Derrick Rose. John Wall. Karl Anthony Towns. DeMarcus Cousins. Malik Monk. It must be nice to have the pleasure of coaching such special talent during pivotal times of development into NBA lottery locks. Kentucky head basketball coach John Calipari has done an extraordinary job of maturing and seasoning his young talent, but if there’s any knock against Cal it’s simply this: where are the championships?
In the championship ring-obsessed generation we live in today, it’s surprising to see Calipari continue to get passes while peers à la Mike Krzyzewski continue to win in March and build untouchable career marks. A few Sundays ago, No. 4 Kentucky at the time battled against No. 2 ranked Kansas in a battle between two of the nation’s best teams. In the end, Kansas did enough down the stretch to hold off the capable Kentucky team.
Fast forward to the Florida Gators’ game Saturday night at Exactech Arena and Kentucky looked hopelessly overmatched in an 88-66 defeat. Calipari expressed concern over his team’s production.
“I just want to see them fight and try,” Calipari told reporters. “We did for a while, but Bam can’t start the game the way he did, Malik can’t play the way he did in the first half. Isaiah again had four turnovers. That’s 10 in the last two games. Probably has the ball in his hands too much. So, there’s a lot of things we have to deal with, but we can’t have a bunch of guys – right now the four position is back to where it was at the beginning of the year. We have to get that guy back. We have a lot of stuff we have to do.”
As the Wildcats walked off the court beaten, I couldn’t help but think what the narrative will be if Coach Cal falls short again. Shooting guard Malik Monk is one of the most explosive scorers in all of college basketball and continues to impress with his rare blend of shooting range and vertical abilities. Monk’s 21.7 points per game is a rare feat for a freshman and gives his team one of the best chances to win a national title.
Then, there’s De’Aaron Fox, who can do it all. With averages of 15.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.7 assists, it’s no secret he’ll be highly touted whenever he decides to depart from Kentucky.
But while Monk and Fox are on campus, Calipari put together a successful run to the national title game and complete the mission? Every single offseason he lands some of the nation’s best talent and does a phenomenal job of preparing them for the professional ranks. However, his one NCAA championship in 16-plus years of coaching is somewhat disappointing.
Kentucky and Calipari fans argue coaching a team of freshman is more difficult to navigate to a NCAA championship. I disagree. This isn’t the 1970’s when all the best players stayed in college for four years. This is the era where all the best players are one-and-done with a few who stick around for two years. Coach Cal needs to start winning championships or he’ll never be in the GOAT conversation.