Inside Kentucky: Freshmen struggles behind Wildcats

Kentucky Wildcats freshman forward Willie Cauley-Stein (15) dunks against the Florida Gators during the second half of the SEC Tournament finals on March 16.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer/File
Published: Saturday, April 5, 2014 at 12:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 4, 2014 at 9:26 p.m.

Remember back in the preseason when Kentucky was ranked No. 1 and there was a buzz in Lexington about a possible perfect season? Well, coach John Calipari may have gotten a little caught up in the hysteria, too.

Or maybe he was just a little too enamored by his latest No. 1 recruiting class. With all that young talent at his disposal, Calipari thought he could win early and win big with this freshman-laden lineup.

He admits now that maybe he got a little ahead of himself.

“You can't skip steps. It's a process,” he said. “I was trying to do that. I probably tried to skip steps.

“But in the end, we got the plane down. Barely. We almost ran out of runway. This team was built up to be torn down. They withstood it. They were under immense fire. They never wavered. They kept believing.”

Now, this young team that struggled so often during the season, the one that was swept by Arkansas and Florida and lost to South Carolina, is in the Final Four and in a position to possibly win the program's ninth national championship.

All those gifted freshmen (high school All-Americans, each and every one of them) have come together at the right time to become one of America's hottest teams.

To reach the Final Four, the Wildcats beat Kansas State, No. 1 seed Wichita State, No. 4 seed Louisville and No. 2 seed Michigan.

Calipari said the turnaround started when he “tweaked” something with his team before the SEC tournament. He made another team-changing tweak heading into the NCAA tournament, he said.

He said he will reveal what those tweaks were at the end of the tournament.

“I waited two months longer than I should have to put a couple things in that changed who we are as a team,” Calipari said. “The media doesn't know enough to know what I've done. When you hear it, you'll wonder why I didn't do it earlier.

“Maybe the players weren't able to accept it a few months ago. Maybe they needed to fail more. Maybe they had to understand that you must surrender to your team, you must lose yourself in your team, and you must understand less is more when you're talking about team play. If they were ready to accept it two months ago, we wouldn't have been an eight seed playing the gauntlet we just played.”

UK's 10-loss regular season is considered a failure by 'Cat standards. But Calipari's kids are perfect in the postseason, and that's all that matters now.

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or

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