be thrust into that spot and considering that he’s a freshman and more of a combo guard than he is a true point, it probably won’t end well for the Tar Heels.

To be blunt, I think North Carolina is a little bit overrated – and it’s because of their point guard play. I don’t expect them to stay in the Top 10 for long and consider them more of a fringe Top 25 team.

8) Villanova – Did They Lose Too Much Off Last Year’s Team

Seeing the system that Jay Wright has created at Villanova really is incredible. They rarely recruit a bunch of can’t miss NBA players, yet develop the guys they have into future pros. And when one leaves, the next guy steps in. Between the growth of Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono and the four guys they had drafted last year, it’s only a matter of time before the NBA is filled with a bunch of former Nova guys.

However, that last part is kind of the problem. For years, this program has been able to replace its stars with one homegrown player after another, but that cycle was somewhat disrupted by last year’s national championship run. Had the Wildcats not made the national championship game, there is a zero percent that Donte DiVencenzio or Omari Spellman would have even considered going pro. Instead, both blew up in the tournament and both ended up as first round picks.

No one is feeling sad for the Wildcats are winning a title, but had those two returned, Villanova would have likely been the preseason No. 1 team in the country. Now, for the first time in a long time, they will have younger and inexperienced guys thrust into bigger roles.

How much will it cost them?

(The early returns are “not much at all”)

9) Nevada – Do They Actually Have Too Many Players?

Earlier this summer I had Nevada head coach Eric Musselman on the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast (actually I’ve had him twice – you really do need to make sure and subscribe) and one thing that he said stuck out to me. The Wolf Pack only had about six healthy players by the end of last season (at one point they actually had to bring over players from the football team just to run a five-on-five practice) and I mentioned to him that it must be nice to have a full roster, after a slew of transfers and freshmen joined the Pack this off-season. The Wolf Pack are expected to be about 10-deep this season.

In an interesting twist, Coach Muss told me the exact opposite was true: Having a deeper bench created more problems for a coach. Not necessarily with this specific Nevada team, just in general. As he explained it on the show, he’d prefer to have a rotation of about seven to eight guys who knew their roles and knew exactly how much they were going to play and what roles they had. Any more, and it became to get complicated.

So those were Coach Muss’s words, which leads to just one problem for the Wolf Pack: They are insanely deep this season. Nevada expected to lose at least a couple players to the pros (most likely Caleb and Cody Martin), but when both decided to return it created a log jam on their roster. When you add in a bunch of transfers who sat out last season, they now have nine players who are either playing their fourth or fifth year of college basketball. Eight of those guys have averaged double figures at some point in their college careers, either at Nevada or their previous stop.

Yes, you read that correctly. Nevada has… EIGHT GUYS who have averaged double-figures at some point during their college career. The one veteran who hasn’t is Lindsey Drew who started every game for the Wolf Pack until a season-ending injury last year. And Nevada also added McDonald’s All-American Jordan Brown to the mix this past summer as well.

So yeah, you think there are going to be battles over playing time and stats? It seems inevitable.

And more than any other program, it seems like that will be the ultimate issue for the Wolf Pack.

10) Michigan State – Relying on Freshmen

True story: As I got set to write this piece, I texted a buddy of mine who works at Michigan State. I asked him what he thought the biggest concern or weakness of his team was entering the season. His response: “We really don’t have any.”

So yeah, I guess a lack of self-awareness is the biggest issue in East Lansing right now.

In all honesty, I actually like the make-up of this team, but as he later mentioned to me, the Spartans will rely on a bunch of freshmen to fill gaps off their bench. None need to be stars, but for Michigan State to have any depth they will need guys like Gabe Brown and Foster Loyer to contribute. N

March is always a crapshoot, but especially when you’re relying on such young players. And the Spartans will rely on a few this March.


KSR’s Preseason Basketball Preview Series

KSR’s Preseason Basketball Preview Series

As you wrap up your work week and get nestled into your spot for Big Blue Madness, take a moment to read and/or watch our player profiles from the one-on-one interviews TJ Walker and I conducted last month, as well as the one-hour conversation from Coach Cal’s media roundtable discussion.

 

10 Things from John Calipari’s Roundtable – Mrs. Tyler narrowed down Coach Cal’s roundtable to 10 things to know.

John Calipari Roundtable Transcript – If you have some time on your hands, read every word Coach Cal said.

Tyler Herro  – Herro explained why he chose Kentucky over Wisconsin and the backlash he’s received from Badgers fan. He also talked about his breakout week in the Bahamas and the pressure of being the fan favorite.

Keldon Johnson – Johnson opened up about his recruitment and how he and his dad disagreed about Kentucky. We also learned how he feels about being ranked behind Duke’s RJ Barrett in the class rankings, and what that first game means on November 6.

Immanuel Quickley  – Quickley explained how a trip to Egypt with Coach Cal and Team USA sealed the deal with Kentucky, the favorite in his recruitment from the start.

Ashton Hagans – Hagans’ recruitment was a whirlwind, with a de-commit from Georgia and then a jump up to a new class. He told us all about it.

EJ Montgomery – Did something happen with EJ Montgomery and the Duke commits at the McDonald’s game? He said no, but the video suggests otherwise.

Reid Travis – Reid Travis’ path to UK is unique. He told how it came to be and what it’s like being the “old head” in the Wildcat Lodge.

Sophomore Nick Richards – The GOAT opened up about last year’s struggles and how he is a much more confident player entering his sophomore year.

PJ Washington – Washington had a tough decision to make after last season and it came down to the wire on NBA draft deadline day. He told KSR what went into the decision and what he is doing to win a title and get NBA ready in his second year at Kentucky.

Quade Green – There is a new Quade Green in Lexington. Read to find out what’s different.

Jemarl Baker – Baker hasn’t played a basketball game in 18 months, but he doesn’t feel that he is behind the other guards in the UK backcourt.

Brad Calipari – Expectations are at a new high for Brad Calipari after he played first half minutes as a sophomore and in the Bahamas.

If you’d rather watch all of the videos, I created a YouTube playlist for your viewing pleasure:


10 Things to Know from John Calipari’s Preseason Roundtable

10 Things to Know from John Calipari’s Preseason Roundtable

Last month, John Calipari hosted a roundtable with local reporters to discuss his team’s progress heading into the 2018-19 season. You can view the entire transcript of the conversation here, but these ten things stuck out to me the most.

The “Brandon Knight” culture continues

From early morning workouts at the Joe Craft Center to late night sessions in a ballroom at the Bahamas, it’s clear this team is willing to put in the extra work it takes to be special. Once again, Calipari said this group’s work ethic reminds him of Brandon Knight, whose gym rat mentality propelled Kentucky to a Final Four in 2011.

“I told them yesterday — everybody keeps asking me — I said the biggest thing about this team is the Brandon Knight culture, which was time in the gym. That’s what this group that walks in here, they love being in the gym. They just love the game. They love getting better. They love competing. That’s fun for them. Not running around, [saying] ‘Can’t wait until this is over so I can go.’ That’s not who they are. They love being in the gym. The teams I’ve had that way, normally, they’re reaching beyond what you think they should be able to do.”

Kentucky always has talented players; having players that are talented and willing to sacrifice is what has Calipari “jacked” to come to work each day.

“Yesterday we practiced and I was so jacked to be practicing. We only went for an hour and did all defense, but I think they could tell I was excited to be back. I’m excited about the team because the culture that they’re creating is going to be one of personal and team achievement.”

Freshmen are refusing to back down

Kentucky’s got a great core of veterans in PJ Washington, Nick Richards, Quade Green, and Reid Travis, but Calipari said just because those four are older doesn’t mean the freshmen are letting them push them around.

“The young kids have no idea what they’re about to face; the veterans do. But if the veterans try to get these young kids to back up, literally, the young kids will laugh at them like, ‘You know, no. That’s not how we’re doing this.’ You can come out every time you miss a shot. ‘Well, I’ll get in the gym more.’ So, anything that’s thrown at these young kids, they’re like, ‘No. I’m not buying it.’”

There’s a lot of Keldon Johnson in that quote.

Searching for a catalyst

This interview took place a month ago, and at the time, Calipari was still searching to a “catalyst,” aka a player who can come in and take over the game. This group seems to have a lot of alpha dogs; which one is the meanest?

“What we walked away from [the Bahamas trip] with was, we’ve got a lot of guys. Who’s going to be the catalyst? And you need a couple. Who’s going to be the guy that can change the game for three or for minutes to help you win? Who is that? Still not sure who that will be. You try to have one or two or three of those if you can; if you do, your team is really, really, really good.”

Based off the Bahamas trip, Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, and Ashton Hagans come to mind as candidates. Speaking of…

Ashton Hagans: Tyler Ulis 2.0 on defense?

Hagans’ defense was one of the highlights of the Bahamas trip, and when asked whom he would compare Ashton to on that side of the ball, Calipari named one of his most beloved players.

“He’s got a little bit of the stuff that Tyler Ulis would do, which is, you go and he’s there, and then you go, and he’s still there. And then you go, and all of a sudden, he took the ball from you. Like, where did he come from? He’s got a little bit of Tyler. Tyler had to play angles and really had to be advanced in what was happening next because of his size. Ashton hasn’t done that yet. Ashton just mauls you. He knows to stay in front and to body you. He’s not afraid to be physical.”

Could Ashton be the catalyst Calipari’s searching for?

“Yeah. Tyler was a catalyst on that team. And it was as much what he did defensively as what he did offensively.”

He wants Immanuel Quickley to stop trying to be perfect

Immanuel Quickley’s stat line from the Bahamas was as close to perfect as you’ll see from a freshman in a summer exhibition: 18 assists to only two turnovers. Calipari said he’s been thrilled with Quickely so far, going as far to compare him to Brandon Knight in terms of work ethic, but he wants the freshman to let down his guard and take more chances.

“I’m trying to get him – he wants to be perfect. And he almost was down there. I want him to be a little more aggressive, take more chances. He’s used to, boom, the ball comes out, alright, let’s hold. No. Boom, the ball comes out, get in that lane and keep coming. There will be a time where it’s a dead ball, where everything dies and you have to take it and get us back to what we’re doing; he’s learning that. But he was terrific.”

He’s open to a neutral site series with Memphis

Without even coaching a game, Penny Hardaway has reinvigorated the Memphis Basketball program to the point the Tigers are vying with Kentucky for five-star big man James Wiseman. Calipari, who revived the Memphis program himself in the early aughts, said he’s open to a series with Hardaway and Memphis, but only at neutral sites.

“I like Penny and I congratulated him and he and I talked a couple different times, but I don’t believe – look, it’s hard for us to go home-and-home with anybody; it just is,” Cal said. “I don’t think a home-and-home would be in the cards, but playing them, maybe we can figure out something.”

He isn’t going anywhere anytime soon

When asked how he feels going into his tenth season at Kentucky, Calipari broke out his usual jokes about aging at the rate of a president, etc., but also shared a conversation he had with Joe B. Hall when he took the job in 2009.

“I can remember asking Coach Hall, ‘How long a run is this?’ He said, ‘About ten years.’ [Laughter] He said about ten. You know, the lifespan of a president, an athletic director, this level of coaching, it’s usually about ten years. Then after that, stuff gets harder and harder.”

That being said, at 59, Calipari is showing no signs of slowing down, even throwing around the possibility of coaching into his 80s.

“You’re here and it’s a position that, like I said, it took me twenty years to get a job like this. And, so, not as anxious to leave and probably going to stay much longer than I ever thought I’d stay in coaching.”

He really does get the state of Kentucky

We say all the time that Calipari “gets” the Kentucky Basketball program and its fans; that understanding was on full display when he was asked what he’s learned during his tenure in Lexington.

“This is a generous state. And it’s not a rich state. Some may say it’s a poor state, but it’s a generous state. It’s a provincial kind of place. In other words, they’re from where they’re from and they’re proud of it and you ask somebody, they’ll tell you the county they’re from.

“The other thing they’re protective of is their basketball program. What’s beneficial to me is I’m their basketball coach. You come after me, this army comes after you.”

Stitch that on a pillow right now.

“I should be John Wooden. I should have won nine, ten, eleven.”

Inevitably, Calipari was asked why Kentucky only has one title in nine years when 35 players have been drafted by the NBA. In response, he joked that he should have won “nine, ten, eleven” titles so far ala John Wooden, but dismissed the preconceived notion that Kentucky fans expect to win it all every year.

“You know what’s funny? Everywhere I go, everyone says, ‘How do you do it there?’ I go, ‘What do you mean?’ ‘They expect you to win it every year, these people expect that’… I don’t feel that way. What I say to them is, ‘They want to be in the hunt for recruits, they want to have a chance to win it every year. They’d love to win it every year but they want to make sure we’re one of those teams every year.’ That’s fair, I think. Being at Kentucky, that’s a fair thing to want.

“Every year, I’m coaching to win a national title. That’s what I’m coaching for every year I coach here. Have we been in the hunt every year? I’d say every year but one. And if a kid didn’t get hurt, who knows if that would have been every year?”

Will someone please take him to Dunkin Donuts when he’s older?

Calipari said that as he gets older, he worries less and less about his legacy, but admitted that sometimes, he worries he’ll become so irrelevant that no one will care enough to take him out for coffee and a chat.

“This platform will go away at some point. No one’s going to worry about what I’m saying or what I think. I laugh at times. I said, I wonder if someone will say, ‘Hey Cal, let’s go get a coffee and talk basketball’ when I’m done. You laugh about it because I try to take care of veteran coaches any chance I can because of it. And everybody says, ‘Nah, no way.’”

I’ll take you, coach. My treat.


Check out the rest of KSR’s 2018-19 Basketball Preview Series:

10 Things from John Calipari’s Roundtable | John Calipari Roundtable Transcript

Tyler Herro | Keldon Johnson |Immanuel Quickley Ashton Hagans | EJ Montgomery | Reid Travis | Nick Richards | PJ Washington | Quade Green | Jemarl Baker