With a freshman-oriented team again next season and likely into the foreseeable future, Kentucky Coach John Calipari emphasized the need to make up for the lack of experience when the Wildcats advance deep into the NCAA Tournament.
"You can win a lot of games and win the leagues and all that," Calipari said Monday. "But those last three games with a young team" make a big difference.
By last three games, Calipari said he meant a region final and then the Final Four.
Speaking on the Southeastern Conference's summer teleconference, Calipari noted how anxiety fueled by poor perimeter shooting and inexperience in such a high-stakes game fueled Kentucky's demise against West Virginia.
"We were just too young and started breaking down defensively," Calipari said. "How do we finish it off? Because we did everything else. We did everything short of those last couple games."
Calipari was not asked what options he believed could help a freshman-oriented Kentucky team go all the way. But he volunteered that such Kentucky teams will be the norm going forward.
"If the rules don't change, we're going to have a young team in just about every year we coach," he said.
Calipari meant the NBA rule that requires players coming out of high school wait at least one year before being eligible to enter the league's draft. Although he again voiced his opposition to the rule (he'd like to see players be free to jump directly from high school to the NBA), Calipari indicated that he would continue to exploit it by recruiting so-called one-and-done players.
With Patrick Patterson gone to the NBA, Kentucky will turn to such players as Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins for not just leadership, but what Calipari called "service leadership."
Rather than feel experience translates to exalted status, veterans like Miller and Liggins should set the one-for-all tone and not resent younger players' advancement.
"If we do well together, even if I'm playing fewer minutes, it'll be better for me," Calipari said of the attitude he wanted veteran players to adopt.
The UK coach noted how parents can want star treatment for their players. The UK players must resist this, he said.
"You have to be strong enough to withstand all the chatter," Calipari said.
A reward can come at next year's NBA Draft.
"Darius can put himself in position at the end of the year where he's making a decision" to enter the draft, the UK coach said. "Maybe DeAndre, too."
Calipari stuck with his contention that last week's NBA Draft marked the greatest day in UK basketball history. UK had an unprecedented five players taken in the first round, including the first time a Wildcat (John Wall) became the No. 1 overall pick.
Some people, including former UK players, argued that winning a national championship would surpass any NBA Draft day. Kentucky has won seven national championships.
"It was the biggest day in Kentucky basketball history," Calipari said in comments he made before taking questions from reporters. "I wasn't talking to the past. I was talking of the future."
Calipari said the NBA Draft represented "a two-hour infomercial for our league and the University of Kentucky and will speak volumes for the next five years, maybe longer."
Calipari again said that UK was a "players-first program." He suggested that the publicity of having players drafted can attract future players to the program. "Players will win national championships," he said, if the UK coaches learn how to neutralize the experience gap against equally talented opponents deep in the NCAA Tournament.
Calipari speculated that UK could play four perimeter players along with a big man next season. He saw freshmen Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb mimicking the John Wall-Eric Bledsoe tandem of last season. Miller and freshman Terrence Jones could fill out the perimeter alignment.
The UK coach saw Josh Harrellson, who put up big numbers on a tour of China this spring, as a contender for playing time.
"I think we're going to play a little more like the last couple years at Memphis," Calipari said. "More dribble-drive. Maybe press a little more.
"Till we get the team together, it's just conjecture because I really don't know. That's what I see from a distance."
Before taking any questions, Calipari spoke of a trip he took to Haiti last week. The trip was a follow-up to the Hoops for Haiti telethon, which raised $1.5 million in reliefs funds for the earthquake stricken country.
"I wanted to go and see" the relief effort, Calipari said. "I can tell you any money given saved lives."
Calipari added that much more help is needed.
"It's a total mess," he said of conditions on Haiti. "So I hope people haven't taken their eye off the ball."