Listen to college basketball coaches long enough, and you understand there’s a little P.T. Barnum in all of them.
But Kentucky coach John Calipari raised more than a few eyebrows when he said during the preseason he intended to play two five-man units during the 2014-15 season and was doing “something that’s never been done in college basketball before.”
I seem to remember a Florida team in 2000 that played two five-man squads and made a run all the way to the NCAA Finals.
“A lot of times we were five-in, five-out,” said former Gator standout combo guard Teddy Dupay, a member of the 2000 squad. “Especially early in the season. Coach would play us four minutes (each) and we would just go crazy with the press. We were able to dictate tempo that way.”
Dupay was a starter with guard Justin Hamilton, forward Brent Wright, forward Mike Miller and center Udonis Haslem. The second-unit featured a backcourt of Brent Nelson and Kenyan Weeks, with forwards Matt Bonner and Major Parker and center Donnell Harvey. The roster featured four NBA players, three of which (Miller with Cleveland Cavaliers, Haslem with the Miami Heat and Bonner with the San Antonio Spurs) are still playing the league. Harvey was a one-and-done player, taken in the first round by the New York Knicks (who traded him to Dallas on draft night). Miller also left that offseason following his sophomore season and was taken fifth overall by the Orlando Magic.
“The thing about it was there was no dropoff,” Dupay said. “Our second five was as strong as our first five. Practices were competitive. My body still aches from some of the practices that we had back them.”
Likewise, Calipari said he’s playing two five-man units because his uber-talented Kentucky roster of nine McDonald’s All-Americans are all, in his words, “within five percent of each other.”
“We all made each other better and we all looked out for each other,” Dupay said of the 2000 team. “You have to have the right group of players. Calipari, he’s always been a guy that’s been able to get new guys to come in each year and play together. That’s the key.”
Florida coach Billy Donovan, who was then in just his fourth season at UF, recalled it was a challenge keeping his players happy that season.
“We had to kind of go through some ups and downs, some bumps in the road because some good players wanted to be out there longer, and that’s what you want from any player,” Donovan said. “You don’t want anybody to ever accept, or say ‘Listen, I’m content sitting on the bench.’ If you’re a competitor you want to be out there, but there’s things I think you definitely have to work through.”