Calipari says dropping a traditional Kentucky rival best for players

'Heavy load' not always best for players, he says

jtipton@herald-leader.comDecember 6, 2011 

Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari yelled at his team as #1 Kentucky played #5 North Carolina in the first half on Saturday December 3, 2011 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

©2011 Buy Photo

  • Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday
    Where: LP Field in Nashville
    TV: ESPNews
    Radio: WBUL-FM 98.1; WLAP-AM 630; WWRW-FM 105.5

During his weekly radio show Monday night, Kentucky Coach John Calipari defended the idea of ending one of the program's traditional series. Such a move would be consistent with his philosophy of doing what's best for players, he said.

"Everything I do is about helping them reach their dreams," Calipari said near the beginning of a lengthy defense of ending the series with North Carolina, Indiana or Louisville.

Scheduling is done with the players in mind, he said. Some teams need what he called a "heavy load" of games. Other teams do not.

In floating the idea of ending one of the series, Calipari noted last week that UK can expect to have freshmen-oriented teams in future seasons. Without being prompted by a question, he used his radio show to paint a worst-case scenario that combined a challenging schedule with a less-than-dominant group of UK players.

"Every year, we're losing players," he said in reference to the so-called one-and-done players that are becoming synonymous with Kentucky basketball. What if ...

■ "You're not hitting on every player you recruit?" he said.

■ "Some years, it's a down year for high school basketball. ... What if we lose our team, and it's a down year in high school basketball?"

Calipari's comments came two days after Kentucky beat North Carolina 73-72. The Cats next play at Indiana on Saturday. IU officials have called for its fans to wear red to the game. "Indiana's waiting in the weeds for us," Calipari said.

Kentucky, which is the No. 1 team in the country for a second straight week, has won six of seven games against UNC, IU or U of L in Calipari's three seasons. The average margin of UK victory is 10.5 points.

Calipari cited the exceptionalism of UK basketball to defend the idea of dropping one of the program's traditional opponents.

"We don't have to be locked into a schedule," he said. "We're Kentucky."

Because Kentucky is Kentucky, Calipari said he could wait until August to schedule marquee opponents.

"We don't have to be locked in to a three-headed monster," he said. "It's not about that. It's about these young people."

Last week, former UK athletics director Larry Ivy said UK's exceptionalism meant it should continue to play Indiana, Louisville and North Carolina. "If you're touting yourself as the No. 1 program, I don't think you should be afraid to play anybody," Ivy said.

On his radio show, Calipari said he was trying to protect players, not himself, in suggesting Kentucky not continue to play Indiana, Louisville or North Carolina.

Said Calipari: "Do you honestly think I'm afraid of anyone?"

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