Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Kids are alright

In a world where college basketball has become a training ground for the National Basketball Association as much as a place to receive an education and develop as a person, John Calipari and the University of Kentucky have seemed to succeed so far in navigating the waters of one and done. At 22-1 the Wildcats once again sit on top of the polls as the nation’s number one ranked team. This really isn’t that big of a deal considering the pedigree of the Kentucky program over the years. But it’s the way Calipari continues to get it done since his arrival in April of 2009 that amazes and states this guy can not only recruit but he can flat out coach! If you take a look at the Kentucky roster, just two of the 13 players are seniors. Now this tends to happen every now and then at some schools but for the Cats, it has become the norm. It’s also a strategy that continues to pay dividends season after season with Big Blue in the National Championship picture every March despite the lack of senior leadership, which used to be important to winning in the Big Dance.

Of Kentucky’s top six players, only guard Darius Miller is a senior. Leading scorer Doron Lamb at over 13 points per game is a sophomore. The Cats number two scorer and big presence inside in Anthony Davis is just a freshman. He also tallies 13 a game to go with 10 rebounds. Michael Kidd-Gilchist is another freshman averaging over 12 points per contest. Next to him, Terrance Jones another sophomore chipping in 12 points a night. Add in freshman guard Marquis Teague with his 10 points and four assist and the balance of this young group is amazing. The only blemish on their record so far is a 73-72 loss at Indiana back on December 10th. At 8-0, atop the Southeastern Conference, Kentucky is averaging a winning margin of 18 points per game. So just how good are these Cats? Well in terms of legacy we’ll have to wait until someone cuts down the nets in New Orleans. But another measuring stick could be June’s NBA Draft. Nobody would be surprised if all six of the Wildcats are taking in the first two rounds, even the freshman Teague and Davis.

This of course is really nothing new for the Calipari receipt for success, since his arrival in Lexington. If you run down a list of Calipari’s professional players from UK, check out their total playing time at Rupp Arena. John Wall, first overall pick in 2010 played just one season. DeMarcus Cousins the fifth overall pick that draft, just one season. Patrick Patterson the number 14 selection in 2010, three years at Kentucky. Eric Bledsoe, number 18 in 2010 played just his freshman season. Daniel Orton, the 29th selection in 2010, just one season under Calipari. Center Enes Kanter was ruled ineligible in 2011 and was still drafted 3rd overall. Brandon Knight, the 8th overall pick from 2011, stayed at Kentucky for one season. Both Josh Harrelson and DeAndre Liggins second round picks in 2011 wore the Kentucky blue for three years.

But even with the turnstile for the Association moving quickly at Kentucky, it hasn’t hurt the product on the court. Calipari’s first team finished 35-3 overall was the top seed in the East and reached the elite eight. Last season, Kentucky went 29-9, was seeded second in the East and made it to the final four. So here they are again loaded with young talent that doesn’t seem to be fazed by big moments or the overall collegiate hoop hot seat. They already handled Kansas, North Carolina and Louisville all ranked in the top 11 when the Cats put them in the loss column. They also have eight more SEC games to prepare themselves for a deep tournament run into early April.

While Syracuse, Ohio State, Missouri, North Carolina and Baylor are all older more experienced and chasing the youngsters, don’t be worried about their youth being exploited come March. There are reasons the Wildcats are number one and there is no mistake it’s where they should be.

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