Leading up to Friday night’s season opener against Grand Canyon, the Kentucky coach is leary of having his talent-rich team peak far ahead of schedule.
“I’ve seen teams play unbelievable in November and December, and everybody thinks they’re going to do this and this,” Calipari said. “And they peter out.
“Normally when I see a team like that, I say ‘They’re too good too early.’ You’re playing like it’s March, and the only thing you can do is come back (to the pack). So hopefully we have a real upside to this team. Playing four freshmen and a couple of kids that didn’t play much last year should do that four us.”
A summer exhibition trip to the Bahamas may have contributed to those concerns. Kentucky played extremely well on the tour, far better than Calipari envisioned, going 5-1 against international professional squads.
The early portion of the UK schedule will also create the potential for additional hype with the Cats playing their first six games over the next 12 days, including a matchup with No. 5 Kansas on November 18 the Champions Classic.
“My whole concern right now is watching each individual, making sure guys are getting better,” Calipari said. “If each individual gets better, our ceiling as a team grows.
“This thing is going to take time, and it’s going to be a process just like last year’s team. It can be all the hype we want. Won’t matter. Gotta do it on the court.”
The UK boss wouldn’t mind seeing some early bumps in the road to gauge how his team reacts.
“We need adversity so bad,” he said. “We need to get hit in the mouth as soon as we can. We need to be down 10, and let’s figure out what we are. We need to get these freshmen into heated games where a basket matters. Can you make shots? Can you make fouls now? We don’t know.”
Calipari warned the Big Blue Nation that, while the Cats are deep with talent, they don’t have a proven, transcendent star to carry them through tough stretches. Not yet.
“Do we have five Anthony Davises? Absolutely not. We have not one John Wall. Not one,” Calipari said. “But we have really good players who, you know, are not that far apart from each other, playing together and doing pretty good.”