John Calipari said his Kentucky Basketball team was “outhustled and outworked,” in the 67-62 loss to Baylor on Friday night. The Cats were out-rebounded 41-25, recorded zero steals, and faltered down the stretch despite having a 9-point advantage in the second half. The talent on this team remains palpable but so is their inability carry themselves with confidence, evidenced by the team’s poor collective body language. In contrast, I remember watching 2009 freshman teammates John Wall and Eric Bledsoe throw up “three googles,” after every three-pointer they hit. They would grin ear to ear while back peddling to the other end of the court. They had plenty of confidence, there was no head hanging. 2012 freshman teammates Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had quiet confidence. They didn’t bark at the refs after every call, they seemed to simply know they would win the game, and very likely a championship, regardless of what calls the refs made. Anthony Davis also adopted one of the most self-deprecating nicknames in the history of all sports, “the brow.” Do you think he lacked confidence?
What these players shared in common is they didn’t carry themselves like freshman, which of course, they were. They had the moxie to be leaders at the ripe age of 18, which is the exception more than the rule. Which begs the question, can you win in the one and done game if there aren’t any Anthony Davis’ or John Walls’ available in the class for Calipari to recruit in the first place? There will be plenty of number one recruiting classes that don’t have a talent like Anthony Davis or John Wall. It’s far too early to judge this 2013 team. They have the talent to win the rest of the games on their schedule. There also could be future NBA all stars on the team; Julius Randle, among others, certainly has the skills. The problem is these youngsters aren’t being judged on potential, they are being judged by the win-loss column. As freshmen, they are expected to develop at hyper speed while playing under a microscope. It becomes a risky game to rely on recruiting eighteen year-olds that have enough talent and maturity to thrive in this environment.
A glance at what some of Kentucky’s recent freshman are doing in the NBA is indicative of their supreme talent. First overall pick of the 2010 NBA Draft, John Wall is averaging 19.8 points and 9.6 assists for the Washington Wizards. He’s becoming one of the best point guards in the game and he’s far from his prime. Fellow first overall pick Anthony Davis was averaging 18.8 ppg, 10.2 rpg per game and nearly 4 blocks a game when he broke his arm last week. These are numbers that will land you in the NBA All-Star game if not the MVP discussion. Small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who was merely the second overall pick, plays shut down defense for the Charlotte Bobcats while averaging 9.6 ppg and 6 rpg. Eric Bledsoe was recently transitioned from point guard to shooting guard and is scoring nearly 20 a night for the Phoenix Suns. Bledsoe too, is playing like an all-star at the NBA level.
Did these guys simply set too high of a bar for these current UK hoopsters? There is a flaw in the logic that the 2013 Kentucky freshman should be ranked higher on paper than either the 2009 or 2012 class, along with the prediction they would go 40-0. Those classes had once (OK, twice) in a generation type talents. Having said this, I think Kentucky fans, while not always known for their rational behavior, would be more inclined to cut the current team a break if they looked like they were playing their hearts out. According to their coach, they weren’t on Friday. They don’t have to play as well as Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, John Wall, or Eric Bledsoe but they may want to start playing like them. The young Cats have plenty of time to put it together, but they will need to grow up fast.