Wednesday, March 14, 2012

John Calipari's Wildcats Are Most Talented Squad In Country


What if I told you John Calipari is a premier coach with one of the best coaching jobs in the nation, a university known greatly for its basketball? What if I told you Calipari, 53, has an ability for getting his point across to players, grooming one-and-done players and turning diaper dandies into NBA products?

What if I told you Kentucky's Anthony Davis, an all-round forward projected to potentially declare for the 2012 NBA Draft, is the best player in college hoops? What if I told you Kentucky Wildcats are the scariest and most dangerous men's basketball team in the nation?

Wouldn't you buy into what I think is valid?

If you were smart and had a sense of knowledge about college hoops, then you might have penciled in the Wildcats for the Final Four or even the national championship game on your elusive brackets, to raise the trophy and cut down the nets in New Orleans. Generally, Davis is a surefire No. 1 pick in this year's NBA draft, will forgo sophomore season and plans to establish a foundation at the professional ranks. He's the strongest and best player on the floor, a freshman standout, a shot-swatter with a knack and size to pose as a dominant force in the interior to intimidate opponents -- largely putting fear in the minds of his opposition.

If this is the beginning to an extraordinary joyride for the Kentucky Wildcats, the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, then fans all over are revering the most compelling and eventful unit. They've never disappointed, not once, this year in a well-accomplished season, in chase for the national title to amass much more trophies as the winningest school in college basketball history. It's time for Kentucky to dance, which is just another chance for Calipari, who is, simultaneously, one of the most despised coaches to prove he's one of the stellar coaches all-time. For the first time in his 20-year coaching career, he's never had the deepest unit in the nation with plenty of weapons predicted to go home with a title.

With solid recruiting during his tenure at Kentucky -- since his arrival to Lexington two years ago -- Calipari has built an inferior program from the bottom and lured some of the best prospects from high school. Calipari, in particular, had an extremely touted recruiting class and brought in the top players in all three years, in which he has been the head coach for Kentucky. There is no doubting Calipari's diligence to recruit -- and he's been conspicuously a mentor molding point guards with much potential. Ask Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and John Wall -- among those skilled point guards he coached.

But this year, Calipari clearly has the most talented team in the nation, more talented than prior classes he masterfully honed and prepared for Elite Eights and Final Fours. It would be an upset surely enough after the Wildcats were given the No. 1 overall seed and were ranked as the most powerful team in the country with first-rate studs and athletic figures, if they are beaten in the most unpredictable tournament. For once, it seems at least, Calipari has a team with parity, experience, heart, hunger and better depth.

Any team is vulnerable and nothing is ever promising in a tourney of single elimination -- nothing, not even advancing past the first round. The Wildcats have flaws, no doubt, but they look more unbeatable and remarkably are the most dominant team Calipari has ever coached, believe it or not, after bringing in the proper ingredients to make a bold statement this March.

He's finally on top of the world, six games away from a national championship, and with the current roster he has now, it's feasible to have faith in the Wildcats. Whether you like him or not, Calipari installed relevance in a storied program that ailed for many years. Whether you like him or not, he accepted the most demanding coaching job in college basketball and, shortly after the hiring, he lifted the program into primary conversations for Final Fours.

What Calipari is doing at Kentucky is turning players into stars, just as he reshaped UMass, Memphis and now Kentucky. The most improved team in the nation is Kentucky, with a seven-men rotation of NBA prospects, including one of the tallest forwards in the game in Davis, a dominant defensive player startling a number of teams because of his shot blocking and fierce toughness in the paint. Without him, Kentucky's run to the NCAA tournament wouldn't be so foretelling. The healthiest team of the tournament is Kentucky -- the amount of depth it requires to win a national championship.

The Wildcats clearly won't be satisfied, until they complete a triumphant quest and continue to play dominantly in each round of the tournament. There's no celebrating, well, at least not for Calipari, who wants his team to stay focus solely on the task at hand and certainly his players have a winning mentality just as much as reality has set in to remind each of them of vulnerability in a competition with surprises and where anything is possible. There is something for Blue Nation to cheer and hopefully the agony of defeat won't reduce crazed fans to tears. This would be the time for Calipari and the Wildcats to win a title with the usual roster of one-and-done superstars.

This would be the time for Calipari to finally become the conqueror of his first championship in such a long coaching tenure with Davis being the ripple effect. If he leaves, which he will likely end a sensational college career to arise as a star in the NBA, the Wildcats won't nearly be dominant. It's not hard to judge that Kentucky is well on its way to New Orleans to play for the prize, and pretty soon if they continue to overpower and beat opponents, Davis and company will celebrate and cut down the nets. The stakes are high and now is the perfect time for Kentucky to capitalize on pride and prestige. My inclination is, when it is all said and done, there will be Kodak moments of Calipari hoisting the trophy and exchanging an extended bear hug with Davis.

And then, Ashley Judd would blow kisses from the stands.

On Thursday, Davis will be the best player on the floor, a primary factor, a menacing threat, a shot-swatter, a penetration-stopper in the lane that would make it rather difficult for No. 16 seed Western Kentucky. He'll be the top superstar respectively for weeks to come, an aggressor and a beast-like specimen with an appetite for wins and a visit to the Final Four in a couple of weeks from now. My bracket says there's no way, and there's just no way in hell, a team can figure out a way to beat an army of superstars with much equilibrium and athleticism.

The excitement created by the Wildcats, starving to taste the glory of winning for putting in effort and exertion to be rewarded, should be even more telling if Kentucky succeeds in the end. Having Davis, the popular athlete who is a top 5 NBA prospect -- without any doubt -- is a boon for a program on track to master total domination in NCAA basketball, a common program filled with much merit years ago. The emergence of freshmen Marquis Teague and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, both expected to enter the NBA draft, are scoring options as they play hard and hustle to attract attention, quickly evolving into flowering supplements offensively. Then it could be useful to have Doron Lamb be a threat from beyond three-point range, scoring from long distance all season. And Terrence Jones is unstoppable on the baseline.

Once again, Calipari, a recruiting expert obviously, may have a better class than John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Brandon Knight -- all his players who potentially had enough to win a national championship. Only the Wildcats can beat themselves, already showing they can defeat anybody they face, despite an inexcusable loss to talented Vanderbilt for the SEC championship Sunday. It won't hurt Kentucky's chances, not as long as Calipari motivates and has the attention of his determined players.

This is what Calipari has waited for, an opportunity, a conceivable opportunity to finally win the prize he's heavily had his eyes on for many years, and now Kentucky is the obvious favorite, finishing 52-0 in home games since taking over the 'Cats 30-win seasons. It is fun to watch players fresh out of high school with tremendous talent each season, to see Calipari produce All-American athletes -- preparing and cultivating all his players. Other than winning, his intentions is to develop superstars send them off as one-and-dones. He's not to blame for that, either. Find fault in the flawed NCAA system for not enforcing college athletes to stay in school longer than a year.

If you weren't aware, the Wildcats have won seven national championships. As it stands, Calipari, who probably can accumulate the number of titles in school history for the winningest program, is honored to join the acclaimed group of coaches from Adolph Rupp to Joe B. Hall to Rick Pitino to Tubby Smith.

With Calipari around, he can recruit and sign the best players in the country. Thank him for Davis. Thank him for putting together the most invincible basketball program in the nation.