UK Men's Basketball

Kentucky will not rely on a single star player next season, Calipari says

John Calipari said Thursday that he'd like to see six or seven players average 10 points per game or more next season.
John Calipari said Thursday that he'd like to see six or seven players average 10 points per game or more next season. aslitz@herald-leader.com

Committees have long been the butt of jokes. “If you see a snake, just kill it. Don’t appoint a committee on snakes,” one-time presidential candidate Ross Perot once said. Or as comedian Milton Berle observed, “a committee is a group that keeps minutes and loses hours.”

Neither Perot nor Berle nor countless wiseacres over the years coached basketball teams. While committees can be models of inefficiency, a group effort works in basketball.

Take Kentucky basketball. Coach John Calipari said Thursday that his team will take a one-for-all approach next season. He left himself no wiggle room for a switch to all-for-one.

"Kentucky will have six or seven players averaging 10 or more points,” Calipari said on a Southeastern Conference teleconference. “There’s no one going to average 25 (points) per game.

“Now, you may have 25 (points) in a game. But we don’t play through two guys.”

Two of the SEC’s most experienced coaches, Ben Howland of Mississippi State and Bruce Pearl of Auburn, endorsed the idea of basketball by committee. Neither saw Calipari’s declaration of multiple double-digit scoring averages as part of a trend away from a star system.

“Any good team, for me, has always been a team that has good balance,” said Howland, who is expected to have just that with State next season. “My best teams . . . had five guys averaging double figures. There can be a lot of stars on the same team, but you have to have balance. Night in and night out, there’s not this one or two guys you can zero in on from the defensive standpoint.”

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PJ Washington is Kentucky's leading returning scorer (10.8 points per game) and rebounder (5.7) for next season. Mark Mahan

Besides winning and losing, a group effort is “the ‘funnest’ way to play for any player,” Howland said.

Pearl suggested flexibility as a key: the group dynamic as essential, yet a star system available when needed. He cited the Golden State Warriors.

The NBA champions had more depth and more players than the competition. “But,” he added, “they still had (Kevin) Durant when it matters.”

Pearl suggested Calipari’s declaration about no single star being the logical product of a Kentucky roster bursting with talent.

“Kentucky had a lot of pros and a lot of great players and a lot of great depth, a lot of great size,” Pearl said. “As a result, they’ve been more balanced.”

UK ‘scary’

Auburn and Tennessee return many players from teams that shared the SEC regular-season championship last season. Yet, the specter of Kentucky is daunting.

“Kentucky is loaded again like they’ve always been, with a little bit of experience,” Pearl said. “John likes this team, and he likes them in June. That’s scary for the rest of us. He usually doesn’t like them until (the following) March.”

UK players and coaches met with fans during stops in a train ride that took them from Frankfort, through Midway and on to Lexington.



‘Hardest league’

The coaches spoke of a highly competitive SEC next season. To bolster the argument, they cited the players who withdrew from the NBA Draft and/or decided to play another college season: For instance, Daniel Gafford of Arkansas, Auburn’s Austin Wiley, Jalen Hudson of Florida, Jontay Porter of Missouri, Chris Silva of South Carolina, Admiral Schofield of Tennessee and, of course, PJ Washington of UK.

“Makes our league that much harder,” South Carolina Coach Frank Martin said. “That’s why our league is the hardest league in the country, plain and simple.”

Alabama Coach Avery Johnson suggested this year’s record eight bids to the NCAA Tournament could be mere prelude.

“Could be another year where eight, nine, 10 (teams) make it,” he said. “And we hope we’re one of them.

“We’re not just a football conference anymore. We’re really serious about basketball.”

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