The Kentucky Wildcats are one of the most storied programs in the nation. They have arguably one of the best coaches in the NCAA in John Calipari. They recruit with ease and always have one of the top freshmen classes. The basketball program is a stepping stone into the NBA. Most importantly, the Wildcats won the NCAA Tournament in 2012.
Tuesday night, that same program lost their first round NIT game to Robert Morris. The Colonials ended the defending champion’s season with a two point win. The Wildcats were embarrassed by the little school from the middle of Pennsylvania, but at least it didn’t occur at Rupp Arena. It did occur as its hated rival Louisville, the top school in the nation coached by their ex-coach Rick Pitino, is getting ready for a long tournament run.
Now that the end has come for this incarnation of the Wildcats, the central question that arises is how this year’s disappointment will affect the program in the years to come?
Most fans will blame the injury to stud freshman Nerlens Noel. I agree that without Noel the team was a shell of itself, but even if he was around the school would have just slid into the NCAA tournament. Noel won’t be around much longer. Even with his injury and his subsequent rehabilitation he is slated as a top five pick in this year’s NBA draft.
The rest of the roster won’t be missed too much if they decide to enter the draft. Most likely some of them will ask to transfer as their playing time will be drastically cut next season.
Calipari has done it again and another crop of first year players will be coming in. The loss to the Colonials and not making the NCAA tournament has not and will never hurt Kentucky’s recruiting. The players will keep coming. They don’t come to win championships or even to make the tournament. They come for the exposure and the chance to make the pros.
Calipari teaches a pro-style offense. He lets his players showcase all their skills. He develops pro players and he will continue to no matter what the results. This year’s team alone has a minimum of five future NBA players on it.
Next year’s class is better than this year’s. That’s why some of this year’s team will be forced to declare for the draft or transfer. Aaron and Andrew, the Harrison twins, Marcus Lee, Derek Willis and James Young have already committed. That will not change with the loss.
Then there is Andrew Wiggins, the can’t miss prospect from Canada. He is still undecided and the Wildcats not making the tournament or losing in the first round of the NIT will have no bearing on his decision. He is guaranteed as a one and done player, as are some of the other Wildcat recruits.
So, yes I am sure there are a lot of tears and somber thoughts in the state of Kentucky tonight. This might be the worst season the program has had since Pitino started his coaching stint in Lexington. All one has to do is look at next season and the players coming in for redemption.
As for the loss Tuesday night and for the entire season, it means little for Calipari and for the program. Sure they will lose some money, but in the eyes of any high school basketball player the program is what the program is: a stepping stone.
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