With Big Blue Madness looming next week, the UK boss is back it again.
“This year’s team, as we speak, we stink,” Calipari told the crowd earlier this week at the annual Kentucky Basketball Tipoff Luncheon in Louisville. “I said to them two days ago… ‘There’s one really good thing that’s happening.’ And they said, ‘What’s that, coach?’ I said, ‘We’re not playing tomorrow, so we’re OK. We’re not going to panic yet.’”
Classic Coach Cal gold.
Then again, there could be some truth to those words. The Wildcats are going back to the drawing board, in a sense, coming off a season which saw them go 38-1 before watching seven players depart for the professional ranks. UK has replaced them with five freshmen and one junior college player who comprise yet another No. 1 recruiting class for Calipari, meaning a lot of talent will once again call Lexington home this season, but a lot of team-building and hardwood chemistry experiments lay ahead.
Calipari noted that sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis has looked sharp in the early stages of practice -- racking up 25 assists and three turnovers over three days -- but he lost his only other returning backcourt player, Dominique Hawkins, to a broken bone in a hand. That will cost Hawkins at least four weeks of practice time and test Calipari’s patience.
“My other guards were under water with that (assists-to-turnover ratio), but that’s OK. They’re learning,” he said.
The top-rated player in Calipari’s 2015 signing class, 6-foot-11 center Skal Labissiere, will no doubt elicit comparisons to Anthony Davis and Karl Towns. Many expect he could be the No. 1 pick in next year’s NBA Draft. But like Davis and Towns, he’s proverbial light years from that reality in October.
“Skal’s got a ways to go,” Calipari said. “I’m all over him like I was Karl (Towns). Why would you say I’d be harder on him than the other guys? Because he has more (talent). He could be the No. 1 pick, so I’m going to drive him.”
Calipari noted in one scrimmage that Labissiere grabbed six rebounds and blocked five shots.
“I got mad at him,” Calipari said. “... I’m like, ‘You could get 12 rebounds and 10 blocks.’ He’s looking at me like, ‘I’ve never practiced this hard for this long in my life.’”
During another scrimmage, 6-foot-9 junior center Marcus Lee finished with one rebound.
“Told him about it,” Calipari said. “The next day, he gets seven.”
A good sign, Calipari said. “We’ve got great kids. They are going to do what we ask them to do. I’m telling you, we’re coaching them. The problem is, we better be right in what we’re teaching because they will do it.”
“Everything right now is an experiment,” Calipari added. “I have no idea how we’re going to play offensively. I really don’t know if we’re going to press, how we’re going to press, if we’re going to play zone. I’m throwing things out and looking at it and watching it and seeing what fits this team. That’s what makes this job tough with the (NBA) turnover.”
He tossed in another classic Coach Cal warning: “Early on, we’re gonna be ugly.”