Calipari is all-in on the team with no star


during the game against Kansas on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 in Lexington, Ky. Kansas defeated Kentucky 65-61. Photo by Carter Gossett | Staff

UK men’s basketball coach John Calipari is all-in on his young, struggling team, even if other people aren’t.

Before the Cats headed to Chicago to take on the Kansas Jayhawks, Calipari spoke with media at a press conference.

“I thought we’d be that kind of rebounding team that we were yesterday [against Vermont],” Calipari said. “So I would tell you I’m pretty pleased with that.”

The Cats ended up losing 65-61 to Kansas in the United Center, but there weren’t too many sullen faces as they walked off the court, especially considering how many predicted the game would turn out. Even Calipari said he thought his team “might get smashed.”

The struggles of this team wouldn’t show up on the court to someone who didn’t watch the Cats regularly. They rebound and defend, they score at a decent rate and have the apparent potential to win games. To the team, however, there’s still so much to work on.

“I’m fighting to get my mind set, in that, I’ve got to stay in the moment,” Calipari said. “And I’ve got to be as positive for these guys as I can.”

Calipari said that since there is no leader on the team, he’s had to play the role of the alpha for his players. On this roster, there is no De’Aaron Fox, Anthony Davis or John Wall to emerge as the team’s leader from the beginning of the season.

After the team’s three-point victory over Vermont in the second game of the season, point guard Quade Green highlighted a personal weakness of his that seems to be plaguing the rest of the team.

“I’m still learning on defense,” Green said. “I’m pretty slow, as y’all can see, I’m still learning, though.”

While on-ball defense is a scare for players like Green, one of the biggest takeaways from the Vermont and Kansas games is that this team is a work in progress. At the press conference before the game in Chicago, Calipari dared the Jayhawks to play a triangle-and-two defensive scheme because the team barely knew how to play through it.

“By the time March comes, we’ll have it all packed and done. They won’t say that no more,” Green said after talking about his on-ball defense.

As with most Calipari-coached UK teams, the state of the unit right now is far different than what’s expected of them at the end of the season. This one feels different to Calipari, though, who says he’s been harder on this team than any other. Only time will tell if his extra effort pays off on the team with no clear superstar.