When Kentucky fired Billy Gillispie back in March, the Wildcats knew there was a rebuilding job that was required of the next coach. But it wasn't just about adding players to the team. It was about adding a personality to the program that would draw new fans and re-energize the current fans. Mitch Barnhart found the right guy when he hired John Calipari.
Calipari proceeded to bring in the number one recruiting class in the nation and add them to Patrick Patterson, Darius Miller and several other players who have become day-to-day contributors to the team. Still, with this much youth present on the roster, very few people expected that Kentucky would be undefeated at 19-0 and number one in the nation.
Freshman point guard John Wall is already everybody's Player of the Year. Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins are each having All-American type seasons. Eric Bledsoe has propelled himself to possible lottery status at this point in the season as well. Daniel Orton, Ramon Harris, DeAndre Liggins and Darnell Dodson have all contributed to victories along the way as well.
It's been a team effort for the Wildcats. You often hear about superstar players being prima donnas and how they can't or won't get along with their teammates, choosing to focus on themselves rather than the good of the team. But in this team laden with superstars, that's never been a problem. And for that reason this team has been highly successful.
There are still challenges left on the plate for the Wildcats. The Wildcats can legitimately talk about going undefeated at this point and winning the NCAA Tournament. There are still as many as 21 more games for the Wildcats should they continue to win. Neither Calipari or his team are going to back down from that challenge. The Wildcats have already overcome in-game adversity several times this season, so pressure is no stranger to this group.
Kentucky has had close games against Miami University, Stanford, Sam Houston State, North Carolina, Connecticut, Georgia, Florida and Auburn. In each of these games, the Wildcats were challenged mentally and the youth of the team began to show at times. But the talent and determination from each player pushed them to fight just a little harder for the win.
John Calipari wrote a book in 1998 called "Refuse to Lose." It was his 1996 UMass team's motto. It appears to be the mantra of the 2010 Wildcats as well. This team has taken several good blows from other schools, but has yet to receive the knockout punch from anybody.
The reason the Wildcats have yet to taste defeat this season goes back to each player putting aside individual honors and goals and putting the team first. Patrick Patterson, who is one of the most beloved Wildcats ever, has taken a backseat to the talented freshmen. John Wall could go and drop 25 points whenever he feels like it, but he's chosen to make his teammates better by being unselfish. Eric Bledsoe, a great freshman point guard in his own right, could go out and try to one-up Wall, but they play together as a unit. DeMarcus Cousins, possibly the most talented big man ever at Kentucky, could be howling for more touches. Instead, he rebounds the ball and continues to improve his defense.
To a slightly lesser degree, Ramon Harris and Perry Stevenson, both starters last season, have taken different roles this year. They come off the bench and provide defense and energy for this team. They could easily be disgruntled, but they want to win big for the first time in their careers.
So what has it taken for the Wildcats to make it back to the top so quickly? It's been sacrificing the needs of the one for the needs of the group.
This is what Kentucky basketball is all about.
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