The number one pick in last week’s NBA draft — former Kentucky hoops star Anthony Davis — suffered a severely sprained ankle in a workout with his new pro team on Saturday and might have to miss the Olympics as a result. That’s bad luck for the New Orleans Hornets and Team USA. It also draws attention to the good fortune John Calipari has had as Kentucky’s coach.
Now before any blue-blooded Wildcat fan starts with the ugly emails and comments, wait for the explanation. Has UK had good luck under Coach Cal? So much so you’d think he was born in field of four-leaf clovers. Does that mean luck sent the Cats to an Elite Eight, a Final Four, and then to a national title during Calipari’s first three seasons? No.
To win, you’ve got to have some luck on your side. The ball has to bounce your way on occasion (to use line that’s tossed out more than on occasion). You have to have good team chemistry. And you have to avoid major injuries.
For Kentucky, that’s been the case during their quick rise back to the top of the basketball mountain. And it’s all happened as Calipari has invented a new kind of program — the kind built and sustained with a revolving door of one-and-doners. Think about this for a second:
* Calipari has done a tremendous job of getting the top signees in America to play defense. Getting freshmen to D up the way UK has is unusual, it’s remarkable and it’s a credit to the school’s coach. But at some point, it’s likely that he’ll land some class that won’t be as defensive-minded as his first three.
* Perhaps more amazing is the fact that the superstar teenagers Calipari has brought to Lexington have all been willing to put team first. These are the top prospects in America Kentucky signs. They’re used to being fawned over and coddled. They’re used to be going the go-to guy on the high school and AAU teams. They’re used to being the show. Yet Calipari has managed to sell each class on his team concept. He’s been able to quickly determine which blue chippers have the attitude necessary to buy what he’s selling. And, to an extent, he’s also been lucky that no one yet has damaged team chemistry by saying, “I need more shots.” To date, no one player has squawked enough to create issues with the squad as a whole. At some point, again, it’s probable that Calipari won’t be able to find a class of five selfless true freshmen and transfers.
* Finally, Kentucky has avoided major injuries during their rapid rise. The fact that Davis left UK and almost immediately suffered a severely sprained ankle illuminates the fact that nothing like that happened while in Lexington. No blown out knees. No ankles that take the team’s top player — Davis, for example — out of the line-up for an extended stretch of games. All championship caliber teams need some luck to stay healthy and UK has had that luck when it comes to their most important players.
None of this is to discredit in any way what Calipari or his Wildcats have done the last three years. In fact, with six players just drafted and several more draftees likely next summer, all signs point to continued SEC and national dominance by the Cats. Hell, when the coach himself says his next goal is coaching an undefeated season, you know your program’s on a roll.
But one of these years, some breaks won’t go Calipari’s way. Eventually, he’ll sign a squad that won’t or can’t defend as well as he’d like. One day he’ll bring in a kid who does want the spotlight and will scuttle team chemistry. And at some point — like every other school out there — Kentucky will have one of its main stars go down to injury. Those things are bound to happen.
The fact that we’re talking about everything coming together to slow the Kentucky train is telling in itself. How many coaches and fans across the country and in the SEC in particular look forward to the year when everything comes together to help create a magical run? In Lexington, that magic has been the norm and only the inevitable bad break or two will lead to a bust of a season.
Enjoy it Cat fans. The coach, the players, and the breaks are all in Kentucky’s favor these days.
Just ask Anthony Davis and his bum ankle.