Sunday, March 18, 2012

Kentucky, Calipari Can Finally Win Whole Enchilada

What makes the Wildcats so good, besides the fact the school has the shrewdest recruiter in college basketball, is their ability to push inside the paint, masterfully dominate at will and pose as a fundamentally sound unit with the necessities to beat anyone in their path.

And after watching the most talented and completed team in the tournament at which Anthony Davis was dangerously terrorizing underneath the basket, as if he's a beast-like animal on the prowl, the feeling here is that he's the most relentless player not only for Kentucky but in the country. He drove to the basket aggressively, finishing it with an empathic dunk to posterize Iowa State players that erupted a frenzy as Wildcats' fans roared for much of the second half. He swatted shots tenaciously, stopping dribble-penetration and forcing Iowa State to fire three-point shots for much of the second half, though Royce White used his strength to drive the ball and score at the basket.

As the Wildcats increasingly raises fear, Saturday night was Kentucky's biggest test so far in the tournament, and indeed, they prevailed and advanced to the Sweet 16 for a rematch with Indiana. Believe me, if Kentucky is after all the best squad in the nation, they've proved it with an 87-71 rout over a fearless Iowa State team.

“I’ve got a good basketball team,” Calipari said after the game. “You won’t believe this. I’ve got good players, too. But they’re a good team. They’re efficient. They play hard. They are skilled. They’re all skilled."

It's all part of Calipari's way of preparing his team for any disappointment that could stop Kentucky's run to the Final Four and winning its eighth championship. Calipari, at least in perceptive, has disciplined and fortified a talented army of youngsters for one of the most demanding programs in college sports, acting in a tough role by signing the best players in the country to play for the Wildcats and attend the prestigious university for a higher education. The intent is ultimately for Calipari to guide the most talented team he's ever coached to his first NCAA championship, but also he is seeking to achieve larger goals.

He won't be satisfied until he brings life and revives Kentucky, and with the players he has now, Calipari is well on his way to reaching a fulfilled accomplishment. In keeping with tradition, Calipari's purpose is simply to restore a tenor of aspiration for the winningest school in college basketball. It's more about solidifying excellence for a basketball program committed to good fortune in attempt to validate a principle and blueprint for manufacturing multiple championships.

The criticisms toward Calipari, the most polarizing coach in college basketball after the UMass scandal involving Marcus Camby who received improper benefits from an agent, is from his half-knowledge and denial. The bashing toward Calipari, the most hated coach in the game after Memphis was stricken for violations of NCAA rules during his watch regarding Derrick Rose's fraudulent SAT scores, is from him sadly leaving behind a darkened cloud that cast a gloom over two schools for his negligence and blindness.

If the Wildcats raise the trophy and cut down the nets in New Orleans this year, believed to be the most completed team in the tourney, then it figures that Calipari will finally escape dreadful, haunted episodes from prior schools he once coached -- joining Louisville's Rick Pitino as the only coaches to lead three different schools to the Final Four a year ago.

Maybe this is the year he finally reaches a pinnacle and wins his first ever title in his 20 years of coaching, with the eye-catching talent he possess now -- fully entrusting one-and-done superstars every season -- developing NBA-ready players after recruiting, signing and having a part in top prospects verbally committing to play for the program. It has become common to see Calipari fully reload the UK roster with the know-how to string together the best recruiting class every season, and then watch one-and-done players leave after freshman season without polishing three-and-four year stars for a possible championship run.

By now, you know he and the Wildcats benefit nicely from two returning sophomores with NBA capabilities -- enough experience and confidence to instill the importance of staying composed and engaged in what it takes to earn the prize. And now, after this season comes to an end, Terence Jones and Doron Lamb are likely to leave for the NBA, and they are both projected to be selected late in the first round or early in the second round. If there were two players worth crediting, Jones and Lamb were those well-deserving following an awesome performance.

It was surprising to see Jones come back to Kentucky after his freshman season, but now he has a chance perhaps to end his college career with much gratification. He should be, since he had eight points and 11 rebounds Saturday, increasingly raising his draft stock if he decides to leave after this season is over. Just like last season, Lamb is being a difference-maker and playing with much energy and hunger -- scoring 16 points to absolutely slaughter Iowa State and spoil White's tremendous night against the terror of Kentucky's size and physique, a slew of foreboding NBA players. The unique aspect to the Wildcats, after playing deliciously good at the Yum! Center this weekend, is the way Calipari's phenomenal freshmen dominate at will every season, and then he recruits again to sign almost every best player in the nation.

What's a stake is a national title, and senior Darius Miller, who had 19 points Saturday for the Wildcats, knows the significance of playing splendidly. The secret ingredient to rule as a powerhouse is by putting superstars together in order to align, which defines Calipari -- a recruiting virtuoso. This is how the No. 1 Wildcats earned the top seed overall in the NCAA tournament. This is how the 'Cats marvels of near-perfection. For a while there, it looked as if an upset was brewing but Marquis Teague came through and poured in 24 points and had seven assists, and eventually Kentucky pulled away. A lead that was only four ballooned to 18 and, from there, the Wildcats held a large lead.

"Take your hats off to them," Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. "They hit tough shots, they hit shots with the shot clock running down. They were very good in transition I thought."

It's amazingly a craft and cleverness to turn youth quickly into natural, powerful stars -- a standard for running a top-level program. So now, Kentucky is going to the Sweet 16, which was expected all along. And make no mistake, Iowa State was a very good team but was no match for Kentucky, well, maybe for the first half. If he continues to recruit the best and breed superstars for the NBA, players constantly will leave for the league.

If Calipari can really win this year, with the most dangerous team, he can persist in signing the top players in the country, as he does so well. Seniors are not necessary in his program, simply because he has the knack of recruiting and relies on very young, talented athletes. It doesn't matter whether they are underclassmen or upperclassmen, but what matters is whether he can win it all.

This would now be a perfect time.