There’s a widespread sentiment that John Calipari is prone to hyperbole, be it negative or positive. That much is certain. I’m fine with it – it’s a common tool of ‘coachspeak’. The trick is knowing how to sift through the extraneous garb and hold on to the true nuggets. After the UALR game, Coach Cal uttered this over and over:
“We’ve got a long way to go.”
When you think about how talented this Wildcat roster is, Cal’s line feels like a bit of that hyperbolized coachspeak. UK has lost one game out of their first fifteen, they’ve held a top-tier ranking all season, they’ve got several lottery picks, and their lone loss came on the road with a buzzer beating three. The Cats are in a position that almost every team in American can dream of. They’re one of the kings of college basketball this year, but I have a feeling Coach Cal hit the nail on the head. This team has a long, long way to go.
Sitting with Matt and Drew on the Freedom Hall sideline, I witnessed a pack of NBA-talented kids struggle to put up 27 points in the first half. That’s pathetic. They could play the five best individual position defenders in the country and still should be able to score much more than that in one half with their star-studded lineup. While it was awesome to watch Anthony Davis cram alley-oop dunks on fools, it was extremely frustrating to watch these super-talented players fail to perform anything resembling a fluid offense. The second half proved to be much better, as we all noticed, but it still wasn’t at a level these kids should be at heading into SEC play. The level of skill and athleticism can be seen, but the distance these guys are from their full potential is excruciatingly far. Yes, the Cats are very, very good. But to be honest, we’ve won several games on pure talent/athleticism.
Cal and crew talk about two other things consistently these days: 1) how UK is everyone’s Super Bowl and they bring their best shot and 2) how frustrating it is to coach a team full of freshman. While both of these are true in their own right, there’s more to this below-potential product than the play of the opponent. It partly has to do with the young age of the team, but one certain ‘veteran’ may be the most frustrating player. I certainly don’t think their is one true answer to why this team isn’t near their ceiling. Terrence Jones incurred the injury and has fallen back into playing in his unsuccessful ‘comfortable’ style game. Marquis Teague, as Beisner perfectly analogized last night, is wasting his elite skills by playing without drive and intelligence. The offense feels like a combination of forcing it recklessly into the defense, not creating open shots, and not being controlled by a ‘floor general’. But we all know this.
The idea that this team is sitting at about a 4.9758 on their own personal-potential scale of 1-10 is incredibly disappointing and frustrating. South Carolina and the rest of the SEC are right around the corner – lurking and waiting to steal a road game from the haughty Cats. However, on a much bright note and in the broad spectrum of college basketball, that 4.9758 is better than most of America’s perfect 10. That’s something to be excited about. This season’s team has time to improve and solidify their spot at the top.
Last year’s Final Four team didn’t hit their season low until the last SEC road loss, then they peaked near their potential at the perfect time: in March. For the 2011-2012 team, their perfect 10 may be a bit away, but if they get anywhere near it, then Coach Cal was right — this team and season have a long, long way to go. Hopefully ending on April 2nd in New Orleans.