UK Men's Basketball

John Clay: No way these Cats are going undefeated

Kentucky forward Julius Randle (30) went in for a dunk during Big Blue Madness Friday.
Kentucky forward Julius Randle (30) went in for a dunk during Big Blue Madness Friday. Herald-Leader

Let's get it on the record, right here, right now, before a scrimmage or an exhibition or an actual game has officially commenced.

Let's get this out of the way now for our own good: It's not going to happen.

Not this season. Not this team. Not this coach. Not these players. Not in this sport. Not at this time in our history.

Kentucky basketball isn't going undefeated.

It doesn't matter if the Cats have the best freshman class since Naismith nailed up a peach basket. It doesn't matter if John Calipari is the greatest coach in roundball history at coaxing high school hotshots into putting on lab coats and majoring in hoops chemistry.

It doesn't matter if the sport is in such a watered-down state some believe a truly superior team could run the entire length of a table without a single spill.

Kentucky could very well be that superior team this season, but it's still not making its way through basketball's back alleys without one poke in the eye.

Here's why: It's too hard.

Nearly 37 years have passed since a team completed the task without a single stain. That was a different game at a different time, when Bob Knight was grabbing players' jerseys and perfect 1975-76 Indiana boasted a tough, talented, stubborn team of rhinoceros-skinned veterans.

That's right, veterans. Players who had been through enough wars to know what it was all about from taxing travel, to heckling road crowds, to winning when you're not playing your best, to playing every single game with that neon target attached right to your back.

Kentucky's wearing the bull's-eye this year. Never mind that the Cats lost to that fine chap Robert Morris last season in the National Inferior Tournament, or that Calipari admitted at Media Day that he might end up starting five freshmen, or that Louisville and Michigan State both boast older clubs with plenty of credentials.

The USA Today coaches' poll came out Thursday and the Cats were right there on the top line, just as down in Birmingham at the SEC Basketball Media Days various conference contenders were chafing at the idea UK's young bloods were predicted to win the league without so much as breaking a sweat.

"They're going to see it's not just a walk in the park," vowed Florida center Patric Young.

This all came two days after a major topic of conversation at Kentucky's Media Day had involved the numbers 40 and 0.

"I've said, before I retire, I'd like to coach a team that goes 40-0," said Calipari, explaining the numbers stand as more of a goal than an expectation.

Cal also said this: "We've got one of the best schedules in the country. We've got one of the most inexperienced teams in the country. So it will be interesting."

Kentucky plays Michigan State on Nov. 12 in Chicago. It plays Baylor on Dec. 6 at Jerry Jones' Super Shrine in Arlington, Texas. It plays North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Dec. 14. It plays defending national champion Louisville on Dec. 28, which gives Chane Behanan plenty of time to squeeze himself out of Rick Pitino's doghouse.

And, while we're quoting from the Book of Calipari, there was this from Tuesday: "I don't need a team in October playing like it's January."

As that football coach from Alabama who was in town last weekend will tell you, it's a process. And regardless the sport, part of the process is learning along the way toward a big finish.

Come March, I expect this Kentucky collection of shiny parts to form the best basketball team in the nation. Before then, however, they are going to get punched in the nose a couple of times, which will be just fine.

Chances are, they'll be the better for it.

All events in Rupp Arena

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

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

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

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