Dec 21, 2013; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Aaron Harrison (2), guard James Young (1), guard Andrew Harrison (5) and head coach John Calipari huddle during a time in the game against the Belmont Bruins in the second half at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated Belmont 93-80. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky Basketball: Under the Microscope


 Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

After the University of Kentucky Wildcats defeated the Ole Miss Rebels 80-64 on Tuesday night, head coach John Calipari used his postgame press conference to defend his young Cats. Calipari, after stating that the team is improving, said that this edition of the Wildcats is the most overanalyzed team ever, in any sport. Well, of course Cal was using hyperbolic, over the top language. He had just watched his team go 1-1 in two tough conference road games and drop 7 spots in the AP Poll from 11 to 18, while Duke had the same weekly record vaulted from 17 to 11. Which led Calipari and the rest of the Big Blue Nation to wonder, “What’s up with that?”

To prove Calipari’s point about being overanalyzed, many media members have proceeded to, you guessed it, overanalyze what he said. Most people have taken Cal to task for his over the top language in his declaration that UK leads the way in media scrutiny. From Yahoo’s Pat Forde to ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, the consensus was that Cal was complaining about the attention that the Kentucky Basketball program gets both inside and outside of the Commonwealth. And that’s simply incorrect. Everyone knows that Kentucky is one of, if not the, most prestigious college basketball program in the country. Since the days of Adolph Rupp, for good and for bad, the eyes of the nation are generally on the man in charge and the players playing in Lexington.  To argue otherwise is either foolish or disingenuous.

I think the problem that Calipari and Kentucky fans and supporters have is that the rules applied to Cal and the Cats aren’t for everyone else. For years, the media has railed against “one and done” players, falling over themselves to decry the rule as being the worse thing to ever happen to college basketball.  People like Bobby Knight has stood up and said, loudly, that the Kentucky players under Calipari don’t go to class. And when the NCAA puts out the annual APR numbers where the UK men’s basketball team is near the top of the SEC, no one says anything about it. The silence from the media is deafening when Bill Self at Kansas, Thad Motta at Ohio State and even the saintly Coach K at Duke bring in one and done players to their programs. Apparently, it’s only a sin when Calipari and Kentucky are involved.

 Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

John Calipari, who’s no idiot, said what needed to be said. He’s fighting for his young team. A few weeks ago, he went all in on those people that are whispering into the player’s ears, labeling them as distractions and noise. And now he’s letting the player’s know “I will go to bat for you. I will fight for you.” By acknowledging the ridiculous amount of scrutiny this team has endured, from within and without of the Commonwealth, Calipari is letting each player know that he understands what they’re going through and the best way to move forward is to become a real team and come together. Calipari is building an “us vs. the world” mentality. Not only will it help limit the amount of noise and distractions that the team is dealing with, it will bring them closer together and focus on the task at hand: to be the best team in March that they can be. Because when all eyes are on you when the confetti is falling and NCAA President Mark Emmert hands you that trophy, that’s some scrutiny you don’t mind enduring.

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