Remember all those warm, bubbly quotes UK head coach John Calipari had about his team this summer and throughout the preseason? You know, the ones where he said this upcoming 2020-21 group has a chance to be special?
“We have to play this season because I have a good team. Whew, we’ve got to play,” Calipari told KSR back in July. “… We’re really good. We got some really good players. So I’m sitting here saying, [having a special group] has happened three or four times, but let me tell you what those teams have done. The teams you’re talking about became unbelievable teams. Teams.”
At one point, he even said the only thing he was certain could slow down this team was the coronavirus.
“The only thing I know we’re not beating is that virus,” he said in August. “I’m looking at anyone else, I’m saying “Come on, bring it. Let’s go.”’
Throw all the sunshine and rainbows out the window, panic mode is back. Well, if you ask the UK head coach, at least.
According to Calipari, the Wildcats had their worst scrimmage since he’s been the head coach at Kentucky on Sunday. As a result, he has “both feet and hands on the panic button” with just two days to go until the season tips off against Morehead State.
“Just so you know, we scrimmaged yesterday and I came home smiling,” Calipari said. “I told my wife. She said, ‘Wow, was it good?’ I said, ‘It was our worst scrimmage since I’ve been the coach here.’ I’ve got both feet and hands on the panic button right now.”
The UK head coach hopes that the Wildcats are just tired of playing against one another and are looking ahead to taking on Morehead State on Wednesday evening.
If not, Calipari says Kentucky could start the season 0-6.
“I’m just hoping that they needed to play against somebody else and they just got tired of each other. Because if not, I’m going to have to be the most patient soul on the earth when we start the season like 0-6,” he said. “‘Just be patient.’ That’s what you should say to me: be patient. Because I like the team. Not playing hard enough. Not enough team defense. Everyone is still locked into their own thing. ‘I need my stuff,’ instead of making easy plays. ‘I’ve gotta make a play.’
“And so, it leads to turnovers or putting guys in bad positions. We have a ways to go. And again, we’ve got 10 new guys. ‘You do it every year.’ We have 10 new players. So, we’re not very good right now, but I think in time we should be OK.”
Kentucky guard Davion Mintz confirmed the team’s struggles during Sunday’s scrimmage, adding that it was a “humbling experience” for the entire team.
“Right now, we didn’t have our best scrimmage yesterday. Hopefully, we got the kinks out,” Mintz said. “We wrecked the car yesterday just to get it back rolling for Wednesday. It’s just one of those things where I feel like it has to happen, and it was a humbling experience. I think we’re just fine. I think we’re tired of playing each other. That was like the biggest problem for the flaws yesterday. I think we’re just really excited to get out there and play other people. I mean, it’s been the same faces for I don’t even know how many months now. We’re right there at the finish line. We’re just ready to get it going.”
UK center Olivier Sarr added that the Wildcats didn’t bring enough energy and allowed the second unit to punch them in the mouth without much resistance.
“Yesterday’s scrimmage wasn’t the best, obviously,” Sarr said. “… Right now, we’re thinking about Morehead State. That’s our next game. That’s what we’re focused on. We’re going to give our all, and like we’ve seen yesterday, we have to be ready from the jump. That’s the biggest takeaway. … I think that we didn’t bring the energy from the jump.
“The second team really punched us in the mouth from the get-go. It took us time to react. Stay organized. A lot of mistakes are going to happen, but we’ve got to stay locked in.”
As Calipari and Mintz both suggested, Sarr confirmed that the team is ready to take on an actual opponent for the first time in Morehead State.
“Yeah, I think everybody is just ready to go out there and compete for Kentucky against another team,” he said. “I think it’s been great. We worked out a lot. It was a great summer, a lot of practices together. But I think guys are definitely ready to play another opponent.”
Kentucky will host Morehead State in the Bluegrass Showcase on Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET on the SEC Network. From there, the Wildcats will take on Richmond on Sunday at 1 p.m. (ESPN) to close out the season-opening event before heading to Indianapolis to take on Kansas in the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Dec. 1 at 9:30 p.m. on ESPN.