Last season John Calipari had one of the most talent-laden teams in recent memory with five players being drafted in the NBA's first round. They won 35 games and lost only three but they failed to reach the Final Four. This year he has coached a group of freshmen and bench warmers and now he's playing on college basketball's biggest stage.
After having the top recruiting class in the nation for three straight years John Calipari became known as one of the all time best recruiters. After losing to West Virginia in the Elite Eight last year some said he wasn't a great game coach. It was said that Bob Huggins of WVU outcoached a more talented team.
Now things are turned around completely. After losing a sensational center, Enes Kanter, to an NCAA rules violation in his high school days, the Cats were playing with a team that lacked depth and experience. Only Darius Miller had started for the Cats in 2009-2010. The team lost five talented players to the first round of the NBA draft. They also had a key transfer.
It was a spectacular thing to see so many players from one team get drafted in the first round. But it left the cupboard bare at UK when it came to experienced players. They played the entire season with a six or sometimes seven man rotation. Three of those players were freshmen and another, center Josh Harrellson, had very little game experience.
But Calipari has shocked the world by taking his small group of talent to the last weekend of college basketball. The Cats are two games away from a national championship. And the coaching skills of Coach Calipari are no longer being questioned.
The "dribble drive offense" used by Calipari has served this team extremely well. The talent on this team is perfect for the dribble drive. Almost every player can put the ball on the floor and find a seam to slash to the basket. Or they can take the balls that are kicked back outside and drain the three on a regular basis.
It makes for an offense that is very hard to defend. The brilliant playmaking of Brandon Knight makes it all work to perfection. And the threat of Josh Harrellson shooting outside makes it hard for opposing centers to pack the lane waiting to swat away shots from driving guards.
It seems like an offense made in heaven for the Cats at this point. They have already avenged their loss in last year's tournament to West Virginia. Then they beat Ohio State, the No. 1 seeded team overall. And they followed that up with a win over their fellow elite team, North Carolina.
On top of the wins in the tournament that avenged previous losses the Wildcats won the Southeastern Conference Tournament by beating three teams that the Cats had lost to in the regular season.
Senior center Josh Harrellson suggested a nickname for this Wildcat team, which is a Kentucky basketball tradition. He suggested the team be known as "the Pay Back Cats."
The Cats also lost an early game to UConn this year. The "Pay Back Cats" might have one more piece of revenge soon.
This Wildcat team endured two very close NCAA tournament games that were both decided on late baskets by Brandon Knight. They overcame serious foul trouble in the Ohio State game. And they fought off a late charge by North Carolina.
These are all things that well-coached teams do. The defense is always there. The rebounding is always there. The assists are up and the turnovers are down. And the players have learned to play well while being in foul trouble.
There's no doubt that this team has silenced the critics that labelled Calipari as a great recruiter who couldn't teach the game. He has excelled at teaching this season and his class was a young, inexperienced team with almost no depth at all.
This season has been a masterpiece of coaching by John Calipari.
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