"They're using a really unique concept. When they see an open man, they pass it to him."
That was the refreshingly concise analysis from ESPN's Jay Bilas on last Sunday's "College Gameday Scoreboard," after Kentucky defeated Baylor 82-70 to advance to its second straight Final Four.
"The stereotype of the guys leaving early for the draft is that they're thinking about themselves. I don't think there's a selfish player on the Kentucky team," Bilas added on that show.
Speaking of refreshing, did you catch CBS analyst Charles Barkley on last Saturday's studio show, decrying the double standard when it comes to Calipari and the so-called one-and-done players? Barkley accurately pointed out that Duke has a player leaving after one season for the second year in a row and there's no drumbeat of criticism of the program doing something to damage the college game.
Most would agree "one-and-done" is a bad rule for college basketball, John Calipari included. But it's up to the NBA to make the change. Until they do, wouldn't it be refreshing to see a take that says 'this is a flawed system but at least Calipari is the most honest with his kids about operating within that flawed system and consequently, they pay him back by playing as a team on the court and fulfilling their academic obligations off the court. That's making the best of a bad situation.' That is the fact. And if the pro game doesn't work out, those players are welcomed back at the University of Kentucky, with financial aid, to pursue an academic goal, if they so choose. Players know who is "real" with them and who isn't and you can tell by their actions that they trust Calipari is looking out for their best interests.
The 3-point shot changed the game and the coaches who were the best early-adapters flourished. This rule changed the landscape of recruiting and Calipari is one of, if not THE best at understanding this and adapting himself as a coach to succeed in this environment.
ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes says Calipari is outstanding at finding the right players for his program.
"I think he's as good as there is in the college game right now at doing that. He just has a great way of communicating with those kids, just how he gets his point across. Not everyone can do it, take that highly talented player and get them to play hard. I think he does that as well as anyone in the college game right now. That sounds easy to do but it ain't," Dykes told tomleachky.com.
"There's no reason to be scared of them as long as you do your homework. John has never brought anyone into his program that's a one-year player that is going to be a selfish teammate, making sure they understand that 'if you come and play for me for one year, it's going to be how I want you to do it' and he holds them to it," he added.
UK point guard Marquis Teague says "age really doesn't matter." But he also acknowledged at the pre-Elite Eight media session that the Wildcats are aware of the criticism of their coach's approach.
"We're aware of it. We hear it all the time, that young guys can't get it done. But we feel like we can get it done," Teague said, "if we just go out and play our game."
"Times have changed and freshmen and sophomores have become what juniors and seniors used to be," CBS analyst Steve Kerr told "The Leach Report" radio show. "I give John Calipari a ton of credit. You judge coaches on how hard their teams play and do they play together and Kentucky's got both. Even with their youth, they've got the right stuff."
"I think it speaks volumes about the young men and it speaks about the way coach Calipari has been able to manage and lead (them)," said former Wildcat Jamal Mashburn, who covered UK in the SEC Tournament while serving as an analyst for the Westwood One Radio Network. "These guys have done a great job of understanding the tradition of University of Kentucky basketball and what it's about. It's not about glorifying the star as it is about glorying the unit to win a national championship. Coach Calipari has done an outstanding job. He understands the pressures of being the coach and he keeps the pressure off the kids."
Terrence Jones recently joined an exclusive club, becoming only the fifth player to join UK's 1,000-point club in only two seasons. Going into the Indiana game on Friday night, he ranks 55th all-time.
The others are Bill Spivey (38th), Rex Chapman (50th), Bob Burrow (56th) and Ron Mercer (57th).
And Doron Lamb can become the sixth two-year player to notch that achievement. He needs 49 points to do it. Indiana connections
With Kentucky facing the Hoosiers tonight, it's worth noting that the 1,000-point club includes three former Indiana high school stars: Louie Dampier, Kyle Macy and Jim Master.
While Marquis Teague stay at UK long enough to become the fourth?
There is another interesting Hoosier state angle for tonight's matchup.
Kentucky's record against Indiana in NCAA Tournament play is 2-1 and both wins featured an Indiana native in the starting lineup (Mike Flynn in 1975 and Master in 1983).
Strickland compares Davis to NBA MVP
There are many qualities about Anthony Davis that draw praise, but there's one comparison to one of John Calipari's all-time best proteges: Derrick Rose.
"He (Davis) reminds me of Derrick Rose in his temperament," said Rod Strickland, a special assistant to Coach Cal, on the coach's weekly UK-IMG Network radio show last Monday. "I've never seen either one of them get flustered."
Cats need to negate physical play now more than ever
"That doesn't guarantee success, but it gives you your best opportunity."
That's what coach Calipari says about a team "peaking" at tournament time. Calipari says his strategy for having his team at its best involves both physical and mental components.
"Let's have fresh minds and fresh legs. Let's not overwhelm them with tape, let's not overwhelm them with practice. Let's get them together so they're family and get them to rely on each other. Right now, it's March and we're playing pretty well," said Calipari.
He notes that the message in recent weeks has been for his players to focus on playing "harder, faster, sharper." And Calipari says they must understand that every opponent is in a do-or-die mode.
"Teams are going to play desperate. The season's over (if they lose). Yes, we're everybody's Super Bowl (during the season) but they also know they have more games left if they don't win--so sometimes they'll give up on a game with a couple of minutes to go. No one will now," Calipari explained. "They're going to play physically because their life depends on it. You have to negate physical play."
Road success no guarantee in tourney
Success in true road games is one stat some pundits will cite at March Madness time, in an effort to identify teams that will do well. But CBS college basketball writer Gary Parrish says it is overrated.
"Last year's Final Four teams, all of them combined, had a losing record in road games. Yes, winning on the road, says something about a team," Parrish said, "but just because you can't win on the road doesn't mean you can't win in the NCAA Tournament."
Friday night's Kentucky-Indiana matchup in the NCAA South Regional in Atlanta will mark the 55th all-time meeting between these border state rivals with the richest of roundball traditions. So this is as good a time as any to take a look at my top 10 most memorable games from the rivalry:
10. January, 1993. A top-ranked Kentucky team rained down 16 three's on Indiana and held on for an 81-78 victory at Rupp Arena.
Jamal Mashburn and Travis Ford led the way for UK, each scoring 29 points and combining for 13 of those three-point baskets. 9. December, 1987. 43,000 fans packed the Hoosier Dome to see the first installment of the short-lived Big Four event. No.2 Kentucky defeated No. 5 Indiana 82-76 in overtime as the guard combo of Ed Davender and Rex Chapman led UK with 22 and 20 points, respectively. 8. December, 1991. This one is notable because it marked the final Kentucky-Indiana game called by legendary UK radio voice Cawood Ledford. IU coach Bob Knight presented Ledford with a gift before the game and it's a good thing because he probably wasn't in a giving mood afterward.
Fourteenth-ranked Kentucky knocked off the ninth-ranked Hoosiers 76-74 in front of 34,000 fans at the Hoosier Dome. Jamal Mashburn led the Cats with 21 and Deron Feldhaus added 19 as UK ended a three-game losing streak to Indiana. 7. December, 2002. Keith Bogans led the way with 17 points as Kentucky knocked off sixth-ranked Indiana 70-64 at Freedom Hall, but it wasn't a player that did the most memorable thing on the court.
It was IU coach Mike Davis, who leaped off the bench and stormed to the free-throw line, protesting a non-call on a Bracey Wright shot. Official Bert Smith did his best to keep from having to call a game-altering technical foul on Davis but the Hoosier coach wouldn't back down and he was ejected from the game. 6. December, 1969. This marked the start of the annual meetings between the Cats and the Hoosiers and the Dan Issel-Mike Pratt combo powered the top-ranked Wildcats to a 109-92 win at Memorial Coliseum.
Issel poured in 32 points and grabbed 19 rebounds and Pratt contributed 21 to the UK victory.
5. December, 1965. Kentucky and Indiana met for the first time in 21 years in the title game of the annual UK Invitational Tournament at Memorial Coliseum.
Neither team was ranked, although the UK team that came to be known as "Rupp's Runts" would eventually work its way to the top of the national polls. Indianapolis native Louie Dampier paced the Cats with 28 points while Pat Riley added 21 points and 15 rebounds. Also, another native Hoosier, Tommy Kron, had a double-double with 10 points and 11 boards. 4. December, 1979. Indiana brought a No. 1 ranking into Rupp Arena but left with a 69-58 loss to Joe Hall's Wildcats.
Kyle Macy led a balanced UK attack with 12 points. Jay Shidler and Lavon Williams added 11 each as the Kentucky defense forced IU into 17-for-49 shooting.
3. December, 1996. The "Air Pair" took flight, handing Bob Knight his worst loss ever in the series against Kentucky (perhaps one of the reasons he can't seem to find his way to mention the name "Kentucky" in his ESPN analysis of the tournament).
Derek Anderson erupted for 30 points, including a thunderous baseline dunk, and Ron Mercer added 26 as the Wildcats routed the Hoosiers 99-65 at Freedom Hall.
2. March, 1983. This is the last time UK and Indiana met on the NCAA Tournament trail and the No. 12 Cats punched their tickets into the "Dream Game" matchup with Louisville by beating the fifth-ranked Hoosiers 65-59 at the old Stokely Athletic Center in Knoxville, TN.
Melvin Turpin had 16 to lead the Cats and Indiana native Jim Master added 12.
1. March, 1975. Was there any doubt what my most memorable game in this series would be?
Kentucky had lost to the undefeated Hoosiers by 24 in December in Bloomington but legend has it that Coach Hall used his pregame talk in the locker room to explain details of the celebration that would come AFTER his team had upset the top-ranked Hoosiers. And they went out and did it - by a score of 92-90 - with Indiana native Mike Flynn scoring a team-high 22 points. Fellow guard Jimmy Dan Conner added 17, as did Kevin Grevey, and both Conner and Flynn each notched five assists.
It is worth nothing that both of UK's NCAA wins over Indiana came after the Hoosiers had won the regular season matchup in Bloomington.
When most coaches become TV analysts, they do a good job imparting their expertise from the standpoint of X's and O's but a rare few bring something more to the table with their "feel" for the game. Al McGuire was that kind of analyst and that "feel" led to some unique insights.
Veteran Associated Press college basketball writer Jim O'Connell got to know McGuire from covering his Marquette teams and one McGuire-isms came to his mind as he watched the final seconds of Kentucky's 71-64 SEC Tournament final loss to Vanderbilt tick away.
"What I thought of, with about a minute to go in the game, was Coach Al McGuire. (He) really believed, and I talked to him privately about this, that it's good for a team to lose a game right before the NCAA Tournament," O'Connell said this week on "The Leach Report" radio show.
"You don't want to go in with a double-figure winning streak because it puts more pressure (on your team). I started thinking about that and Coach McGuire would be sitting there saying 'this will be good for Kentucky,'" O'Connell continued. "A winning streak is a really big thing to have around your neck. Good coaches turn that into something positive. If you're going to look at the glass is half-full, then it was a good thing. If you're going to look at the glass half-empty, then there's something bad going on. It's how the coach and the team handles it. I know people hate to lose games but if you're going to lose a game, that's not a bad one to lose."
Kentucky fans have seized on some historical angles after the Cats' loss in New Orleans last Sunday. First, the 1996 national champions lost the SEC Tourney title game - in New Orleans no loss - and the 1951 champs lost the league tourney title to Vanderbilt. Those might be comforting for fans, but in reality, each team and each season is its own unique entity.
The challenge for this young Kentucky team is to use that loss as a means of sharpening its focus on the kind of attention to detail that it takes to win close games. And if the bracket analysts are right, the Cats might face a few of those if they make a championship run.
There seems to be a consensus that even though it is the NCAA Tournament's overall No. 1 seed, the Wildcats face the toughest path to the Final Four. And O'Connell says there's good reason to believe that's true, in part because some teams might well be better than their numbers indicate.
"You're putting them in based on the numbers that they have for what they did, who they played, who they beat. But that doesn't necessarily translate into what reality is on the court. You look at a team like Connecticut. They're just a different team than they were two weeks ago," he said. "The games in the Big East Tournament, they looked like (the real) UConn. You're playing a totally different team than the one the computer tells you you're playing. Iowa State is coming on and Wichita State is a really underrated team. Centers that can make a difference are rare in college basketball but Garrett Stutz (of Witchita State) is a legitimate seven-footer who has really gotten better."
Indiana's Cody Zeller is another potentially challenging big man that could show in Kentucky's path. On the other side of the bracket, O'Connell leans toward Duke because he says Baylor has been an enigma to him.
"Baylor, I can't figure them out. There are nights where it looks like they met for the first time and put on really good uniforms," he said.
"If you just look at it (the South Region) as a numbers geek, you'd say it's okay (for UK). But the people who taught me about the NCAA Tournament, guys like Coach (Dave) Gavitt and Coach (C.M.) Newton, said 'use the eye test.' The question you always ask is, 'do you want to play these guys?'" observed O'Connell. "And I think Kentucky has more of those teams that fall into that 'I don't want to play them' than any other bracket."
You've heard John Calipari praise Marquis Teague for his evolution at the point guard spot and how important that improvement has been to UK's success this season. All ESPN's Dan Shulman can say is "amen."
Shulman saw the Cats early, when he and Dick Vitale worked the Kentucky-Kansas game in mid-November in New York, and he saw them three months later while working the game at Vandy. And Shulman noticed a major change.
"I remember the Kansas game. In the first half, he was all over the place, trying to make spectacular plays. Over the course of the season, his game has evolved," said Shulman on "The Leach Report" radio show. "He's looking at himself as more of a distributor and less of a flashy scorer and understanding the role a point guard has to have on a championship team."
Shulman is also an excellent baseball play-by-play announcer and he turned to that sport to analogize the difference he saw in Teague.
"He was trying to hit home runs at the beginning of the year and all he needs to do is get base hits. He's got so many weapons on the floor with him and if he tries to do it all himself, not only is it not in his best interest but it makes the other people around him worse," said Shulman.
"I think for Kentucky to be the favorite to win the national championship,two things have to happen," he said. "Teague has to distribute the ball--which I think he will--and Terrence Jones has to play like he can. To me, Terrence Jones is the single biggest "X" factor in the country. If he's on his game, I don't know if anybody can beat them."
Darius Miller can do something this weekend only other Wildcat has done--win consecutive MVP awards at the SEC Tournament.
Travis Ford captured the honor when the Cats won the tourney title in 1993 and '94.
Does a fat lady sweat at a dance?"
That was Ashley Judd's answer, when asked if she plans on following her beloved Cats to the SEC Tournament in New Orleans this weekend.
Judd's new TV series "Missing" debuts on ABC the next week, on March 15, the same night that Kentucky might well be playing in the NCAA Tournament's second round. If that happens, Judd says she'll be watching the game and recording her series' debut.
And watching a game with Judd is not something one does casually. When she was attending Harvard, she invited some classmates to watch a Kentucky game--on the condition that there were serious enough about college hoops to pass her test (remember the movie "Diner," when a potential groom required his fiancee to pass a test on Baltimore Colts knowledge?).
"This is not a trivial, light, 'let's watch a little basketball and talk about school' (event). You must be a Kentucky fan and if you can satisfactorily the following questions, you quality to come to my house and watch the games with me," Judd told them and young man from Berea aced the test. "He became my basketball buddy that year."
What was the test like?
"The first one was really easy--who was the MVP of the Final Four in 1996. Another one was what was Jeff Sheppard's vertical leap coming out of high school. It was 42 inches. I wanted someone who watches basketball the way I do. I don't mess around," Judd said.
"These guys knew each other coming in and they had a plan coming in and they've done it so far."
Junior Jon Hood observed that mindset in UK's four-man freshman class during pickup games last summer, before Hood suffered his season-ending knee injury. While watching from the sidelines during his rehab, Hood has watched this group grow into a juggernaut.
"They've kept their egos in check. Nobody complains about playing time or shots," he said. "Anthony Davis takes the fifth-most shots on our team and he doesn't complain.
"Going into SEC Tournament, we always have this swagger that we're going to win. I think any time you hear the word 'tournament,' as a player, you want to win. In reality, it really doesn't matter. (But) these three games in three days could be a tuneup thing," Hood added.
As good as the underclassmen are, Hood says there is a deference to senior Darius Miller and that is a role that Miller is relishing.
"He loves being the leader. Darius plays when coach wants him to play and he gets things done," Hood noted. "Winning time has turned into 'Miller time' here. He always seems to do things right. He's grown in that leadership role in the time that I've been here. He's more of a leader and he's more confident. He doesn't want to let the team lose. He takes a lot of the weight when stuff happens."
It's hard to lead without followers and Hood says he has been impressed by how focused this group has been from the start.
"They listen better than any team I've ever seen. We listened well as freshman and we listened really well last year. We're up there with last year as far as that (goes). If we play good basketball for 40 minutes," Hood said, "I don't think anybody can beat us."
As a Kentuckian, Hood knows there's a segment of the Big Blue Nation that always seems to be in a worrying mode. This season, they debate whether or not this 30-1 Kentucky team "needs" to take a loss to avoid the pressure of a long winning streak heading into NCAA Tournament play. Hood is not buying into that line of thinking.
"Teams that need a loss don't have mental toughness. They can't concentrate, they can't focus. We have one thing on our minds. It's not the NBA, it's not the SEC Tournament," he explained. "It's that we all want a championship ring. We're trying to win a national title and we're trying harder than anyone else in the country."
Hood helps out in practice and is able to offer a veteran presence but he would love nothing more than to be playing a role on that court. But he's optimistic about returning to action, within a couple of months.
"It's going good," Hood said of his rehabilitation from the knee surgery. "About 80 to 85 percent back, depending on the day. You wake up and it's rainy and cold and the knee hurts a little. They're going to let me go in May and start playing pickup (games)."
And soon after that, he'll be able to gauge the next group of superstar freshman and thinking about how he'll have to lead them as a fourth-year redshirt junior next winter.
Back in December, after Anthony Davis' game-saving block in the win over North Carolina, veteran college basketball writer Chris Dortch send out a tweet that quickly went viral--"could Davis be (John Calipari's) best player ever?"
"I didn't realize D-Rose (Derrick Rose) had so many fans," Dortch said of the reaction to his suggestion.
Back then, nobody was talking about Davis as a national player of the year but now he and Kansas' Thomas Robinson are vying for favoritism for those kinds of honors.
For those like Dortch who favor Davis as POY, it's about impact. Dortch, longtime editor of the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, says points are "not a true measure" of what Davis does to put his mark on the games.
"I don't think there's a more impactful player in the country than Anthony Davis," said Dortch. "He just impacts the game in a way that incalculable. If you look at his blocks, and then the shots that he alters, and then the 'reconsiders' (of shots), then he's preventing more than he's scoring and that means he's worth to his team, somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 points per game. I don't think there's another player impacting his team's score and the other team's score to the tune of 35 points per game."
No doubt one of the reasons "The Artist" won the Oscar for Best Picture was it was unique. Sometimes, in a competition with other worthy rivals, one entity stands out as exceptional or memorable or one-of-a-kind. That's the case one can make for Davis.
"I voted for him for number one," CBS college basketball writer Gary Parrish said of their website's recent survey. "I don't think there's anything wrong with putting Thomas Robinson there right now. He's a deserving number one but when I talk to college basketball coaches, the things they say about Robinson, they could say about (any top player in any year). When you talk to coaches about Davis, they say you've near heard. 'He changes the way we have to play, he changes the sport. He's a one-in-a-generation-type guy. He's a freak.'
"Forget how many shots he blocks, what about the shots not taken because he's there?" Parrish continued. "He's the most talented player on the best team in the country and the impact he has on the game is enough to make him the national player-of-the-year. If I were betting, I think ultimately it's going to be Anthony. He's been everything they said he'd be."
John Wall won the Adolph Rupp Award in 2010 and that's the only one of the national POY awards currently being given out that was ever won by a Wildcat. If Davis wins the Associated Press honor, he'll have the lowest scoring average of anyone who has ever won it.
"He's a very humble person and a very hungry person," said teammate Darius Miller. "He never complains about getting the ball. If you watch the games, we don't run a bunch of sets for him and he doesn't complain about that. He's one of the best teammates I've had."
Kentucky's most famous fan, Ashley Judd, has taken notice of the respect Davis has within his own team.
"I think we have a bunch of stars and yet they play as a team. There seems to be a lot of joy that the guys experience in each other's talents. There's a lot of support of each player's individual excellence. Anthony Davis is one of the most remarkable players in a lifetime and you see his teammates loving that and admiring that in him," Judd told "The Leach Report" radio show.
"Him (Davis) and Kidd-Gilchrist are both unique for freshmen," Dortch said. "They can give a doggone about the stats. They just care about the 'Ws'. You just don't see two freshmen of that caliber on the same team that are on the same page, in terms of 'team' before 'me.' That just isn't seen these days. These guys are rare and unique."
Davis has set an otherworldly pace when it comes to blocking shots. He could also be the first Kentucky player since Kenny Walker in the mid 80's to average 10 or more rebounds per game. But as is the case with Dortch, it's something that doesn't show up in the stats that most impresses UK radio network analyst Mike Pratt--Davis' hands.
"Just put it in the area code," Pratt said of passes directed to Davis. "You don't even have to have the right number."
Dortch adds that Davis' demeanor is also impressive.
"He was a 6-2 shooting guard hoping to latch on with a mid-major as a shooting guard. Nobody had any idea he'd get this tall this quickly and he views it as a gift," said Dortch. "He was brought up well and he's not going to squander this gift and it's fun to watch."
"I think Kentucky is the only stumbling block to Kentucky. They're so much better than everybody else right now."
That's the take of CBS college basketball writer Gary Parrish.
"I talked to a coach (who has played Kentucky) after that Vanderbilt game and he said 'unless Anthony Davis gets in foul trouble, they ain't losin'. Not only has John recruited a top-notch roster, but he's got them playing together. He's got them playing with a purpose," Parrish said on "The Leach Report" radio show. "I don't think team is flawed like maybe some of his (Calipari's) past teams. Even that 2008 at Memphis, they didn't have a shooter. The John Wall-DeMarcus Cousins team (at UK) didn't have a shooter. I don't see this team doing one of those two-of-17 from three-point range. The only way they slip up is something out of the ordinary--somebody hits 10 three-pointers."
Parrish says when the brackets are unveiled, he'll "put Kentucky in the middle as national champion and work (back) from there." SEC Network analyst on UK's progression
SEC TV Network analyst Joe Dean, Jr. brings an interesting perspective to Kentucky's evolution this season. That's because the first UK game he worked was in mid-January at Auburn and the second was last Saturday, against Ole Miss. He says two things stood out to him in comparing those two performances.
"One was their zone offense because they're going to see a lot of zone. I thought they really attacked the Ole Miss zone very well. They had played against a zone at Auburn and really struggled a little," Dean told "The Leach Report" earlier this week. "The second thing is the improvement of Marquis Teague. He has really taken to John Calipari's coaching. Very impressed with that young man and what he's doing to run the Kentucky team." Cats elite on offense too
For all of the worthy praise for the Wildcats' defense, Kentucky is the only team that ranks in the top five in points-per-possession on offense, too.
And Coach Cal's squad went into the Mississippi State game hitting 48.7 percent of its shots, a level topped by only the 2003 and 1987 teams in the shot clock era (since '87). No Kentucky team has hit 50 percent or better from the field during that span.
Davis POY candidacy unprecedented
Anthony Davis is making a strong bid to become the first consensus National Player of the Year in UK history. John Wall won the Rupp Trophy two years ago but the rest of the POY awards went to Ohio State's Evan Turner.
If Davis wins the Associated Press' POY award, he will likely set a record for the lowest scoring average.
Georgetown's Patrick Ewing averaged 14.6 points per game when he won the honor in 1984 and since Shane Battier's win in 2001, every AP National Player of the Year has averaged better than 20 per game.
Davis is currently averaging just under 14 points per game.
And he is also on pace to become the first UK freshman to finish in the top five in points, rebounds and steals.
Big Blue Nation - and the rest of the nation, too - got a behind-the-scenes look at a Kentucky basketball practice this week. ESPN's Jay Bilas got that opportunity earlier this season and fans may find it interesting to compare their takes with what Bilas observed then.
"The thing that's different between Cal's practices is his personality. Every coach has a different personality and runs things differently," Bilas said. "It's not like the drills are drastically different or that there is some secret that Kentucky has that nobody knows about. The best coaches are the ones who get their teams to do the simple things well together. John is one of the best coaches in the game, period at any level.
"The more competitive you can be in practice, the sharper you can be throughout the duration of a season. I think what coaches are dealing with right now is not having enough bodies so your first few may be playing against a second unit that is nowhere near as good and that affects how competitive they can be, how sharp they are, how much resistance there can be. Some teams don't have 10 really good players." Davis' impact not limited to defense
Anthony Davis has had a tremendous impact on the game at the defensive end from day one of this season. But now, his offensive presence is causing increasingly more problems for opponents.
"It's good because you can't really just play him, because of the rest of our guys. And for the rest of our guys, you can't just play him one-on-one. If you leave him, we're dunking, dunking, dunking," coach John Calipari said in a recent pregame interview on the UK radio network, adding the opponents' fear of the lobs to Davis opens up other areas of the court for the rest of the team.
"You get middle lane, which you wouldn't have. The (rest of) the players are helping him and he's helping them." Jones reasserting himself
"He knows what he felt like three or four weeks ago and he knows what he feels like now."
That's Calipari's explanation for the recent resurgence of sophomore Terrence Jones.
"It doesn't mean he's going to play great every night but his mentality of being aggressive and going after balls and aggressively attacking the rim - he and Darius both," Caipari said. "It makes us a different team."
Jones' free-throw shooting has shown marked improvement of late and Calipari says Jones is being more accountable to his teammates in that area. Cal says the rest of the players don't have to run for the free throws they miss as long as Jones makes 80 percent or better on his free throw attempts. Long-time AP reporter impressed by Cats
Veteran Associated Press college basketball writer Jim O'Connell watches probably more basketball than any media member in any given season. And even though he didn't cover the UK win at Vandy, he still came away with an even stronger opinion about how good this Wildcat team is.
"The best thing that happened to them was they lost the lead (at Vandy) and you get to see how they'll respond," he said. "From the perspective of a national writer, everybody had questions and you check them off as you go along (in the season) and there aren't many left (for UK)."
It's one thing to identify talented college basketball players and convince them to come and play for you. Kentucky's John Calipari is universally lauded as one of the best in the business in that area. But as CBS' Ian Eagle recently pointed out in an appearance on the Kentucky Sports Radio show, Calipari also gets "the right ones" for his program.
In this run of three straight top-rated recruiting classes, Kentucky has avoided any major ego or chemistry issues. Some pundits have suggested there may be as many as six first-round draft picks on this current UK squad and yet the Wildcats are continually praised for how hard they play and how tough they are defensively. Those are the less-than-glamorous traits that are not always associated with teams awash in highly rated prospects.
"A lot of coaches are scared of them (one-and-done type players) but there's no reason to be scared of them if you do your background work on them. John has never brought a guy into his team that would be a selfish teammate," ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes told "The Leach Report" show. "I think (he) does a great job of evaluating those kids and he holds them to it. The worst mistake you can do is bring in a one-year guy with his own agenda because it can destroy your team."
So how does Calipari do it? He says it is definitely something they are thinking about when they're chasing recruits.
"It starts in the process of how you recruit them. First thing we tell them is 'this is the hardest place you could come and play basketball. I'm not promising you'll start or how much you'll play or how many shots you're going to get. What I'm promising is 'you're going to be on a terrific team that's going to be coached and going to be challenged.' We play young people so if you're good enough to play, you'll play. Watch us play and if you're not willing to do that, don't come here," Calipari said on a recent pregame show on the UK IMG Sports Network. "We're not going to talk about other programs. We don't care who is recruiting (them)."
Dykes says Calipari is as good as any coach in the college game at getting the right kids for his program and then getting them to buy into his way of thinking.
"He has a great way of communicating with those kids, how he gets his point across to them. Not everyone can take that highly talented player and get them to play hard. That sounds simple to do but it ain't," said Dykes.
CBS' Kevin Harlan watched a UK practice last season and was taken aback by how frank Calipari was in dealing with his players.
"The one thing I noticed about John that's different from a lot of coaches is that he's very direct with these kids. He doesn't try to flatter them--he's after them. I think a lot of kids want to be led and he goes right at them," said Harlan. "I think they're looking to get better and looking for somebody who is going to be honest with them."
For Calipari, it's about finding players who "fit" into this very high-profile program at Kentucky. And he says just as important as that evaluation is in the minds of the coaching staff, it is just as important to know if that player thinks he fits.
"'Are you the type that can prosper in this type of environment?' You're being coached every day and on every play. You're being challenged not only by the guys within our own practice but then, let's go outside of practice and every game we play is someone's Super Bowl and it's sold out. 'Are you ready for that, are you up for that?'
"That gets them in the mindset that they understand that this is not 'we're going to run everything through you and you're going to get at least 15 shots a game.' We don't any of that and anybody we've recruited will tell you that.
"Most kids know if they're right for a situation or not, unless you try to convince them otherwise. I've lost kids and then I look back and I see why. The kid knew better than I did. The ones that aren't right for here don't come here."