Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari considered last season a learning curve.
Even though Calipari won his first national title as a coach two years ago, he experienced more growing pains as a coach last season. What did he learn?
“First of all, you have to have more than eight scholarship players. You may ask why I did that. Because I was trying to protect players in the program. What you learn is you can’t protect the players. You can’t protect them from competition. You bring in your group, and the guys that understand competition, that brings out the best. They strive and they get better. They don’t have to play 30 minutes a game to reach their dreams. And so why I did it, if I had to do it over again, we probably would have had a couple more players. By not having a couple more players, guys were put in positions that you have to play, and it’s hard to change guys when they’re in that mode.”
Despite the team’s shortcomings last season, Calipari offered no regrets on giving his players a chance to succeed.
“My wife and I talked about it,” he said. “I don’t have any regrets where I gave guys more than one chance to make it and it hurt our team. Like, ‘Why didn’t you leave this guy there and why didn’t you just tell him beat it? You’re not good enough. We’re going to put you in.’ Because it’s about each individual player, and I can tell you that guys got the full season to prove themselves and do what they were going to do. I told my staff, if I’m going err, it’s going to be on the side of the player. ‘Well, the program’s got to go (first) and this kid’s got to go.’ That’s all good, but if it were your son, what would you want me to do? So if I err, it’ll be on the side of the player, which sometimes hurts the program. Now, it’s not how we’ve all been brought up to do this; it’s how I do it. And so, there were some things that went on that I should have changed this and this, but I was giving guys that opportunity. And Ellen and I said it: You can live without regrets. It may have hurt you for a season, but what’s it doing to you? Nothing. But that young man had every chance to do what he was supposed to do to change it and do it. If he wasn’t willing or wasn’t able, now we know and we move on, but he got that full shot.
“I will tell you again, can you imagine if all four guys put their names in the draft. We would have had four first-rounders. Do you know what that means? This is about the players. This is about them getting better. Can you imagine that? Now you might say however you want to say why, but that’s a fact. The guys coming back should have come back. The guys that put their name in the draft, I’m going to do everything in my power to help them. We’re not changing how we do that.”