Despite Kentucky’s loss at Alabama Tuesday night, ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale says no one should be disappointed by what the Wildcats have done this year.
The No. 12 Wildcats are 14-4 — 2-2 in Southeastern Conference play — heading into Saturday night’s game at South Carolina. UK is 0-2 in SEC road games.
“When you look at Kentucky, it has been a rollercoaster ride and probably will continue to be one. With all the new players he has, it’s really a hard thing to keep winning at the level John (Calipari) has been,” Vitale said Thursday. “John and I talk often and we disagree on this, but it’s hard to win a national title when you have five or more new faces every year.
“He’s won a lot and this team is very, very talented. They play hard, play with intensity most of the time. But they are like Notre Dame in football. People want to beat them bad, and young kids sometimes have trouble understanding that.”
Vitale related how both Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski and former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz always told them about the motivational challenge Calipari now faces at Kentucky.
“Mike always tells me at Duke that one of his biggest jobs is convincing his payers everybody will play them like they are No. 1. Lou Holtz told me the same thing when he was coaching football at Notre Dame,” Vitale said. “Now John has the same issue at Kentucky, especially after the team he had last year and the recruits he has brought in. What happens is with the success John and Kentucky have both had, everybody steps up their game to play them just like Alabama did.
“John is a terrific coach. But his kids sometimes just don’t understand how they have to play. He is a wonderful teacher. If he could build the programs he did at UMass and Memphis, there’s no telling what he’s going to do at Kentucky. But with the one-and-done rule and the way he recruits at Kentucky, he will always have issues with continuity and having kids understanding just how much teams want to beat Kentucky.”
Vitale does believe Kentucky will still contend for the Southeastern Conference championship and be a dangerous team at NCAA tourney time.
“They have talent and they can shoot the 3-point shot. They have issues — depth and inside play — but John knows that and they’ll get better,” Vitale said.
The ESPN analyst also knows help is on the way for the Wildcats with another No. 1 recruiting class Calipari has assembled.
“I did see Michael Gilchrist (of Philadelphia) play recently, He has speed and toughness. He’s really a physical player. He’s going to be great for John,” Vitale said. “So is Marquis Teague (of Indianapolis). They are incredible players, just like the great ones he’s been bringing to Kentucky.”
Vitale also wonders what Kentucky would have been like this year if Daniel Orton had not opted to leave for the NBA — where he was a first-round pick — after playing only sparingly as a freshman at Kentucky last season.
“I just wish we had a rule where if a kid like John Wall was good enough for the NBA out of high school, he could go. If he didn’t, then he had to stay three years in school,” Vitale said. “Then kids good enough could move on immediately and others would stay in school. Think if Kentucky had Daniel Orton back this year. What a difference that would make, and he should still be in college, not the NBA. He wasn’t ready, but you can’t blame him for taking advantage of the system.”
Vitale also has not backed off his criticism of the NCAA for ruling UK freshman Enes Kanter of Turkey “permanently ineligible” because of excessive funding his parents received from a Turkish club team before he came to prep school in the United States.
“Don’t get me started on Kanter. The NCAA was totally incorrect on that. Why couldn’t he pay back the money like Josh Selby (of Kansas) did. Cam Newton’s father was out selling him, and he got to play (for Auburn). Then you had the (football) kids at Ohio State, who were ruled ineligible for next year but got to play in the bowl game. Give me a break,” Vitale said.
“It was totally incorrect what the NCAA did to Kanter. He was 16. Let him and his parents pay back the money and have him sit out a year and then be eligible. It’s just hard to comprehend what they did to him. Aren’t we supposed to be trying to help kids?
“He wanted to go to college and we are forcing him to leave school. It’s just not right. That’s not out of loyalty to John or because I love Kentucky basketball. It’s about what is right for a kid and this just was not right.”