Two things must happen for the Wildcats to win a championship


Men’s basketball head coach John Calipari speaks during Big Blue Madness on Oct. 12, 2018, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.

Another season of Kentucky basketball is near, and the standard for the season is what it always is: national champions.

In order for that goal to be met, a lot of things will need to swing Kentucky’s way, but ultimately what the Wildcats do is more important than what teams around them do.

At Kentucky’s media day, head coach John Calipari said two things need to happen for the team to be national champions.

The first thing on Calipari’s list: The Wildcats need someone who they can depend on at all times, someone who will lead the team when times get tough.

“We need someone who’s going to bring us all together and pick everybody up, hold people accountable,” Calipari said. “Are you willing to hold somebody accountable who’s not doing right in this room?”

Calipari calls those types leaders catalysts. Calipari’s best teams had multiple catalysts, and in order for this team to be among the greats, someone will need to step up and fill that role this year.

It is early, but no player has emerged to be a catalyst yet, according to Calipari. Last year it was Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who emerged as the team’s leader and go-to guy in crunch time.

Gilgeous-Alexander developed into that role because of his work ethic. He was one of the team’s hardest workers, and it showed as the season went on.

“He was here at 7:00 in the morning shooting, he watched video of himself and other people, he was in the weight room, he was unbelievable,” Calipari said. “He never missed a class, never missed a tutor, did everything he was supposed to.”

An obvious answer to who can be this year’s catalysts are the returners who were on last year’s team. Calipari mentioned P.J. Washington’s name multiple times last year as a guy who could lead the team, and now as a sophomore, he’s expected to have more of a vocal role in the team huddles and on the court.

“I’ve been through it, I’ve been here obviously so I know what he wants, know what he wants out of the team,” Washington said. “I’m just trying to just lead these young guys to winning games and just telling them what it’s like to be a Kentucky basketball player.”

Another player who could be a catalyst this year is someone who will don the Kentucky jersey for the first time, yet he is the oldest player on the team and spent the last four seasons playing for Stanford.

“I’ve been a captain on every team I’ve been on, it’s a position that I’m not scared of, a position that I like,” Reid Travis said. “I like to be involved as far as leading teams or leading guys and I really do think the young guys look towards me and they listen.”

If the Wildcats are able to find their catalysts, that’s the first step toward the team becoming national title contenders. The second step will be for the catalysts to empower the entire team; that is, to take responsibility of the team and not just go to Calipari for all the answers.

“To be empowered they’ve got to have more than one leader, and those leaders will have to understand if you lead, you’re serving,” Calipari said. “It’s servant leadership.”

Calipari believes last year’s squad improved tremendously but never became empowered. They were still looking to Calipari for answers instead of relying on each other and figuring it out themselves.

What he hopes to see is the catalysts, like Gilgeous-Alexander last year, encourage other teammates to put in extra work to become empowered.

The thing that has made this year’s team exciting is that they’ve already proven they’re willing to put in extra work, as anyone who follows the basketball players on Instagram sees them posting late-night gym pictures on frequent occasion.

“At 12:00 [midnight], 11:00 [p.m.], if you drive by, those lights will be on out there, and those guys are in there,” Calipari said.

This year’s team has tons of potential based on talent level, but in order for the team to be legitimate, the catalysts need to emerge, and they need to empower the team.

If that happens, the sky is the limit.

“If this team becomes empowered and it becomes their team, then this becomes scary,” Calipari said.