The Red & Black attended SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala., on Thursday. This is the last part of a series analyzing the Bulldogs' top 2012 competition.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari said it as bluntly as he could.
“My team is not very good.”
The Wildcats come into the 2012 season with a preseason rank of No. 4 in the nation, and are predicted to finish first in the Southeastern Conference.
To those that made these predictions, Calipari had a special message.
“Whoever did that needs to be drug tested,” he said.
Calipari downplayed his squad of young, but highly-touted players. Instead, he called out his team for all its mistakes.
“Don’t play hard enough. Don’t play full possessions. Out of control,” Calipari said. “Don’t know each other, which isn’t surprising. We have no rolls right now. We’re trying to figure out who is who.”
Calipari says this coming off of a 38-2 (16-0 SEC) season that ended with a national championship in 2011.
Yet Kentucky's success came with consequences.
The Wildcats saw 12 players leave the program, and six players drafted in the 2012 NBA Draft.
Anthony Davis was the first overall pick, to the New Orleans Hornets, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was the second pick, to the Charlotte Bobcats — marking the first time two college teammates were picked No. 1 and No. 2 overall in the NBA Draft.
The Wildcats also saw Terrence Jones go to the Houston Rockets (No. 18), Marquis Teague to the Chicago Bulls (No. 29), Doron Lamb to the Milwaukee Bucks (No. 42), and Darius Miller joined Davis in New Orleans with the 46th pick.
To replace its diminished lineup, Kentucky brought in the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, featuring four freshmen — forwards Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress, and point guard Archie Goodwin.
Kentucky also received two transfers.
Senior Julius Mays came to Kentucky after averaging 14.1 ppg at Wright State, and sophomore Ryan Harrow sat out last season after averaging 4.7 ppg in 58 games at N.C. State in 2010.
Sophomore Kyle Wiltjer will be the only returning contributor from Kentucky's national championship team.
Jon Hood, Twany Beckham and Jarrod Polson will also return for the Cats, but Beckham and Polson played sparingly, and Hood missed the title run after tearing his ACL before the season.
Calipari said this was a team unlike any he has coached before.
“I have always had two, three, or four veterans that could go,” he said. “Everything we’re doing is practically new to everyone so this is a different deal. We have good kids who are good players, but we’re not a good team right now.”
What Kentucky has in young talent, they lack in experience.
The Wildcats are yet to establish a leader, and have received leadership from one person that will never see the floor.
“Right now I have already told them I’m leading your team, but if we’re to be any good, you must be empowered,” Calipari said. "I have to take a less and less seat within the team. If we’re to be what everyone thinks we can be, they have to be empowered.”
The fourth year head coach said it’s hard to find a leader because “they are still trying to find out who they are as players.”
Yet Calipari is going to get his guys to talk one way or another.
“I make them talk. We stop the drill, we run, we do different things,” he said. “We have to talk. Sometimes I will tell the coaches to stop, and don’t say anything so we can hear [if they are talking].”
While the Wildcats may not be talking on the court, they contribute heavily to the buzz surrounding college basketball.
Following Kentucky's national championship season, ESPN has been running an all-access show documenting Kentucky’s preseason practices and players.
“Well I said no [to ESPN] for a month or more. I just kept saying no I don’t want to do it,” Calipari said. “And let me tell you why we didn’t want to do it. We didn’t need any more exposure, we don’t need any more notoriety. I didn’t need it.”
Calipari eventually agreed to the show because it was good for the SEC and to show how hard it was to be a student athlete.
He explained that without the show, the nation would never know that his team had a 3.2 grade point average, or that nine of his players had above a "B" average.
With such a young and inexperienced team, many people thought the cameras may cause a distraction for his players. But Calipari put an answer to that speculation.
“Well if you were in practice and you see me getting on them, I don’t think it matters if [there are] cameras there or not,” Calipari said. “They’re not worried about a camera. They’re looking at me like ‘uh oh’. If I’m on someone else they’re like good I’m glad he is on them and not on me.”
Calipari is going to get his team ready for the season, with or without the cameras. He said he was not confident in his team in October, but believes they will be ready come tournament time.
“I feel good about [the March team],” he said. “I’m just saying we’re not good right now. When I look at my team I have seven really good players that have never played together.”