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Calipari embraces “players first” approach, but it comes with an asterisk

Kentucky head coach John Calipari has dug himself a hole, and it doesn’t appear he’ll be climbing out anytime soon.

After starting the season 1-6, the program’s worst since the 1926-27 season, UK rattled off three straight wins to open conference play at Mississippi State, vs. Vanderbilt and at Florida. Right when you thought the Wildcats were picking up steam, they followed it up with back-to-back losses to Alabama and Auburn, with the former being a 20-point beating at Rupp Arena – the worst home loss of the Calipari era – and the latter being a head-scratching defeat in a game the Tigers shot just 37% from the field and 17% from three.

The team was this close to reaching the surface, ready to take a deep breath and swim back to shore. After picking up an eighth loss on the year and opportunities for quality wins dwindling down, though, it feels they’ve been tugged back down underwater. And Calipari may be the anchor pulling them down, at least in the short term.

Calipari, a Hall of Fame coach with a national championship under his belt, deserves the benefit of the doubt more often than not. With one title, four Final Fours and seven Elite Eights in 11 seasons as Kentucky’s head coach, it’s hard to be too critical about falling short of expectations every now and then. He’s been a damned good coach and a damned good face of the program.

This year? Things have just felt… different. The coaching has left much to be desired, and he hasn’t been any better on the PR side of things. Between in-game adjustments, lineups, substitutions, and rotations in general, Calipari has seemed lost and desperate time and time again through 12 games. And then when answering questions about said coaching decisions, the head coach who has seemingly always had the answers over the years has been left speechless.

Those on- and off-court struggles reached a new height during Kentucky’s 66-59 loss at Auburn on Saturday, and they only continued in the aftermath. During the game, Calipari unsuccessfully experimented with three-big lineups, kept the game’s two leading scorers on the bench to open the second half, and continued to force-feed the players struggling most at the top of the rotation, among other frustrating decisions.

Per usual, the leash was kept long for the struggling starters, but short for the productive bench players. Rewind, repeat.

After the game, Calipari’s hypocritical rationale was met with heavy (and well-deserved) criticism.

“What you’re trying to do is, I’m not trying to —I want to win every game I coach, but the other side of it is, I’m not trying to take anybody’s heart away,” Calipari said when asked about keeping Dontaie Allen and Jacob Toppin – Kentucky’s two leading scorers at halftime – on the bench to start the second half. “We didn’t start the half that badly, so that wasn’t the case. It isn’t like you’re subbing quarterbacks. He played a bad quarter so I’m going to play this other quarterback. You don’t coach that way. What you do is you sub them in.”

“I’m not trying to take anybody’s heart away.”

What does that mean, exactly? Because, when you watch Calipari coach and hear him speak off the floor, that certainly doesn’t apply for all players. It only applies to his top-of-rotation five-star talents and star transfers, not those fighting for minutes and shots off the bench.

This is the same coach who, when asked about Dontaie Allen’s one-minute allotment during Kentucky’s loss to North Carolina, told reporters, “I could’ve (played him) today, but I’m giving these guys that are in front of him the room that they need to be able to miss shots. … You try to give them room and encourage them to shoot.”

After failing to play Allen a single minute in the Louisville game, Calipari made up some excuse about not playing guys in the second half if they didn’t play in the first, which still makes zero sense.

“There were two times I thought about putting him in, once in the first half, which, I wish I would have because I would have been able to play him in the second half,” Calipari said. “If I don’t play a guy in the first half, and it goes on, you know. But he’s gonna have a chance; it just wasn’t tonight. And I coached the game to win. That’s all I did.”

It took a sprained ankle for Terrence Clarke and six consecutive losses for Calipari to even think about giving Allen extended minutes. And when he finally did, the redshirt freshman dropped 23 points on 7-11 shooting from three to will Kentucky to a double-overtime victory at Mississippi State.

And if we’re being totally honest, would Calipari have benched freshman guard BJ Boston at the end of regulation and the entirety of both overtime periods the same way Bruiser Flint did had he not gotten himself ejected with nine minutes to go? 17 of Allen’s points were scored after that moment.

My gut says no.

Just today alone, Calipari failed to put Allen – who led the team in points at halftime with eight – in the second half until the 13:42 mark, and then pulled him out at the 10:43 mark. Back in with 7:57 to go, back out with 6:20 remaining. Back in with 5:36 to go, out at the 4:00 mark. In with 2:18 remaining, out at the final buzzer.

Never more than three minutes of continued play in the second half, and Calipari’s reasoning for it was that Allen passed up too many open shots.

“At the end of the day, we were running plays for Dontaie and he wouldn’t shoot the ball,” Calipari said. “That’s why I took him out the first time. One time we ran two things for him with shots and he wouldn’t take them.”

Oh, he also highlighted Allen’s defensive breakdowns for the umpteenth time this season.

“Dontaie got great looks in the second half. He got fouled, but they were going at him defensively. We had a lot of breakdowns and could have changed lineups. At the end of the day, we got out-toughed.”

Since when are occasional defensive breakdowns and a lack of shot attempts more harmful to a team than wide-open misses, poor shot selection and turnovers?

In an ideal world, they’re not. In Calipari’s world, that’s another story.

And the stubbornness extends well beyond Allen. Toppin has been in the same boat throughout the season and again tonight, finishing with 10 points (3-4 FG), six rebounds and one steal in 22 minutes. Along with Allen, he was carrying the Wildcats going into halftime, but still didn’t see the floor until the 15:27 mark because Calipari “(wasn’t) trying to take anybody’s heart away.”

Elsewhere, Calipari pulled Devin Askew from the starting lineup when he was going through his early-season struggles. He responded well and has since rejoined the first five, but there was an adjustment there. Isaiah Jackson and Lance Ware have seen their minutes fluctuate with fluctuating production, as one would expect. Even Olivier Sarr, who has maintained a longer leash for the most part this season, has found himself on the bench for extended periods in a handful of games.

As for those at the top of the rotation, Boston has yet to play fewer than 25 minutes in a game this season, while Clarke – who has missed five consecutive games with an ankle injury – played in 31 minutes or more in the five games he was completely healthy, along with 25 minutes in the North Carolina game prior to injury. The top-ten recruits have been granted the freedom to work through mistakes unlike any other player on the roster, even if the production and efficiency hasn’t followed.

I’m not trying to take anybody’s heart away,” he says, not realizing this unwritten rule only applies to a select few. Calipari is the first one to tell you he’ll do whatever it takes to put the team first – he sent a player home to “reflect and do some soul searching to get his priorities in order” to reset the locker room back in December – but his rotations and substitutions continue to tell another story.

“Players first,” sure, but that approach has come with an asterisk this season. And sitting at 4-8 on the year with hopes of an NCAA Tournament birth slipping through the team’s fingers, it’s clear that approach simply isn’t working right now.

Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

103 Comments for Calipari embraces “players first” approach, but it comes with an asterisk

  1. katmandue2you
    11:13 pm January 16, 2021 Permalink

    Johns had the benefit of the doubt his entire time here. He treats Ky kids like second class piece of crap ball players

    • tmcclan16
      7:58 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

      Great article. Well deserved criticism of a good coach. Missing Kenny Payne yet!

  2. Bigblu30
    11:18 pm January 16, 2021 Permalink

    100% true great piece

  3. JT55
    11:18 pm January 16, 2021 Permalink

    Great recruiter,terrible game coach.

  4. Glam Girl
    11:22 pm January 16, 2021 Permalink

    Calipari has never been a good bench coach….I’m thinking, after watching this team try to play defense and run some kind of offense, he doesn’t coach very well in practice either. I read a lot about our struggles on the offensive end, but this bunch is the absolute worst on the defensive side. Auburn scored easily on us time after time. We tried a zone, which I think this team could be more effective with, but we played like they didn’t know what to do. That has to fall on the coaching. To sum up, it really doesn’t matter who Cal plays. We can score some points, but if you can’t keep the other team from easily scoring, especially trying to come from behind, you ain’t winning.

  5. VilleCat11
    11:23 pm January 16, 2021 Permalink

    I wonder how this backlash would be if Allen were from Georgia… Like the perfect storm here, I hate it for all parties involved…

    • Bobby Coe
      12:27 pm January 17, 2021 Permalink

      But see, VilleCat. Allen is not from Georgia. He is from Kentucky and he is outperforming Boston, a Five Star recruit from Georgia.

  6. jmcatt
    11:24 pm January 16, 2021 Permalink

    Allen will most likely be entering the transfer portal at the end of the season and it would not shock me if Toppin and possibly Ware did not also leave for consistent playing time and a coach who cares about winning.

  7. DoubleB65
    11:49 pm January 16, 2021 Permalink

    Finally!!!! An honest article about Cal.

  8. michaelb
    11:53 pm January 16, 2021 Permalink

    Covid craze has cal actin this way , been sayin it. Something just ain’t right with his mindset . I feel like he kept expecting the season to be stopped or something .

    • 8XChamps
      12:04 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

      Doesn’t he do this every year though? He lets the starters do whatever they want but bench players come in and make one mistake and they are out the rest of the game. Just like Juzang last year, now look at him.

    • dex
      11:10 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

      This is 8XChamps: yes he does and it would drive me crazy because we’ve lost several good players who had no chance of developing at UK under Cal, but the difference with those years is they actually had someone in front of them who was producing. This year that hasn’t been the case

    • 8XChamps
      1:37 pm January 17, 2021 Permalink

      I agree dex. I can’t blame Cam’ron Fletcher for getting upset about not getting playing time. With the way the starters play I would be upset too if Cal wouldn’t give me a chance.

  9. runningunnin.454
    11:56 pm January 16, 2021 Permalink

    Dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD? The man is practically incoherent.

  10. bobfromcincy
    11:56 pm January 16, 2021 Permalink

    Thank you for this article! 100% Spot on.

  11. BigBang-BigCrunch
    12:29 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    I’ve loved the wins under Cal like every one else, just not how, in most cases, it’s happened. Luck and short term/revolving door of NBA caliber talent ; little to no tactics, strategy etc. The things that makes sports competition most exciting for most of us not participating but paying/supporting. If it was a given that athletic talent was always going to win, there’s little reason to play and even less to watch the competitive event in the first place. My suspicions with Cal being a decent in game coach started with the bewildering way Wall and company played/lost to West Virginia in Cal’s first year, and has only grown through the years as the examples of bad in-game decisions add up, and culminating in this inexcusable $9 million dollar all-systems-failure debacle. Cal dressed and acted like, he decided in January, he was taking all of 2020 off. L.T. Contract baby, aannnnddd I’m pretty sure that from Cal’s perspective, his legacy was never to associated, first and foremost, with the number of wins and championship titles as a coach for the University of Kentucky. Above that is, John Calipari- Millionaire maker/How much in NBA contracts is he “responsible” for/the coach that put more players in the NBA, NBA lottery picks, NBA draft picks, etc. A very agent like perspective.

  12. blueballs80
    12:40 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    Maybe Bruiser can put some advice into Cal, which is play the hot hand. Toppin and Allen were doing well and you benched them to start the 2nd half to keep BJ in only to result in more turnovers not to mention Jackson also on the bench. Overall bad coaching.

  13. LayTheOdds
    12:55 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    Excellent article! Sums up the frustrations of BBN pretty well.

  14. UKinIN
    1:10 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    Bottom line: UK isn’t winning at the team is not improving. There have been the lowest of points, Georgia Tech and Alabama, but overall, you can’t really separate the other six losses. UK is losing for the same reasons every game and you don’t see any changes from the players or coaches. This has turned into an embarrassment, not just because of the record, but because the UK team looks like it’s never seen a basketball court before. That’s on Calipari.

  15. indyscott7
    1:46 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    I can’t explain everything Cal is thinking any better than he is at this point. I also can’t explain why a team with so much talent is looking so offensively inept and often lost on defense. But I can tell you that I am amazed as a lifelong Kentucky fan how quickly one bad season is turning so many fans against him. Even this article amazes me at how short the fuse is on our fanbase. To me, that’s more embarrassing than how the team is playing. I live out of state now and I can tell you what opposing fanbases are seeing is everything they claim about BBN to be true. We are spoiled and ready to run anyone out of town as soon as they struggle. Maybe we need to give Cal the same opportunity this article demands that he give to his players. Let him work through this. This team is the most inexperienced he’s had at Kentucky, and also comes at the worst possible time with Covid erasing so much of the usual basketball practice and competition most of these guys would have had any other year leading into this season. I don’t know the answer to turning this season around. But I do know you don’t turn on a hall of fame championship coach that has brought so much success and a winning culture to our program for one bad season.

    • The Big Lebowski
      2:41 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

      I’m amazed that you haven’t noted the discontent with Cal that has been building over the past five years.

      I’ve been saying for four or five years that Cal has lost it.

      He can recruit high level players. Yes. However, he has gone full on Tubby in that he can’t recruit a full, complete team. He hasn’t had consistency for years. He has too high turnover in players.

      There is zero continuity to the program. That was always going to come home to roost. This year is the result of the past four or five years.

      It will not get better.

      Kentucky will not reach another Final Four until there is a new coach. Cal has lost interest in winning a Championship. He all but says it at every press conference.

      I’m surprised that people keep their head in the sand for so long.

      The signs were there for Tubby in 1999.

      The signs have been there for Cal since 2015 or so.

      Why do so many Kentucky fans allow themselves to be blinded by “Coach loyalty”.

      My loyalty has always been to the program. Coaches come and go. That will always be so. Kentucky Basketball is eternal. We, the fans, must protect it.

    • The Big Lebowski
      2:53 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

      “This team is the most inexperienced he’s had at Kentucky”

      And why is that?

      This team could have had Jemarl Barker (12 ppg at Arizona) and Johnny Juzang (11 ppg at UCLA). This team has a guy, in Dontaie Allen, whom Cal refuses to utilize. Toppin is under utilized.

      Cal has made the mess that is this year. That this team is so inexperienced is Calipari’s fault. The guys who could have been the continuity and the Upper Classmen leadership transferred out because Cal refused to give them PT.

      Only the Gods know what happened with Kahlil Whitney.

      How have you not noticed these things?

      I don’t care what fans of other programs think.

      UNC fans were howling when Roy’s team were losing and went 14-15 last season. North Carolina was not happy. Did you study that epoch and come away thinking that UNC fans were uber patient. I can tell you that they aren’t much happier this year. Probably, their only consolation is that Kentucky is sucking it up so bad.

    • EdC
      9:46 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

      There are lots of fans who have seen this coming and have been expressing it for years now. Up until now the very loud fans of Cal shouted everybody down who didn’t worship at his feet.

      His problems were there and visible but many just didn’t want to believe it. The evidence has been mounting and has hit the tipping point where the people who see it and admit it outnumber the people who worship the coach over the program. You know the program … UK … the only place he has won a championship … the only place that has let him land a preponderance of 5 stars? He had a total of 10 Memphis players reach the NBA during his 9 years there. That is good no doubt but nothing like what using the UK name, history and resources allowed him to do.

    • _lilman_
      11:10 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

      Amen indyscott7!!!! First message I’ve seen about this article that makes any sense. TRUE Kentucky fans agree with every word u uttered

    • Bluenblood
      11:24 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

      Oh come on Indy and if thats where you live any Hoosiers opinion of UK is worthless. KY is am embarrassment nationally! We are not the only ones noticing and complaining or chuckling at this product on the floor. It’s disgraceful the way we play and Cal screaming like a cow giving birth. We can most definitely voice our displeasure right or wrong!!

    • mashman 93
      1:54 pm January 17, 2021 Permalink

      Cal does deserve some criticism now he isn’t above it. When you’re 4-8 at Kentucky it’s unacceptable even for a HOF coach. The pandemic saved North Carolina from the embarrassment of not making the NCAA Tournament but the fans were riled up about going 14-18 or whatever their was last year.

    • KentuckyBoy
      8:34 am January 18, 2021 Permalink

      @indyscott7 – one bad season? I guess 19-20 was a “good” year. Remember the Ashton Hagans experiment?? We are seeing the same thing play out right now with Boston. It’s killing the team chemistry, just like last year.

  16. The Big Lebowski
    2:26 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    The greatest crime of Cal is that he is stealing the joy from Kentuckians and he’s too damnably proud to realize it.

    I’m getting close to saying that it’s time for John Calipari to take his show elsewhere.

  17. The Big Lebowski
    2:55 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    Cal is turning Kentucky into UCLA. High Profile loser program.

  18. friendsofcoal
    3:40 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    Hire a friggin x and o game coach and get Cal to split his monster salary with him! Cal could do nothing but recruit year round.

    • BigBang-BigCrunch
      3:59 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

      I’m suspicious of his recruiting at this point. The playing time of Boston and CRAAAAAZY A$$ excuses to cover it, has me personally TERRIFIED that something about the kids recruitment was iffy. I hope I’m just paranoid.

    • WatchutalkinboutWillis
      9:30 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

      I hope you are wrong BigCrunch, but that is a thought that should be considered.

  19. waytolongcal
    4:17 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    The playing time of Boston with his stats is beyond explainable. I’m pulling for the young man as I do all of the players, but a coach’s job is to put the players on the floor that give the TEAM the best chance to win. That’s not happening.

  20. waytolongcal
    4:31 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    @ The Big Lebowski, spot on everything!

    5:12 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    Bring back KP. Some solution.

  22. HackRichards
    6:19 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    One has to HAVE A HEART before it can be taken away. He will succeed in taking Dontae Allen’s very soon.

  23. kjd
    8:01 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    If Cal is a great recruiter, how do you explain this team? He had to fill the team the team out without transfers.

    • EdC
      8:05 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

      Exactly. I don’t get how people ever bought into the great recruiter scam. Yes … he gets families to buy the snake oil. Families whose son was already a 5 star. He didn’t get them there. He just wants to be their legal sports agent. Then, if they don’t get drafted after their 1st year he moves on to the next new toys just like any other slimy sports agent.

      All he has done is find the loophole to be a sports agent getting a guaranteed 8 million a year without the risk of commissions if the kid doesn’t make it.

    • kurofmi
      8:29 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

      I can see him standing on the parapet with the recruit. Gesturing with his arms…”All of this can be yours!” For all perpetuity nonstop gold for ALL generations! Mommy…Daddy…Sista…Brother…future children. IF. IF you sign over that infinitesimal nugget of your essence.

  24. EdC
    8:01 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    Imagine going into a job interview. The person interviewing you asks you to explain something and you answer.

    “What you’re trying to do is, I’m not trying to —I want to win every game I coach, but the other side of it is, I’m not trying to take anybody’s heart away,”

    They are getting you out the door as fast as they can. You are a waste of their time. Somebody close to him needs to tell him it is time. His ego won’t let him do it but it is time.

  25. BeastAtom
    8:25 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    Kudos for having the balls to speak out against Cal. Not many have the courage to do so. He needs to understand that the fanbase can see what he is doing and won’t tolerate it much longer.

  26. just a guy
    8:54 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    Funny is this has ALWAYS been the case. Cal blasted Miller in his first year, and John Hood could nothing right. Josh Harrelson never sniffed the floor and wouldn’t have if Kanter was made eligible. Ryan harrow and Kyle Wiltjer were pretty much ridiculed and blamed for the NIT, yet harrow left and averaged 20pts a game and took Georgia St to the tourney, while Wiltjer was player of the year candidate. Derrick Willis almost quit basketball all together, but his GF convinced him to play and ONLY due to massive roster turnover he started and was one of the best on the team. Look most recently at Baker and Juzang, now we have Allen, Toppin and Ware.
    Just list the transfers out since Cal got here and tell their story, it’s all the same, no playing time, short leash, and gets blasted for every mistake, while the guy sitting next to him on the bench does no wrong.

    When UK fans finally realize Cal is used as a middle man Agent with Nike and NBA, it’ll make sense why Boston continues to play and Allen doesn’t. He’s been doing this dog and pony show for 11 years, and people seen it, but it was ok because he was going to FFs, but since 15, the season that proved he wasn’t a coach, and we’ve been out in the first round, losing to KState without their best player, and now going to NIT fir 2nd time, NOW fans see it.

    • millertim
      9:53 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

      Absolutely and his hectoring and lecturing attitude towards the fans makes him less charming. He’s made a TON of UNFORCED ERRORS this year that simply reveal his deficiencies as a coach. Glad you mentioned the 2015 season b/c most college coaches in America would have won a title with the talent/ depth on that team. My eyes were opened by that horrible loss and then he followed that loss with the proud boast of sending 7 players to the NBA and declaring it was the “greatest day in UK history”— just a stupid ignorant statement and one that solidified, for many of us, that winning vs. NBA draft picks was NOT the goal or objective! Might good a good time to start talking to JAY WRIGHT of Villanova— he’s won TWICE as many titles as Cal, still puts players in the NBA, and graduates upperclassmen!!

  27. JGo
    9:08 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    As a lifelong fan, I have one question. WHO IS COACHING THIS TEAM, and I mean coaching as defined by Webster

  28. eyebleedblue
    9:09 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    This season is revealing of all the transfers the last few years also.

  29. EdC
    9:09 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    Sorry I am posting this in 2 threads but John Calipari is a genius. He figured out the perfect loophole.

    College students can’t hire an agent through the traditional agent relationship so he fills that need.

    Calipari has managed to be an agent narrowly focused on players he is pretty sure are going to get into the NBA. Everybody knows who they are so finding them is easy. He is glib and charming when he wants to be and tells the parents and players exactly what they want to hear. PLAYERS FIRST!!!

    Compared to all other sports agents he gets 8 million per year without any commission risk. He only worries about 5 clients maximum per year because after their freshman year he is on to the next batch. The next set of guaranteed starters in a program that “doesn’t play favorites.” (unless you are the coach’s son) When he prospects for his new clients he does so on an amazing expense policy from his employer that includes private jets to wherever he wants to go.

    He doesn’t have to really win games at this point because his boss gave him a contract that doesn’t require it.

    Bravo John Calipari! Every other sports agent in the world has to bow to your genius.

  30. sgd
    9:12 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    Cal has become Pitino, he is bigger than the program. It is all me, me ,me or I, I, I. Players first BS. Boston is the worst player on the team, but agent Cal is waiting for his cut of the NBA contract. The program should be first. It obvious the real coach left. Tired of Cal and his BS. He plays favorites, no doubt. He can’t coach. Just look back, he took the ball out KAT’s hands and turned it over to the twins and the twins turned it over to Wisconsin. Game over. I hope he reads this and I hope he leaves. Val sucks.

    • EdC
      9:13 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

      Pitino went out a winner, only missing his 2nd championship in overtime with arguably his best player sitting with an injury. That was a legitimate players first move but I kind of got it.

    • IndianaSucks
      11:30 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

      We’d probably have 3-4 more championships if Pitino were coaching these teams Cal has had.

    • Gogh Big Bleu
      12:58 pm January 17, 2021 Permalink

      That’s probably true, IS

  31. CTsenior
    9:24 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    Cal better realize pretty quick, he is not bigger than the program. It’s not just his program, it’s not just the player’s program for their “stop over” (a.k.a. “Players First). It’s Big Blue Nation’s program, which includes the aforementioned. What worked at Memphis and here in Cal’s early years, doesn’t work today. Cal can adjust, and I hope he does. This program from a “won and loss” standpoint has been in a statistical downtrend for 5 years.

    • sgd
      9:36 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

      I agree with you except for the part about Cal adjusting. I have lost all faith in his abilities.

  32. mashman 93
    9:31 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    The signs were there for Tubby in 1999? That was Tubby’s second year and we went to the elite 8! Cal sucks right now no doubt about it and he has to make some changes. Cal wants to play inside out and that isn’t working and it makes our offense look archaic.

  33. millertim
    9:44 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    Quick thoughts… Coach Cal is confused and conflicted and its glaringly on full display with this year’s team. He’s always had great talent to cover his deficiencies as an “x’s and o’s” coach but his anointed “5 star” talent hasn’t produced while his bench players, Allen and Toppin, have and he’s unsure which route to take. He says he’s playing to win but leaving in unproductive players like Boston prove otherwise. I think he gets too close, personally, to the 5 star projected lottery players at the expense of the rest of his 4 star players. If Coach Cal could read the quotes of a head coach with a 4-8 record objectively, he would say that is a poor leader and coach. The BENCH is the greatest tool at a coach’s disposal and he needs for Boston to WATCH more and play less until he EARNS playing time— like his 4 star players have to do. I’m sure the D-III strength and conditioning coach, Ramsey, will support Cal’s coaching efforts thus far in some convulted rationale that Allen’s offense isn’t good enough to offset his defense— though in the same breath ignore the T.O.’s of Boston and missed defensive assignments. These “coaches” are too enamored with recruiting and scouting services and have little common sense about winning and playing TEAM ball. Can’t believe I’m looking forward to spring football and the end of basketball… sad day for UK fans!!!

  34. just a guy
    9:57 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    Anyone else notice as soon as KSR was bought out, the more revealing and damning the articles about Cal have been. Not only has he lost his team, and most of the fan base, he’s lost his strong arm propaganda machine to make people believe this is somehow acceptable

    • EdC
      10:04 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

      Except for 1 person who feels compelled to turn off comments.

    • stx1968
      10:12 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

      I noticed that too, but they still have Freddy writing puff pieces for football so it may just be a coincidence

  35. Elvis Is Alive
    10:05 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    The New Mantra is “Certain Players First”

  36. HighBallScreen
    10:06 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    Glad to see KSR has stepped up the criticism. I post 6 games ago this was straight up garbage we are watching. These Plauers dont care about Kentucky Tradition and at this point you seriously have to question if Cal does either. He makes $200,000 A WEEK people

    As far as Donte Allen. He can make shots but is not good at anything else. But Cal has made recruiting commitments and certain guys have those DEALS. The era of coming to Kenticky and fighting and competing for minutes is long gone unless Cal moves on. There are lots of good Coaches out there for the money he makes. And I think he is a good Coach. Just a flawed Model

  37. just a guy
    10:09 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    In last 5 years Villanova has won 2 NC, UNC and Duke each won 1.
    In last 10 years UK got 1, Duke got 2, Nova got 2 and UConn got 2.

    In last 15 years Florida got 2, UNC got 2, UConn got 2, Duke 2, Nova got 2. UK and KU got 1.

    In last 20 years Duke got 3, UNC got 3, UConn got 3. Florida got 2. UK got 1.

    By years end KU will pass us for All-time wins. We’ve had 3 titles in last 40 years. While Duke, UNC and even UConn have won 3 in last 20.

    We are slowly becoming UCLA and Indians.

    • just a guy
      10:10 am January 17, 2021 Permalink


    • EdC
      10:14 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

      Yep. Kansas is only 10 behind right now. There are some here who keep echoing the same lies about most wins of any coach during the Cal era and would you want the other Villanova or UConn years.

      Reality is that UK fans … all UK fans expected to see Cal make progress on beating UCLA in NCAA Championships. All UK fans expected the all time win margin to expand.

  38. Delk4Three
    10:27 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    “Players first” is nothing more than Cal talk for recruiting. He knows he needs the best of best to compete and that is why he frames the program as players first, to attract recruits. He is only players first to the extent that it helps future recruiting. Notice how quickly it it isn’t players first when a player sticks around too long and impacts recruiting because of a position backlog.

  39. mcp157
    10:36 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    I like Cal, but it is obvious the one and done way of doing it is getting less effective because it was a novelty when he first came and a lot of places are doing it now. I feel he used to be a good game coach, check his record against Pitino, before he came to UK. Pitino had a slight advantage even though he was at the bigger basketball school. So John can game coach! However, if he wants to stay at UK he has to abandon this player’s first attitude, graduate more players with skills other than basketball and stop trying to give us the Democrat lecture BS!

    • rockyou
      10:42 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

      Amen mcp157, so tired of him allowing politics in the sport, however, KSR is another example of democrat controlled BS

  40. rockyou
    10:39 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    Is this part of the “GOLD STANDARD” he referred to, just wondering.

  41. 8XChamps
    10:53 am January 17, 2021 Permalink


    • justgettingstartedbro
      11:17 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

      “Players First” works about as well as having 12 girlfriends. You can talk all you want but at some point most get tired and are ready to move on. I have always wondered which “players” are first because they all can’t be at the same time. No one would really care as much if we were winning but we’re not. I think Cal needs to figure out if he wants to keep trying to find a prettier girl at every dance to dance with. That’s a sure fire way to make a lot of fans angry and lose interest. I also wonder what his job description truly is. To make kids better and put them in a position to succeed in life, or to win championships.

    • 8XChamps
      1:34 pm January 17, 2021 Permalink

      To answer your question, his job description is to win championship. Obviously, he is only worried about making CERTAIN kids better and putting them in a position to succeed in life. Wish he could find a way to win championships and put all of his players in a position to succeed.

  42. dex
    11:01 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    Toppin has been our best player and it makes 0 sense he doesn’t start or play more minutes. He’s a great defender and has a good motor. He can drive, shoot and just has a good flow to his game. If we had a coach, then he could actually develop into being a great player. Allen is our best scorer, should be starting and should be playing 28+ minutes. Cal has turned into something that many have claimed before this year, but never believed and that’s a man with no integrity. Ego first, 5*s second, rest of the players third < what’s most important to Cal. UK and winning don’t make his list.

  43. jack8291
    11:11 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    Based solely on production thru the entire tenure , who’s the worst coach ever at UK. Statistically it’s not Cal or Pitino ( look at the final fours and titles in their times )
    I say Joe Hall with the talent he had ( 3 FF in 13 yrs ) …..tho Rupp didn’t do much from 1959-1972 ( 1 final four )

    • EdC
      11:25 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

      Pretty obviously Gillispie or Sutton. I don’t think that the pre-Rupp years should count. I also put Hall ahead of Tubby. Hall got all of those final fours and the championship with players he recruited. Tubby only had a single final four player that he recruited and that was Saul.

    • just a guy
      11:36 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

      Lol. Hall for sure was not spectacular, calls had 4FFs in 11 years with the most NBA in that 11 years than the next 3 schools combined.

    • just a guy
      11:40 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

      Hall was beloved because he bled blue, always had great teams. He lost the fan base with the 1984 super team losing to Georgetown. That Uk tram was a talent equivalent to the 2015 team. They had it all, except a coach. That was the year fans recognized it. 2015 shoulda been when we seen it.

  44. _lilman_
    11:25 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    Every single person trashing Coach Cal and certain kids on this team, everyone of u should be ashamed of yourselves. This is not a typical season and u armchair coaches have NO CLUE what it’s like dealing with all the adversity that these coaches and kids go through on a daily basis. Especially where an idiotic fanbase is concerned. I’m glad all of us are not like that

    • mcp157
      11:47 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

      Cal exposed himself to the heat by taking the job. When you get paid as much as he does for coaching ball, nothing of real substance, than you are under the microscope. He really stuck his neck out with the kneeling with the anthem and then trying to talk down to the majority of UK fans who are not leftists. Cal needs to be criticized because the program belongs to Kentuckians and not him or the players!

    • Gogh Big Bleu
      12:13 pm January 17, 2021 Permalink

      The verbal diarrhea he offered up in the post-game press conference as a supposed explanation for his poor personnel decisions warrants the criticism.

    • BigBang-BigCrunch
      12:21 pm January 17, 2021 Permalink

      Is Cal and UK the only ones to have to deal with a non typical season? Cause it looks like about 356 other Div I schools had better planning… For $9 million we all deserve more.

  45. CahillsCrossingNT
    11:33 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    Kentucky is more out of the picture in basketball now than either Michigan or Nebraska are in football. They also haven’t been the “ gold standard” of college basketball since the 1950s. And even then they got in trouble and missed an entire season.

  46. STLouisBBFan
    11:41 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    So, part of Cal’s deal (most important thing in program history = 5 draft picks in 2010) is the lure of making kids millionaires in the NBA following a pit-stop at Kentucky. The kids that have enjoyed that jump, as promised, (Wall, Cuz, AD, Fox, etc.) sing Cal’s praises left and right, and recruiting has been good as a result. What happens when Cal leaves the program – whether fired by fans or chooses to walk away? Do these NBA kids sing the praises of the next coach, the University of Kentucky that afforded them the opportunity, and the fan base that compliments and attributes to the program’s success or do they just move on silently? If the former, is Cal’s approach benefiting him, the University, or him and the University only while he’s here?

  47. WKY Cat
    11:52 am January 17, 2021 Permalink

    Where’s all the Cal knee padders? All you “pure fans” that chastise us “not real fan” when we criticized Cal for the exact same things you are now criticizing him for. Yeah we were able to see it long before you. Hurts to take those blue glasses off huh? Lol

  48. UKinIN
    12:08 pm January 17, 2021 Permalink

    Has there ever been a coach, in the history of basketball, that only returned one player, of a possible 13, and had success? The roster turnover from last year can’t be ignored when evaluating this season. However, Calipari doesn’t have an excuse, and doesn’t really offer an explanation, for why this team and these players are still playing as poorly in game 12 as they did in game one. Toppin making a comment about when the players buy into team first they’ll turn things around is extremely worrisome. Twelve games in and players are still only looking out for themselves? UK is not a program that you can evaluate over time. You can’t look at a 4-5 run without acknowledging that, other than the 2015 team, each team is basically a rebuild. This season Calipari has done the one thing that he couldn’t do, put together a roster high on hype and low on results. It’s all on Calipari.

  49. Gogh Big Bleu
    12:09 pm January 17, 2021 Permalink

    This “perfect storm” is a combination of players severely underperforming to their hype + a HC who turns out to be a not-so-good coach.

    And not just Xs and Os; but poor personnel decisions, and inexplicably poor explanations for his poor personnel decisions.

    I think this is brutal on multiple fronts: it’s a brutal product to watch. But it’s a brutal revealing of Cal’s ability to truly be a coach as he is a recruiter/salesman.

  50. dan1965
    1:21 pm January 17, 2021 Permalink

    I’m not calling for Calipari to leave or be fired yet,but I am calling for the BS to stop !
    First of all, remember this goes back to when we should have won it all the year the Harrison twins were playing, and although they did make some great shots at one time, the game against Wisconsin Cal absolutely should have played Booker and Ullis and theirs no way we lose that game ! His excuse then if you remember was basically, and this is not word per word,but basically what he said was he felt loyalty to play the Harrison twins.
    You play who you need to, to win Cal ! If a player is having a terrible game and another isn’t, who do you play ? Hmmm, let’s see ?!!!
    I remember a game years ago another UK coach pulled a red hot Chapman if memory serves me right against UL ,the game went into O.T with him sitting on the bench, and by the time Hall put him back in the Cats were to far behind to catch up, although he still hit several shots and UK lost a close game in O.T !
    Calipari also as many have said has to get a bench coach ! Time and again he’s been out-coached by Pearle, by Barnes, since KP and Antiqua have left the UK bench it has been a slow down hill slide ! One in bench coaching, and the other in recruits we are getting ! Sure we have still gotten a few really good recruits,but again, time and again we have lost our top target to Duke and when Antiqua was here, that wasn’t happening!
    Everything I’ve said is truthful facts,it’s not think-ology, it’s the facts ! And it’s the facts also as someone said Calipari is more of an agent for how many kids he can get to the NBA and the Money $ he can say he has brought to families, since he got his Championship in 2012 it’s like he’s a made man ! And he is, he’s got a lifetime contract to go with all of it !
    So Cal, stop the BS , we as fans are tired of it,don’t think you can double talk us,we’ve had enough ! Your here to WIN BASKETBALL GAMES,GET TEAMS TO THE FINAL FOUR AND CHAMPIONSHIPS,THATS KENTUCKY BASKETBALL, THATS THE GOLD STANDARD !
    So play the kids that DESERVE to play, not just because their one and dones and you want them drafted as high as possible,enough is enough. Oh, and find a bench coach…..AND FAST !!

    • UKinIN
      1:50 pm January 17, 2021 Permalink

      Chapman played for Sutton not Hall. So maybe “facts!” should be “fact-ish!”?

    • mashman 93
      2:04 pm January 17, 2021 Permalink

      He didn’t have Booker in the game because he couldn’t guard anyone. Every time he came in the game Wisconsin went right at him plus he wasn’t shooting well going into the tournament. Look it up. Maybe Ulis should have been in the game but Andrew played a hell of a game so did Aaron for that matter imo. GO CATS!!!

    • millertim
      3:10 pm January 17, 2021 Permalink

      What killed UK in that FF with Wisconsin was a PREDICTABLE offensive set EVERY time down court to go to Towns on the block. The rest of the team sat and watched, no motion or ball movement– swing around the court, allowed Wisconsin to sag off their men and help out against Towns… that’s just ONE problem in that game from a coaching perspective… but I’m sure the D-III strength and conditioning coach, Ramsey, can refute evrything Cal did wrong with a glowing endorsement of the coach’s game plan and “adjustments”…

    • EdC
      8:57 pm January 17, 2021 Permalink

      All else aside if Willie C did pretty much anything UK wins that Wisconsin game. He had 0 points and 0 offensive rebounds. His primary job on offense was to get rebounds and clean up and he did nothing.

  51. VirginiaCat
    1:25 pm January 17, 2021 Permalink

    Cal has always been a ready-shoot-aim kind of guy. Listen to him talk or read a transcript of his words and you get a sense that his thinking lacks structure. Cal seems to confuse himself and appears to operate in a perpetual state of chaos. His starting lineups, substitution patterns, and in-game coaching is often puzzling and disjointed. He sometimes forgets players on the bench, as he did with Ware a couple of games ago. If Cal coaches the way that he talks, how confusing must that be for players? How difficult must it be to play for someone who is undisciplined, lacks structure, and rants and raves from the sidelines? His “player’s first” approach just adds fuel to the fire. Rather than bemoan the team’s youth and inexperience, etc., he should start by taking a hard look at himself. How can anyone miss the point that Cal’s teams do better when he is ejected and his assistants take over?

  52. sonnyg333
    2:24 pm January 17, 2021 Permalink

    Cal has a players ONLY club going. When they choose to take a knee they had NO consideration for BBN, The State of Kentucky or the University itself. Coach has said the players wanted to use their platform to express themselves by taking a knee. That’s a lie as they don’t have a platform themselves. They used the platform of Kentucky, BBN and the State of which is on their jersey. They represent the University and fans of the program when they wear those uniforms . The kneeling during the Anthem was misrepresenting the fans and the state in their disrespect of our Anthem and its flag. I’ll be no part of this garbage.
    It took decades for BBN, Coaches and all the supporters of the University of Kentucky to build the program to what it has become, and in a moment of kneeling by pass through players and a self promoting coach to destroy it.


  53. UKinIN
    3:02 pm January 17, 2021 Permalink

    When you say “ When they choose to take a knee they had NO consideration for BBN, The State of Kentucky or the University itself.” you’re ignoring the fact that Capilouto and Barnhart supported the team’s actions. They speak for the university more than any fan. You’re also trying to speak for all of BBN and, as a member myself, while I stand for the anthem, the team has the right to carry out any action that isn’t against school or conference policy. I realize it’s 2021 and the country just went through four years of constant bickering and name calling but having the freedom to express yourself does not come with the stipulation that you only exercise that freedom the way sonnyg333 approves.

    • millertim
      3:17 pm January 17, 2021 Permalink

      I think the “timing” and weak explanation from both Cal and the players burnt the hide of many members of BBN. They absolutely have the right to kneel, just as BBN has the right to admonish them for it— especially in a losing season that already has BBN on edge. Bringing attention to social issues in a year that the team is struggling to stay focused enough to play as a team puts this “messaging” in a harsh light. I support the players and their rights as citizens of this great country but they learned an important lesson that tone-deaf Cal should have warned them about— backlash from BBN. Yet another unforced error by Coach Cal— be a leader for these young men, not a follower…

    • UKinIN
      3:28 pm January 17, 2021 Permalink

      Aren’t your morals and ethics tested even more during tough times? Like I said, I stand for the anthem, but don’t the players deserve credit for making a point when they aren’t winning and risk alienating the fan base? The only thing Calipari and the players can’t do, in my opinion, is play dumb or act surprised by the backlash. Life is not about doing what the majority agrees with. It’s doing what you believe is right when it’s not the easy thing to do. I guess I shouldn’t have been critical of sonnyg333 because he was only stating his opinion, but I don’t like it when any fan tries to speak for all BBN.

  54. jaws2
    3:24 pm January 17, 2021 Permalink

    Wrong UKinIN. Yes, you have the freedom to express, but not on my dime! I pay for those kids to go to UK and I’m not paying them to express themselves politically. If they want to express that off the court, have at it. But once you’re wearing that uniform you’re on my dime.
    It’s no different than people saying they have a ‘right’ to protest on their jobs. Bullshit, I’m paying you to work not ‘express’ yourself. We’ve become a nation that thinks everything you do is a ‘right’. You have a ‘right’ to drive? Not hardly but people scream that all the time.

    • UKinIN
      3:32 pm January 17, 2021 Permalink

      Did the players break university or conference policy? My employer constantly reminds me what I can and can’t do associated with their name. But UK doesn’t have an issue with what the team did. And as far as your “dime” would it give you peace of mind if you knew your taxes were allocated to shovels for the UK equestrian team? If so, the next time you get invited to a UK budget meeting make sure you speak up.

  55. Axel72
    8:41 pm January 17, 2021 Permalink

    The after season will give us the answers, how transfer, how many go the NBA. None of them are NBA ready, barely NCAA ready in some cases. We know the NBA will take a chance on future growth, they have proved. If tells people like Boston to go that will tell you all you need to know. The transfers will the next piece, if I were Dontae Allen I would transfer Cal will recruit over him and he is good enough to play anywhere.