Kentucky Basketball: Putting 2020 in the past Wildcats begin 2021 ranked No. 10

Kentucky's Kareem Watkins
Kentucky's Kareem Watkins /

It’s officially time to put the 2020-21 Kentucky basketball season to bed, bury it deep and now John Calipari has crafted this year’s team into a top 10 squad once again as the AP Preseason Poll is out.

The Wildcats come in ranked No. 10 in the Associated Press poll that was released on Monday.

Calipari was so distraught through nearly the entire season last year that he revamped his coaching staff bringing back Orlando Antigua who brought along fellow Illinois assistant coach Chin Coleman. Add those two along with Jai Lucas who was already on the staff and when the four hit the road this year it was full steam, pedal to the medal recruiting – Kentucky style.

Putting Kentucky basketball’s awful season to rest Calipari reloads

The Wildcats went through their worst season in over 30 years and was just as painful for Big Blue Nation as it was for Calipari and the players who just never meshed, found chemistry, or did much of anything positive.

Cal was not happy at the season’s end and warned those who took a jab at our misery.

"“I’m not satisfied. My whole mission now is to put this behind us. It’s going to take me some time, but let’s put it all behind us. So let’s continue to say, ‘This is Kentucky. This is a standard.’ There were a lot of happy people out there that we had this kind of year. And you know what? Hey, enjoy your time now. Next year’s going to come soon enough.”"

That was then this is now.

Fast forward and you see Kentucky back with one of the best classes out there.

Everyone’s darling Gonzaga is No. 1 after their NCAA Tournament runner-up finish last year. The traditional blue-blooded teams follow suit starting with UCLA, then Kansas, Villanova, Texas, Michigan, Purdue, Baylor, Duke, and Kentucky round out the top 10.

UCLA, Duke, and Kentucky weren’t even ranked in last season’s final poll. In fact, eight teams that make up the remaining Top 25 weren’t ranked either. Those include Memphis (12), Oregon (13), Tennessee (18), North Carolina (19), Maryland (21), Auburn (22), St. Bonaventure (23), and Connecticut (24).

The Wildcats are one of six Southeastern Conference teams to make the first poll. Alabama is 14th and Arkansas 16th.

Kentucky got things going last Friday with Big Blue Madness and there seems to be a lot more chemistry, fun, and smiles with this group.

Calipari has been at Kentucky for 13 seasons and this is the 12th time he has started the season ranked in the Top 10. The only time was his second year the 2011-12 year where they started and finished ranked No. 11.

There will be some marquee matchups with nine opponents ranked this year.

The Wildcats kick it off facing Duke in the Champions Classic in Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, November 9. On December 18 they will be in Las Vegas gambling they come away beating No. 17 Ohio State in the CBS Sports Classic.

Six games against the ranked SEC schools are on the slate with a meeting with Kansas in the Big12/SEC Challenge on January 29 in Lawrence, Kansas.

Calipari wasted little time in changing his philosophy of not having the youngest roster in all of college basketball. That simply got old with fans and wasn’t working.

He addressed this on his final radio show in the spring.

"“The game on the court changes every three or our years. In the game, you’ve got to be able to space the court just like we did with Derek Willis and some different guys….. We’ve done it with guys who make shots. It’s more what’s happening, how do you put a roster together? How do you do it where you’re going to have some guys who stay now, three years, four years, but you’re going to integrate them with other players. That’s going to be tricky.”"

Instead, he has a roster blended with veterans and transfers at nearly every position while mixing in three newcomers in Daimion Collins, Bryce Hopkins, and TyTy Washington.

Those transferring in will bring a wealth of leadership and game experience with them that includes 2,000 point scorer Kellan Grady from Davidson; Iowa transfer and 3-point sharpshooter CJ Fredrick; Georgia transfer and assist machine Sahvir Wheeler will be electric and big man Oscar Tshiebwe came to Lexington from West Virginia at Christmas so he was able to practice all spring.

It doesn’t hurt that he has five players back from last year that knows how Cal’s system works. Those players include juniors Keion Brooks and Jacob Toppin, redshirt sophomore Dontaie Allen, and sophomore Lance Ware.

Ah we can’t forget one key player the Wildcats return and that is our beloved Davion Mintz.

Thank goodness for the graduate transfer who led UK in nearly every category that included minutes played (768), points (288), assists handed out, and our best 3-point bomber (78). He waited, thought about his NBA career and at the final moment pulled his name out and wants to play one more year of college.

This should be a much more well-rounded, athletic, easier to coach, and better-equipped maturity-wise team to handle whatever is thrown at them this season.

The Blue/White game is this Friday at 7 pm, and they square off against Kentucky Wesleyan a week later in Rupp Arena. The final tuneup will be against Miles College on Nov. 5 before the Duke battle.

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