Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NEW YORK — After his team, the No. 2 team in the nation, threw a pretty good beatdown on No. 11 Kansas in a game that began Tuesday night and ended early Wednesday morning, John Calipari had this to say about the Kentucky Wildcats.
“This is not a good team yet,” he said. “You know, we’re not bad. But we’re not a good team yet.”
That statement accurately sums up the current state of Calipari’s club, but it should also strike fear into the rest of the college basketball world.
If the No. 2 team in the nation is “not a good team yet,” how good can they be come February and March.
If a team that starts three freshmen and two sophomores is “not bad,” imagine what they might look like if the youngsters ever figure it out.
Calipari wasn’t at all happy with his team’s effort in the first half, when the game — played in the aftermath of the Coach K frenzy — was tied at 28.
“Kind of expected what happened in the first half,” he said. “A bunch of young guys out there trying to do their own thing, breaking off plays. We had four assists. My point guard [Marquis Teague] had six turns, said it was the officials….We had 19 turnovers, 11 between two freshmen, 11 between two freshmen [former St. Patrick star Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had five to go with 12 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three blocks].
“I got a bunch of young players….But I like their will to win.”
Still, all five starters scored in double-figures, led by Queens native Doron Lamb’s 17 points, including 3-of-5 from deep.
“I was a little nervous, but I settled down in the second half and let the game come to me,” the former Bishop Loughlin and Oak Hill star said. “I just made shots.”
Anthony Davis, likely the No. 1 or 2 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, added 14 points, seven blocks, six rebounds and two steals in front of a contingent of NBA scouts.
A year ago, Davis, Teague and Kidd-Gilchrist were in high school when Kentucky reached the Final Four, only to lose to UConn and the Kemba Walker Express.
While Brandon Knight left early and Josh Harrellson graduated and ended up with the Knicks, Lamb and Terrence Jones opted to return as sophomores to join the No. 1 ranked recruiting class in the nation.
While Kentucky misses Harrellson’s Jorts and lunch-pail mentality, this year’s team clearly has more length, athleticism and shot-blocking abilities up front with Davis joining Jones.
Consider that Kentucky had nearly as many blocks (13) as it had assists (14), or turnovers (19) for that matter.
“We just try to help each other out on defense as much as possible,” said Jones, who posted 15 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. “And if a guy is working hard on the ball, then the other weak-side dude is coming over to help. And that’s just the way we’ve been practicing every day, going hard.”
So, how far can this year’s team go?
“I say it’s early and that was a whole different season with a whole different group of guys,” Jones said of last year. “And I felt we learned last year, which helped us in the late season.
“And I think this year is just going to be a whole different situation with whole different players.”
Despite what his coach says, Lamb is ready to declare this current team tops in the land.
“We played a top team that was ranked, we beat them today,” he said. “And we just want to let everybody know today that we’re the best team in the country.”
According to the rankings, North Carolina is the best team in the country at this moment.
Kentucky should get a real sense of where it stands after hosting the No. 1 Tar Heels Dec. 3 (two days following the St. John’s game).
But win or lose in that affair, Kentucky will still have several months after that game to to jell and come together.
And they may still be a good team yet.
(Photos courtesy AP)
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.