Column: John Calipari should stick to his guns on Shaedon Sharpe


Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari coaches from the sidelines during the Kentucky vs. Auburn men’s basketball game on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, at Auburn Arena in Auburn, Alabama. UK lost 80-71. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Hunter Shelton

TyTy Washington Jr was outSahvir Wheeler was one more screen away from a serious injuryThe bench wasn’t producingThings were looking bleak in the Kentucky backcourt on Saturday against Auburn.  

Meanwhile, sitting on the bench was a 6-foot-6, 200-pound, five-star NBA draft prospect. Shaedon Sharpe looked on as the Wildcats were unable to overcome adversity against the Tigers. 

Since his arrival in the beginning of January, Sharpe has practiced with the team but is yet to see the court during game time, something Big Blue Nation should not expect to change over the course of the season.  

“He’s not ready to be playing in games yet,” UK head coach John Calipari said on his radio show on Jan. 5.  

This has been the straightforward, simple answer that Calipari has given since the arrival of the 18-year-old Canadian.  

“I just wish we had a bunch of practice time where I had two weeks with him to where we could run 3-4 different things and him defensively play because he’s a terrific player. I have told his parents that I’m not going to put him in a position where he hurts himself. I’m not,” Calipari said post-Auburn.  

Upon his reclassification to the class of 2021, Sharpe was listed as the No. 3 recruit in the class, behind just Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren and Duke’s Paolo Banchero, two of the top prospects in the upcoming NBA draft.  

On Jan. 20, Sharpe was ruled as eligible to apply for the 2022 NBA draft as an early-entry candidate, giving him the option to forego playing for the Wildcats next season. 

Despite this, Calipari was quick to shoot down the possibility of Sharpe leaving Lexington for the pros, acknowledging that he and Sharpe both understand that this is a longer process.  

[Sharpe] plans on being here next year. He’s watching. Whether I play him or not this year, if he’s ready to be in games, I’ll put him in,” Calipari said. “At the end of the day, you know I’m going to be for kids. That’s how I do this.” 

If Sharpe is ready to play, he’ll play. Seems simple enough, right?  

This answer hasn’t gone down particularly well with the Kentucky faithful.  

Calipari currently has a potential top-10 pick on his roster, despite Sharpe not yet playing a single minute of collegiate basketball. With a beat-up backcourt and inconsistent bench play on his hands, fans are questioning why Caliparisn’giving a potential superstar a chance to garner experience on the court this season.  

Yes, Wheeler has been taking a beating as of late. Washington is already carrying a large workload on his back and the play of Davion Mintz has been hit or miss. The choice of playing either Dontaie Allen, who has struggled mightily all season and fallen out of favor in Calipari’s rotation, or Sharpe, the shiny new option who could potentially elevate the Cats to a new level, seems like an easy decision to make.  

It’s just not an option for Calipari.  

“We’re going to do the process of this, and if he ends up playing this year because he’s capable of doing it and he can play, we’ll play him,” Calipari said. “But I’m not just shoving him in so we can win another game or stay closer. I’m not going to do that.” 

This may not be the answer that BBN wants to hear, but it’s one that they should respect.  

354 wins over 12 and a half seasons should be enough evidence to suggest that Calipari has a fairly good grasp on his players and program. Why doubt the man now? 

Calipari is sticking to his guns, as he should. No matter how frustrating it may be to some, developing Sharpe is clearly going to take time for the Kentucky coaching staff 

The Cats are a Final Four contender with or without the freshman. While his talent would be a nice accoutrement to a star-studded lineup, it’s important to remember that some things are worth waiting for.  

If Sharpe’s number had been called by Calipari against Auburn inside a ferocious, sold-out Auburn Arena, and Sharpe rose to the occasion, it potentially could have unlocked a whole new side to the Wildcats as a team.  

But what if the opposite occurred? Calipari would have been scrutinized to no end for throwing Sharpe out to the wolves.  

There’s only one way to find out, but why risk it? The inclusion of Sharpe is not going to make or break Kentucky.  

The health of Wheeler and Washington is going to be a focal point for UK moving forward. If dire straits approach and the bench is empty, Sharpe could be asked to play some minutes in blue and white this season.  

If Calipari has another option, however, don’t bank on seeing Sharpe hitting shots in anything other than shootaround until next season.