Kentucky will be different next season, Coach John Calipari said Thursday. Not the difference between good and bad. Just a different kind of good.
"I feel good about it," Calipari said of next season at a belated news conference wrapping up this past season. "I just think we'll be different. Kind of excited about it."
Calipari mused about how Kentucky might use more pick-and-roll action or might be more of a dribble-drive team.
There is an abundance of talent, especially compared to the average college team. It's just that the cup might not overflow in as big of a waterfall as it did this past season, when Kentucky had a record nine McDonald's All-Americans, plus Willie Cauley-Stein.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
Calipari touted the diversity of talent on UK's team in 2015-16.
"I think we have a little bit of everything, again," he said. "There's no one like anyone else on the team. There's no two guys that are, like, similar. Every guy is different and has their own thing."
Calipari noted the benefit of each player adding a distinct skill set to the mix instead of, say, two players getting in each other's way.
"They can worry about being the best version of themselves," he said. "And they don't have to worry about anybody else. Just be at your best, and that's going to be good enough for us and that player."
Kentucky loses its top seven scorers from last season. That's a lot even by Calipari's revolving door standards as UK coach. The closest example of a total restocking came in 2012-13, when Kentucky moved forward without the top six scorers from the previous season. (See list below). With relatively little wiggle room, Nerlens Noel's torn anterior cruciate ligament doomed the Cats to an NIT berth at season's end.
Calipari shared a message he said he delivered to Dom inique Hawkins and Derek Willis, veterans who have yet to establish themselves as regular contributors.
First, you must believe. Then you must work to convert faith in self into playing time.
"Don't come here not expecting to play," Calipari said he told Hawkins and Willis in regard to next season. "You expect to play. And then you make that happen. You fight for that spot. You improve your skills."
Then Calipari acted out both sides of a two-way coach-player conversation about a seeming chicken-and-egg dilemma involving playing time and production. Does increased playing time produce a more confident player, or does a more confident/prepared player lead the coach to enhance a player's role?
"'Well, if I just had more time,'" a player might suggest, according to Calipari.
To which the coach responds, "No, you'd just be bad for more time. It isn't about more time. It's you earn your minutes.'"
Calipari said he didn't mean to single out Hawkins and Willis. He was talking about any player who wanted more playing time.
"'Well, if I just got more time,'" this player might say.
"Really?" Calipari said. "What would you be now? O-for-12, now?"
The player would respond, "Well, you know, I wouldn't be afraid to make a mistake."
To which, Calipari would respond, "Really? Or would you just make twice as many mistakes?"
Calipari said Willis has matured in his two UK years.
Now, Willis "should not feel anxiety," the UK coach said. "(He) should be able to come back and lead a group of young players who are pretty good."
Kentucky's reliance on so-called one-and-done players can put a stigma on players who stay more than one season, Calipari acknowledged.
"He and Dom are on like a normal college path," the UK coach said of Willis. "I mean, first couple years, you don't play a whole lot. You try to bust through your third year. And you're trying to make sure your senior year you're fulfilling your own dreams.
"But they're on a normal path. For some reason here, it doesn't seem normal. But it's normal."
Point guard Tyler Ulis, whom Calipari described as a "pit bull" and "bothersome," played more than any returning player. Alex Poythress is progressing in his rehabilitation from a torn ACL.
Of the incoming freshmen, Calipari likened Skal Labissiere to former stars Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and Marcus Camby: a player with ball-handling skills as well as height.
Calipari said his first impression upon seeing Labissiere four years ago was, "He used to be a guard."
Labissiere must become more of a rim protector at UK.
History suggests the pieces will come together next season to form another good Kentucky.
"I think this team can be crazy," Calipari said.