You expect that from freshmen. The season is long, the pressure of playing in a major conference is high, and the learning curve is steep. Those factors are more intense at Kentucky, where Calipari opined earlier this year that the Wildcats were the most analyzed team in America – college or pro.
That pressure applies to the $5 million a year coach, too, who has shown signs of stress. He’s gotten technicals, been tossed from a game, and missed or cut short press conferences.
The failure of this Kentucky team is not that the freshmen have underperformed, but rather they have failed to meet ultra-high expectations. Even as Calipari has exploited the one-and-done approach, his achievements - a national championship in 2012, which followed a Final Four appearance the previous year - came with the help of some seasoned upperclassmen.
This group, so far, has struggled to grasp the importance of battling through adversity and playing a full 40 minutes. They have not learned to play together, a concept alien to many players who are taught that their worth is measured in individual scoring averages, not team victories.
Once asked what he looked for in a recruit, a former coach said if he wanted to find the best players in town, all he had to do was stop by the barbershop. But, he explained, the people at the barbershop couldn’t tell him who would get better, who could play without the ball, or who could step up in big games in a packed gym. That’s what a coach must figure out.
Calipari has revolutionized college basketball with a unique approach to recruiting. Kentucky's season, however, has demonstrated that commitment, chemistry and cohesion are also key parts of developing a winning team.
Tom Lindley is a CNHI sports columnist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.