“Last year is a blip,” John Calipari not looking back ahead of 2021-22 season


Kentucky head coach John Calipari talks to his team during a practice on Monday, Oct. 11, 2021, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Hunter Shelton

John Calipari held a press conference on Wednesday at Kentucky basketball media day ahead of his 13th season with the Wildcats. 

am having a ball every day I walk in because I’ve got a bunch of guys that want to be coached, that want to challenge each other, that are engaged,” Calipari said. 

Following a disappointing 2020-21 season, Calipari has once again reloaded his squad, looking to erase any inkling of negativity from last year. 

“Last year is a blip,” Calipari said. “That’s so far behind me, what we went through, and I learned from it, and you move on.” 

Kentucky finished with a 9-16 record last season, bowing out in the first round of the SEC Tournament while failing to make the NCAA Tournament.  

Eight players return to the 2021-22 team, while seven newcomers will hit the court for the Cats this season. 

This year’s squad comprises of just three freshmen and three sophomores, making for the oldest team Calipari has had during his tenure at UK. 

While Calipari is used to molding the game of underclassmen, he welcomes the new sight of experience: 

We’ve got veterans. When you have veterans, they’re on time. It starts to lead — without even saying anything, they lead. That’s been fun,” Calipari said.  

Four of the new Cats this season come via the transfer portal, all of whom are slated to play a pivotal role this year. 

“For this team, we needed a couple more players,” Calipari said. So, when you looked around, do you really want to bring somebody here that’s not quite good enough, that’s going to really struggle here? 

Kellan Grady, Oscar Tshiebwe, CJ Fredrick and Sahvir Wheeler all made the decision to transfer to the Bluegrass. 

Calipari noted that coming to play at Kentucky is not like any of the players former schools: 

“Kellan — ooh, now he struggled early because he’s never played this fast, but he’s not struggling now. Sahvir, I told him, you’re not getting four turnovers a game. That ain’t happening here. All of a sudden you see him, what he’s doing,” Calipari said. “You look at Oscar, he’s 255 pounds with 7 percent body fat. He’s flying.” 

Fredrick, an Iowa transfer and graduate of Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky, has not participated in practice until this week due to a procedure he had during the offseason to repair an issue with his leg.  

“CJ has been hurt, but he can really shoot the ball, and I can’t wait until we get him on the court. He’s been on the court 15 minutes, so we haven’t seen it,” Calipari said.  

The four transfers is a record for a Calipari coached Kentucky team. While once again new for the hall of fame coach, Calipari is embracing the transfers as a way to showcase the culture of UK basketball: 

“If you talk to Sahvir, you talk to Kellan, you talk to Oscar, you talk to CJ, those are the guys that would say to somebody, if you get a chance to get in this culture, what men’s basketball is and how we do it here, you take advantage of it,” Calipari said. 

The combination of returnees, transfers and freshmen has led Kentucky to a placement of No. 10 in the preseason AP Top 25 Poll. The Cats were also selected by the league media to win the SEC this season. 

Per usual, Calipari isn’t much into the preseason accolades: 

That’s all good. We’ve got to play the games and see what happens. It’s a long season, and let’s just hope we’re one of the last teams standing at the end,” Calipari said.  

Expectations will once again be high for the Wildcats. The elite talent under the tutelage of a legendary coach set the table for what could be a memorable season of Kentucky basketball. 

For Calipari, no matter the level of talent, his expectations of the season lie the same: 

“We may struggle early like we always do. We struggle early, too bad, let’s go, we’re going to get better. We’ve got good players, we’ve got good guards, we’ve got some physical players who are men,” Calipari said. “You’re trying to survive.