For the last couple of years, beginning with the conclusion of the college basketball season and stretching through the summer, Kentucky fans have endured a seemingly ritualistic event known as “Cal Watch.” Some years before, it was known as “Tubby Watch” and before that “Pitino Watch.” Pundits, prognosticators, and fans attempting to determine if the Kentucky head coach would be returning to Lexington the following season or making the leap to the NBA.
This year, “Cal Watch” seems to have started, in earnest, much earlier than in prior years, a result of what many believe is a disappointing year—considering pre-season expectations—for Kentucky. Earlier this week, post-South Carolina, the hot topic seemed to be predicting where Calipari would be coaching next season (hint: Kentucky was not considered an option). Calipari addressed these rumors in his post-game press conference on Tuesday night following the Wildcats’ win over Alabama, saying:
“When I went in the office, my secretary asked me, Are you not coming back next year? She said it was on Around the Horn, it was on First Take and they’re doing a 30 for 30 movie on it. Really? Then Dan Patrick talked about it, Andy Katz already has my replacement. Because I didn’t do a post game interview? Wow!”
Now I, for one, do not believe John Calipari will be anywhere next season other than on the sideline coaching the Kentucky Wildcats. For all of the struggles this season (and last season, as well), next year has the potential to be more like Calipari’s 2009-2010 and 2011-2012 teams—teams with mature upperclassmen, incredibly talented sophomores, and amazing freshmen. A few weeks ago I wrote that UK’s team could potentially be more talented and deeper than this year’s team, a feat many would have viewed as an impossibility at the beginning of this season. Assuming that only James Young and Julius Randle leave for the NBA, this would likely be the roster:
Centers: Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Karl Towns
Forwards: Alex Poythress, Derek Willis, Marcus Lee, Trey Lyles
Guards: Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Dominique Hawkins, Devin Booker, Tyler Ulis
Of course, Cauley-Stein may end up declaring for the draft. And Young might decide to come back. And who knows what Aaron or Andrew Harrison will do?! But the point remains: I fully expect next year’s team to be more of what many expected this year’s team to be. That said, let me be clear, I DO NOT expect a perfect season. I DO NOT expect a national championship. I DO NOT expect a Final Four. I do, however, expect a team able to do at least one, if not two, and maybe all three, of those things. And again, coaching that team will be John Calipari.
But THIS season isn’t yet over. There remains basketball to be played. And I haven’t given up on this team. Not when I see Syracuse—a team that looked almost unbeatable a month ago—lose 4 out of its last 5 games. Not when I see Florida struggle on the road at South Carolina. Not when I see St. Louis drop 3 straight after reeling off 19 straight wins following a loss to Wichita State back in December. Not when I see Duke lose by 10 points to Wake Forest, it’s second loss in 4 games. Not when I know that in March, anything can happen.