The honeymoon lasted a year.
Last April, John Calipari arrived in Lexington a coach anointed a savior by fans starving for basketball relevance.
And with players leaving for the NBA just days after the team fell short of the Final Four, it’s important to realize today’s date.
Today is Good Friday.
The savior is gone.
UK fans are angry. They are stunned.
“How could we lose to West Virginia?” “How can everyone with a pulse be turning pro?”
These are legitimate questions for the fan base in Kentucky. Let’s start with the first one: UK lost because the players had the misfortune of having their collective worst game at the worst possible time. Shots weren’t falling for UK, while WVU seemed to hit everything it tossed up outside the three-point line.
There is, of course, more to it than that. For perhaps the first time all year, or at least the most glaring example this season, Calipari got outcoached. He offered no answers for WVU’s aggressive 2-3 zone. He allowed players to continue hoisting 3-pointers, even as they clanged off the rim over and over and over again. He let the team’s free-throw shooting woes continue to be a problem, an issue that had festered all year and eventually became too much of a liability for a team that some have projected to include five NBA first-round draft picks.
So, yeah, Calipari might be able to turn water into Gatorade, but at this point, fans would rather see him turn misses into makes.
As for the NBA defection issue, there are two ways to view it. The positive approach is to say, “Well, it’s about time UK has the talent to actually put people high atop the NBA draft board.” Calipari is probably best known for being a master recruiter, so it’s no surprise that young players have a hankering to sign with whatever school he happens to be at.
At the same time, the negative viewpoint says UK will never win a title with so many young players. Freshmen make, not so shockingly, freshmen mistakes. Experience seems to be key to winning titles. Butler, Michigan State, West Virginia and (as UK fans cringe) Duke all have upperclassmen who contribute significantly. Additionally, none have any freshmen who are considered one-and-dones.
So, UK fans are now bracing for year after year of SEC titles, Elite Eight losses and, occasionally, a Final Four appearance. That’s fine, if you’re Tennessee, but at Kentucky, fans expect national titles.
National titles, however, just aren’t likely unless some players eventually decide to stick around and play more than a year or two. Sure, UK will continue to get the likes of a John Wall or DeMarcus Cousins, but to fully compete for a title, the team also needs a Patrick Patterson or two.
Granted, Calipari can’t necessarily help that the likes of Daniel Orton or Eric Bledsoe are probably entering the draft before they’re ready, but that’s the price a team pays when you have inflated egos on young men.
To further complicate matters, Calipari’s muddy relationship with Worldwide Wes is about to blow up even more. ESPN the Magazine is reporting that Worldwide Wes has his sights set on becoming an NBA agent this year. His first player to represent? John Wall.
I’m not sitting here saying anything improper has happened, but it simply doesn’t look good for UK. As coach, Calipari needs to take full control and make sure nothing even close to improper happened. Now is the time for his leadership. Failure to act now could create irreversible damage to the program.
And if it seems fans are mad now, imagine how they’ll be if the savior can’t get the team to rise again.