published Monday, February 18th, 2013

Wiedmer: UK's Cal has more problems than solutions

  • photo
    Kentucky coach John Calipari reacts to his team's play during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari has a problem.

Actually, he has several problems, beginning with the gargantuan fact that his freshman shot-swatter Nerlens Noel is done for the year following a knee injury.

Add in Sunday's news that Saturday's 88-58 loss to Tennessee moved the Cats outside ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi's NCAA Tournament field, dropping them from the nervous "last four in" to the dreaded "first four out" and crisis hotlines throughout the Bluegrass have reached end-of-the-world mode.

But Calipari's biggest problem is this: What do you do when your one-and-done players look far more likely to be three-and-free or four-and-the-door scholarship eaters?

When your entire recruiting strategy seems to be to create a constant revolving door of McDonald's All-Americans, all expected to produce one spectacular collegiate season before moving on to NBA riches, what do you do when one class begins tripping, if not stampeding, over the class in front of them?

How do you manage those egos, not to mention those hurt feelings and broken dreams?

And should that logjam produce a Los Angeles Lakers-esque chemistry lab explosion, sending the whole experiment up in flames, can you ever return to the good ol' days, when your players hung around long enough for the fans to cheer them on Senior Day, which Kentucky once staged better than anyone in the country?

In other words, what do you do with current freshman disappointments Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress?

It's been brewing all season, Calipari's frustration with the McDonald's All-Americans Goodwin and Poythress. It boiled over in Saturday's loss to UT, when Cal reportedly told Goodwin during the game, "I can't coach you."

Afterward, though he named no one, the coach said, "We've got a couple of guys that are basically not real coachable. You tell them over and over what we want to do, what we have to do, and they do their own thing. That's where we are."

Where they are for this season is in a desperate mess. Now 17-8 overall and 8-4 in the SEC after two straight defeats, Kentucky would appear to need no fewer than five wins before Selection Sunday to have a chance at the NCAA tourney and maybe as many as six.

For that to happen, those supposedly uncoachable Cats -- Lexington Herald-Leader columnist John Clay even labeled the entire team "The Uncoachables" on Sunday -- would need to almost instantly become coaches' pets.

In the case of the chiseled, somewhat polished Poythress, such a turnaround seems possible. As late as Saturday night, ESPN's Jalen Rose still considered the Clarksville, Tenn., product, "a first-round draft choice."

Indeed, Poythress scored at least 20 points in four straight games earlier in the season, causing Cal to label him "The Beast" after a 20-point, 8-rebound performance against Duke. The talent's there, but the bright, sensitive Poythress often seems the victim of paralysis by self-analysis rather than trusting his first instinct.

But Goodwin's potential for growth seems far less certain. He shoots 25 percent from behind the arc, has turned it over a team-high 78 times and often appears to have a single offensive move -- drive into a sea of defenders while throwing up some short shot in the vicinity of the rim that hopefully bounces through without drawing a charge. And that's his plan A, B and Z.

But the bigger question is not how to turn Goodwin, Poythress and fragile redshirt sophomore point guard Ryan Harrow around, but how to handle them if they're still on the roster next season.

Can Cal convince them to accept the fact that they need at least one more year of college ball, but that their playing time will also likely be cut by next year's freshman class -- which already includes five of the top 18 players nationally?

Can he sell them on becoming what 2012 sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb were on last year's national champs, wise and experienced starters capable of keeping their more lauded freshmen teammates well-grounded?

Or will they become bitter malcontents, threatening to ruin team chemistry as they tell future recruits not to believe Cal's promises to swiftly get you to the NBA?

Cal's shtick has worked perfectly prior to this season. His first three years in the Bluegrass produced 102 wins, two Final Fours and one NCAA title, breathtaking accomplishments all.

But this season isn't those seasons. This season is racing toward the Nobody's Interested Tournament at warp speed.

Said Cal on Saturday afternoon, "If they weren't embarrassed by this to come and say, 'Tell us whatever you want, we're going to listen to you,' then they shouldn't be at Kentucky."

But they are there. And how both he and they deal with that from this point forward may determine whether or not Cal's national championship count at UK ends up one and done.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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