UK Media Day: Cats debate possibility of 40-0 season

jtipton@herald-leader.comOctober 15, 2013 

  • Important upcoming dates

    All events in Rupp Arena

    Friday — Big Blue Madness, 7:30 p.m.

    Oct. 29 — Blue-White Scrimmage, 7 p.m.

    Nov. 1, 4 — Exhibition games vs. Transylvania and Montevallo, 7 p.m.

    Nov. 8 — Regular-season opener vs. UNC Asheville, 7 p.m.

The coach/reporter give and take at Kentucky basketball's Media Day on Tuesday took a playful turn toward political crossfire.

When asked about his seeming embrace of a 40-0 record as a goal this season, UK Coach John Calipari said, "I feel like Jay Carney up here. Let me again tell you what I've said for about eight years ... "

Carney, the presidential press secretary, explains White House positions, sometimes again and again as reporters angle for fresh insights.

Calipari explained his earlier references to 40-0 as wishful thinking. It's a vague wouldn't-it-be-great thing, not a serious objective that must be achieved, he said.

"I've said, before I retire, I'd love to coach a team that goes 40-0 ... ," Calipari said. "Will that happen? I don't know. Every game we play, we play to win. We're not playing any game not to win."

Calipari acknowledged that his references to a 40-0 record were not simply idle daydreams of his perfect basketball world. There was a bit of Cal-culation in the references to what would be the best single-season record in the history of college basketball. By definition, a 40-0 record means the team must win every game no matter the perceived quality of the opponent.

"The reason I like the mentality of every game matters is you don't want to get upset by people you shouldn't get beat by," Calipari said. "That game (versus, say, Northern Kentucky on Nov. 10) means as much as North Carolina or Michigan State or anybody else. Those games matter, too."

Of all things, UK's clinic for female fans Sunday presented an issue that might threaten a perfect record. Apparently, UK's latest freshman-oriented team played to the audience.

"I saw some showtime stuff," Calipari said. "Now is that what's going to happen when we have people in the seats?"

Julius Randle, the most highly regarded freshman in a class that includes six McDonald's All-Americans, took seriously the potential damage that can come from showing off rather than playing each possession with diligence and purpose.

"That could be a big danger," he said of the impulse to show off. "But I think we have guys who have the killer instinct, who are not going to let a team come back from a deficit."

UK players backed up Calipari's contention that the 40-0 record has not been emphasized in team meetings. Not even mentioned in any official way.

"Since I've been here, we haven't talked about it at all," freshman Marcus Lee said. "We're talking of getting better and progressing."

As if reciting something memorized, the players pooh-poohed the 40-0 talk. Nice to contemplate. But it's the day-to-day attention to detail that's important and leads to improvement.

Andrew Harrison, the freshman point guard expected to continue Calipari's string of standout first-year floor leaders, offered a noncommittal statement that would make any press secretary proud.

"We definitely have a lot of talent," he said when asked about a 40-0 record.

When told that sounded like a safe answer, he nodded slightly and said, "Definitely."

As George Costanza would say, yada-yada-yada.

"It's not even something I even pay attention to," Randle said. "Taking it a day at a time and enjoying the process. I haven't even played a college game yet. So I can't speak to what we can do."

But a few UK players drifted from the script. They spoke of a 40-0 record as plausible.

"Well, the potential to go 40-0 is there," Jon Hood said. "I don't know if that'll happen. That's obviously what everybody wants to happen. It doesn't matter who you are, that's what you start out every year with. You want to go 40-0. For some teams, that's a reality. For some teams, it's not."

Clearly, it seems possible for Kentucky this season.

"I'm excited about 40-0," Aaron Harrison said. "If we can go 40-0, that's amazing. No one's done it. That's a record we'd hold and we'd be the first one. It's realistic. But it's not our main goal."

The last college team to go undefeated was Indiana, which finished 32-0 in 1975-76. Ancient history to the present-day Cats. One of those IU players, Tom Abernethy, called 40-0 a "worthy goal" for Kentucky. He also recalled Bob Knight emphasizing the performance of day-to-day tasks over making history.

"I seem to recall Coach Knight playing every possession and game on its own terms," Abernethy said. "To me, it's the most effective way."

ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, a longtime friend of Calipari, vouched for the UK coach sticking to daily detail.

"(Suggesting a 40-0 season) may be out there was a carrot for them," he said. "But the process will be extremely difficult day to day. You win a national championship every day in practice. John may talk 40-0. But he'll be looking to the next practice."

And if Kentucky falls short of perfection, well, so what?

"I think he'll be OK with 38-2 if they're playing that last Monday night," Fraschilla said.

Calipari said as much as he noted how two of his previous teams flirted with 40-0. His UK team of 2011-12 and his Memphis team of 2007-08 won 38 of 40 games.

"So we may not go 40-0," he said, "but you're doing special things."


Important upcoming dates

All events in Rupp Arena

Friday — Big Blue Madness, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 29 — Blue-White Scrimmage, 7 p.m.

Nov. 1, 4 — Exhibition games vs. Transylvania and Montevallo, 7 p.m.

Nov. 8 — Regular-season opener vs. UNC Asheville, 7 p.m.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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