John Calipari claims his new edition of Wildcats remain a bit of a mystery, even to him.
Speaking Wednesday at the annual Tip-off Luncheon in Louisville, the Kentucky coach said he's still trying to get a feel for how the Cats will evolve after losing six players from last year's national championship squad to the NBA Draft.
“Out of 72 teams in the BCS leagues, we’re the only team that has not one player who has started any games. We’re it,” said Calipari, who is entering his fourth season at the UK helm. “And where are they picking us? Third? C’mon. What? We’ve got all new players. I don’t even know how we’re going to play right now.”
Calipari will be attempting to blend his fourth-consecutive No. 1 national recruiting class with two transfers (point guard Ryan Harrow and shooting guard Julius Mays) alongside only two scholarship holdovers (Kyle Wiltjer and Jon Hood) from last year’s squad.
Asked how he manages to put highly-competitive teams on the floor despite such high turnover from one year to the next, Calipari said: “Play to your strength. Do what you do well… It’s what we’re going to try to do again with another young team.
“We’re going to play fast and hopefully block shots and play good defense. How are you going to play offensively? Before you ask me, I have no idea. We’re going to play dribble-drive (motion) but how are we going to get into it? I don’t think we’re going to do as many hand-offs as we did a year ago.”
The UK boss said he’s toying with the notion of playing freshman big men Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein together.
“They’re very good,” Calipari said. “Both of them deserve to play together. (But) I’ve never coached two big guys at one time. Coach (Joe B.) Hall, I called him. ‘Can you help me?’”
The former UK coach’s reply?
“Ah, I’ve got some good stuff for that,” Calipari said as the room erupted with laughter. Hall was one of the first coaches to embrace the “twin tower” look, coaching Rick Robey and Mike Phillips in the late 70s as well as Sam Bowie and Melvin Turpin in the early 80s.
No matter what the Cats wind up doing offensively, Calipari said it’s important for this year’s team to adopt the same approach as previous UK squads.
"We had a kid name Kyle Wiltjer who could have played 30 minutes a game on anyone else's team in the country," Calipari said. "He came to this university knowing that I'm going to be the seventh and maybe the eighth man, but I'm happy with that because I want to be part of something special.
"The shared sacrifice on that team shows us all that, whatever challenges we have -- whether it's Mitch (Barnhart) or Dr. (Eli) Capilouto -- we come together and we all share and we know anything can be overcome if the team really comes together and no one cares who gets the credit. We'll all get credit. What a great lesson for all of us."
* Calipari said Wiltjer, a sophomore forward, has improved greatly during the off-season. "His role is going to change because he's going to play a whole lot more. We're going to count on him to get us baskets, and not just 3s. He's going to have to score in double-digits. He's going to be one of those guys who's going to have the ball a lot. He's gotten way better. He's gotten stronger, and he's a great kid. He's one of those guys who wants to do well."
* The addition of Missouri and Texas A&M should be a big boost to the SEC, said Calipari, who predicted the league would place half (7) of its teams in the NCAA Tournament field.
• Once again, Calipari took an opportunity to shoot down the notion that he endorses the “one-and-done” recruiting approach. “I don’t believe in one-and-done. I don’t like it. You’d think I was a moron. I’d like these kids for three or four years. Are you crazy? You think I want them one year, then I’ve got to regroup and go another… But, if it were your son and he were Anthony Davis, would you have wanted me to convince him to come back to school and maybe get hurt, maybe not? Or let him go?”
• Calipari has a strong reputation as a recruiter, but noted Wednesday that his current players are actually some of the best recruiters in the program. "We get them to recruit each other," he said. "I'm hoping we've got a couple of guys on the phones today making calls to other kids." The Cats got commitments from five-star Texas twin guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison last week and are expected to land a verbal from five-star Michigan swingman James Young on Thursday when he announces his choice live on ESPNU’s “Recruiting Nation” program in the 5 p.m. ET block.
• Asked about his recent success on the recruiting trail, Calipari said: "We undersell and over-deliver.”
• Speaking on their home turf, Calipari took an opportunity to give praise to the rival Louisville Cardinals. “The program in this town… they’ve got a good program, now. They’re (ranked) 1 or 2 in the country and deserve it…. There’s no disrespect from us with their program. There isn’t. Rick Pitino is a great coach. Coached at Kentucky and won the national title. And I don’t root against him, and I would tell you here don’t root against him. One game, I root against him. When we play. And I root hard against him. But other than that, it’s two different programs. Us playing in the Final Four, that was great for our state, wouldn’t you say? And maybe this year it will be one day or two later (in the championship game).”