The Kentucky Wildcats didn’t lose a game in conference play this season. They stormed their way through the season until the SEC Tournament title game, in which Vanderbilt shocked the Wildcats. Still, Kentucky was awarded the No. 1 overall seed heading into the NCAA Tournament and John Calipari’s crew didn’t disappoint.
Disliked and shunned, Calipari coached what many called “a collection of NBA players” to a title, his first and Kentucky’s eighth. After admitting he was running an NBA lottery pick factory, Calipari has been frowned upon and chastised for such behavior. The critics had firepower, too; Calipari had never won a title that way. Now that firepower has been sacked and Calipari can breathe a sigh of relief.
“I told my wife I’m glad it’s done,” Calipari said. “Now I can get about my business of coaching basketball and getting these players to be the best that they can be.”
What about graduation? What about playing as a team? Calipari embodies a different approach to college hoops and it finally paid off for him this year.
The Wildcats are a collection of NBA players and a team. Superstar forward Anthony Davis scored a measly six points on 1-for-10 shooting in the title game, but still dominated the game by collecting 16 rebounds and blocking six shots. The “big man” also stole three balls and dished out five assists, proving he’s the complete package as he prepares to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft.
Speaking of the title game, many thought it could have been something special because two of the most decorated college basketball programs of all time were pitted against each other. When the rout was halfway over, the national viewpoint shifted to reflect the “something special” that was developing right before our very eyes. Right there inside the Superdome Kentucky proved this new generation of college hoops could work.
Four Wildcats scored more than Davis, but Kentucky still trounced Kansas from the opening tip. How was that possible? As a player, Davis was head and shoulders above every other player in the tournament, but it was his teammates who put up the points in the championship game.
Doron Lamb led all players in scoring with 22 points, followed closely by Marquis Teague’s 14, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s 11 and Terrence Jones’ nine. Then came Davis’ six points; he wasn’t required to carry his team in the national championship game, the biggest stage of his coach’s career.
This group of NBA draft picks played together like a well-oiled machine against Kansas, something the world thought wasn’t possible. However, it was pretty clear Kentucky would run away with the title game before it ever began.
The Inquirer’s Dick Jerardi said he feared the title game might look a lot like the 1973 Belmont Stakes, in which Secretariat completed a Triple Crown title with a 34-length victory. Kentucky absolutely dominated the game, leaving no doubt they are the best team in the country. Unlike Secretariat, no one wanted to see Kentucky win, but Calipari’s coaching style was validated on Monday night as well as the fact Cinderellas don’t always steal the spotlight in the NCAA Tournament.
As for Calipari’s NBA factory-turned national champion, the Wildcats’ head coach isn’t changing his stance from two years ago.
Five Kentucky players were selected in the first round of the 2010 NBA draft, a day Calipari called the best day in Wildcats history. He was ridiculed for that; no one wanted to hear a successful college coach praise the “one-and-done” system. However, Calipari didn’t back down. After receiving the championship trophy on Monday night, he made an even bolder statement:
“What I’m hoping is there’s six first-rounders this year.”