British basketball overhaul is complete – and Kentucky is back to Kentucky
The 2020-2021 season has been, by any tangible point of view, the worst of the John Calipari era. It was also, by any tangible measure, one of the worst in Kentucky basketball history.
Granted, some of the things that went wrong for Kentucky were beyond John Calipari’s control. The year he had the most inexperienced roster he has ever had in the UK, with his only returning player (Keion Brooks) injured throughout the pre-season, also came at the exact time of the start of his superior assistant, which also coincided with the more disjointed. off season in college basketball history. Not great.
At the same time, it also does not excuse excusable mistakes. Player appraisals, an extreme immaturity, a coaching staff that never seemed to gel, pieces that didn’t match, and an outdated coaching style all led to the end of the first full day of the game. SEC tournament, with Kentucky at age 9. -16 in total, his season over and Calipari looking for answers.
Well, fast forward a full three months and my oh my god has made a difference. Two new assistant coaches are in place, while the roster has been completely overhauled. And with Sahvir Wheeler’s commitment to the Wildcats Monday afternoon, let’s pay homage where it’s due: John Calipari just completed one of the biggest off-season turnarounds I can remember. Yes, he was helped by the one-time transfer rule. And no, that doesn’t guarantee anything once the season is over.
But to steal a line from John Calipari himself, I have to admit: “I love this team.” And the credit belongs to the maestro himself. Calipari has spent the past three months working through all of the issues that plagued the Wildcats last season, to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Let’s start with Wheeler, because for me he is the last necessary piece of the puzzle for 2021-2022. Yes, Davion Mintz might decide to come back next season, and of course Keion Brooks’ future is still up in the air (I guess in theory, Isaiah Jackson’s is too). At the same time though, adding anything beyond what Kentucky has at this point is icing on the cake. Even though Brooks, Mintz, and Jackson all have future plans outside of Kentucky, I think the group that reunites in a few weeks will be good enough to bring the Wildcats back to the Final Four for the first time since 2015.
GREAT BLUE NATION WHAT IS GOOOOOODDDDDD ???? https://t.co/U32zZdzaY3
– Sahvir (@sahvir_) May 17, 2021
Again, it ends with Wheeler, but in many ways it begins with Wheeler, too. He’s the last play, but possibly the biggest play that was needed when this whole offseason started. Despite all the talk of Kentucky’s shooting problems last year – which has been rightly ridiculed – the Wildcats don’t have a single guard who can beat their dribbling man and find jumpers. open condemned the team from the start. That’s not to say BJ Boston or others couldn’t or shouldn’t have hit more open punches. But nothing was easy for them, for there was never an easy crime to be committed on that side of the court.
Enter Wheeler. He’s not the perfect leader. But he’s the perfect point guard for the plays that will surround him at Lexington. As has been well documented at this point, he was Georgia’s top scorer last year, but more importantly he was a true point guard for others, finishing with an SEC record of 7.4 assists. decisive per game. Yes, he has to clean up the turnover. But imagine what kind of numbers he could imagine, surrounded by four dead-eyed shooters (which Kentucky will have next season) and two greats (Oscar Tshiebwe and Daimion Collins) who can end up on the brink. Also, let me be very clear on something else: I don’t mind that Wheeler isn’t a great three-point shooter. When he’s got as many good three-pointers around him as he will, his job isn’t to knock down open shots. It’s to beat his dribbling man and either end up on the edge or find other guys to hit open shots.
Wheeler is the point guard’s answer, and beyond him the second biggest, glaring and obvious flaw was the three-point shot. To say “iron wasn’t nice” in Kentucky last year would be an understatement. Iron and Kentucky basketball had a worse relationship than Jay Wright and cheap polyester suits.
This is also what drives what I’m about to say crazy: I think you can legitimately look at Kentucky’s roster and say that, at least on paper, they’ll have the best three-point shot of anyone in basketball. – college ball next season.
You now know the names, but it’s really amazing to see them all laid out next to each other. Playing alongside Wheeler in the backcourt will be one of the best three-pointers in all of college basketball last year, CJ Fredrick, who shot 47% for Iowa a season ago, on more than 100 attempts. Kellan Grady has averaged at least 17 points, on at least 37% three-point shots in three of his four seasons in college hoops and Dontaie Allen has shot just under 40% once on the floor last year (and that was when it was widely known that Allen was the only legitimate three-point shooter on the roster last season). And of course, TyTy Washington is one of the snipers in all high school basketball. It’s worth noting that with Wheeler on the roster, Washington also takes a bit of a load off Washington’s shoulders to be an accomplished playmaker for others. Yes, he will play a certain point, but he can also focus on what he does best – getting buckets.
It’s also worth noting that this offseason Calipari has also addressed one of the biggest off-court issues he’s had last season: there was just something. Not true with the technical staff. I’m not here to criticize anyone in particular, and I will never claim to know the inner workings of everything that happened a season ago. Again, everything that could go wrong has happened. But still, for Calipari to get his most trusted confidant (Orlando Antigua) back with another elite relationship maker and player developer (Chin Coleman) to team up with one of the sport’s elite young scouts ( Jai Lucas), I mean this is a pretty insane staff review. Calipari now has a staff they inherently trust, with extensive experience building and developing championship caliber rosters, who are also expected to double as arguably the best recruiting staff in the college hoops.
Finally, let me touch on something that I think has been sadly under-discussed this offseason in the rebuilding of Kentucky basketball: maturity. More than anyone on the pitch question, off the pitch it seemed like maturity was just a constant push-pull on the schedule last season. There was the departure and return of Cam Fletcher. Comments from Calipari on interactions between players and staff. It never seemed to be addressed the entire season, and for me, more than anything else, it led to the demise of the 2020-2021 version of this team.
And of every issue that has been addressed this offseason, this has seemed to be the most resolutely answered by Calipari and his team in recent months.
Remember, Sahvir Wheeler said the reason he signed up for Kentucky was because he wanted to go somewhere where he could win a national title. He spoke of being a “servant leader” in his interview with Jeff Goodman on Monday. Do you think he comes to Lexington with an ego, or the belief that “I’m out in six months?” Well, if it’s out in six months, I guess Wheeler plans to have some material to go with. Fredrick has been on two NCAA caliber teams over the past two years, do you think he doesn’t know what it takes to win? Same with Kellan Grady, who was part of one of the most successful college hoop programs in the past decade. Oscar Tshiebwe is a former McDonald’s All-American who lived through the bitter Big 12 wars.
And because of that, for me, again, the whole transfer portal movement addresses the biggest issue of the past year: maturity. I’m not saying that none of this year’s freshmen will come up with bad attitudes or be ready to work. But if they do, they’ll have a group of grown men, with great college basketball experience, ready to check them out at the gate.
In the end, all these signatures do not promise anything. There will always be the traditional acclimatization period, and even for veteran transfers, they will have to adjust to a new school, new community, program, and coaching staff. Calipari has yet to understand – and be prepared to use – his new pieces appropriately on offense. And defensively, the Wildcats may not be as elite as they make the transition to recruiting a pool of top level athletes, to more skilled basketball players.
At the same time, it’s hard not to be excited for next year as well.
John Calipari has looked in the mirror this offseason and tackled just about every major issue on the roster.
And for the first time in a long time Kentucky feels like Kentucky again.