[caption id="attachment_341266" align="alignnone" width="2560"] Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics
Kentucky has grown accustomed to ridiculous roster turnover and brand new teams every year throughout the John Calipari era in Lexington, but that turnover reached new heights last offseason when the program lost 94 percent of its scoring, 98.6 percent of its assists and 92.4 percent of its minutes from the year before. When you factor in UK's mass exodus from last season, along with wildly underwhelming play from the newcomers, the team's 2020-21 campaign has been a disaster from start to finish.
Considering Kentucky's historic struggles this season, it begs the following questions: Does Calipari and the UK coaching staff believe in this year's roster to develop enough going into next year to avoid any major changes? Or do they feel it's a broken roster and simply need to start from scratch? Maybe a mix of both?
Early in ESPN's broadcast of Kentucky's matchup against the Ole Miss Rebels on Tuesday, commentator Jimmy Dykes answered those exact questions, but did so following an exclusive one-on-one conversation with Coach Cal earlier in the day. And in Dykes' segment - one that was met with criticism due to the length and timing, as it happened in the middle of game action - he revealed that Calipari is preparing for an offseason he feels is the most crucial of his career.
"There's nothing common this year for Kentucky. I've known Coach Cal for a long time, and he and I had a good conversation (Tuesday)," Dykes said. "8-14 is unacceptable, and he'll be the first person to tell you that. I'll say this to start with, he's averaged 31 wins a year over the last 15 years prior to this season, he's a Hall of Fame coach, but he knows 8-14 isn't acceptable.
"There's no guarantee at Kentucky. The only guarantee at Kentucky is the expectation that you're supposed to win and the pressure that you feel. Roy Williams felt it last year, 6-14 in ACC play. There's no guarantee you're going to win because you're a blue blood. Ultimately that falls on the shoulder of your head coach."
Unfortunately for Kentucky this year, the program struck out at the point guard position, at least from an immediate standpoint. Devin Askew quickly revealed himself to be a multi-year player, Davion Mintz has been better as an off-ball guard throughout the season, and Terrence Clarke's ankle injury kept us from knowing just how good he could've been at the position.
"The same thing goes for Cal, Roy Williams at North Carolina, Coach K, (Tom) Izzo, (Jim) Boeheim, those guys have not met the standard either this year. This is uncommonly low for Kentucky. Specifically to Kentucky right now and what they do going forward, John Calipari has been caught without a guard that can break you down," Dykes said. "When you put that in a little bit bigger perspective, that's like Roy Williams being caught without bigs that can run, Mark Few being caught without skill at all five positions offensively, Nate Oats being caught without shooters. That's who John Calipari has always been, and he does not have that guard this year. That has to be fixed with your roster management and your recruiting from this year to next year.
"There is no John Wall, Tyreke Evans, Derrick Rose at Memphis, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, that guy is not on Kentucky's roster right now. I don't know what they have coming in, I know they have a good point guard coming in (Nolan Hickman), but that has to get fixed, and it can only get fixed in recruiting. Cal got caught without the one guy he's always had."
Outside the point guard position, Kentucky's top-ten freshmen in Brandon Boston Jr. and Clarke have not lived up to their ranking or hype, leaving the team without a go-to star on the roster. And the transfers Calipari brought in, as Dykes put it, don't provide the "rough, tough, dogfight style" of leadership UK needed.
"I've gone into his practices before on the first day, and that stud freshman just jumps out. Kentucky missed this year overall with their freshman class. They didn't get Cade Cunningham, they didn't get an Evan Mobley, they didn't get a Hunter Dickinson, they didn't get a Jalen Suggs. There's only five or six guys that come from high school to college that can change your program. Kentucky does not have that guy this year," he said. "They thought they did, the rankings backed it up, but it didn't play out. The transfers that came in, I'm not sure they have the DNA that Calipari really needs with this group right now. Old leads your team, that voice leads your team more than any other voice. I'm not sure it's that rough, tough, dogfight style they got out of (Davion) Mintz and particularly (Olivier) Sarr this year, which has also been a little bit of an issue."
Considering the obvious and significant issues, Calipari told Dykes that he will be evaluating "every single thing" inside the Kentucky basketball program to get things right in 2021-22.
"Even after a good year, you evaluate almost everything in your program. After a losing year, you evaluate every single thing in your program: your philosophy, yourself, your staff, how you're going to move forward, how you're going to recruit, how we're going to work, who we are, 'Is our system sound?' And I think it's going to be a very thorough evaluation from Coach Cal after this season
," Dykes said. "I'll steal a line from Tony Bennett, Cal and I talked about it earlier this year, "Adversity can buy you a ticket to a place you've never gone if you use it to your advantage." I think Cal will do with this year. He'll learn from it. I think this will be the year that changes and determines what he does going forward. He's averaging 31 wins over the last 15 years. He knows the expectations, and speaking with him (Tuesday), this has fueled his fire and it is very clear to him what needs to be fixed. I have full belief it will be fixed. Not this year, but next year's roster has to look different."
How may it look different? According to Dykes, we could see as many as seven or eight new faces on next year's roster. With five-star forward Daimion Collins, four-star guard Nolan Hickman and four-star forward Bryce Hopkins signed on, along with West Virginia transfer Oscar Tshiebwe already on campus, that would mean three or four new additions beyond those already on board.
"I don't think it's a trend because I know how John Calipari is wired. He's always been out in front of the game in recruiting, how he's branded his product, all those things. I'm saying that because I think he understands this offseason is crucial," Dykes said. "Everything will be evaluated, everything will be looked at, and there will be changes made to that roster. I expect Kentucky to bring in another seven- or eight-man class.
He will not miss, I don't think, going forward on, 'Are you a fighter? Are you tough? Are you a worker? Do you have some dog in you?' I think they missed some in this recruiting cycle, I know they did. Cal isn't the only one that's missed. Jalen Johnson at Duke, I think that was a miss. It didn't work out like you thought it was going to work out. There's no specific formula, but you've got to learn from it and be better because of it."
As for where Calipari can and will look for those new additions, "everything is on the table." Above all else, though, the focus will be on adding a star point guard or two.
"With this conversation (Tuesday) when we talked about recruiting, everything is on the table,
" Dykes said. "Transfers, high school players, international guys, but I think the conversation will go deeper in terms of, "Are we making sure we're getting our kind of guys? Do we have a break-down guard?" That's what Cal has always had, that's when he's always been at his best, and he just doesn't have it this year. You have to get it fixed with your roster, with recruiting, making sure you're going after that guy every year. And not just one, but two."
As of today, Boston, Clarke and Isaiah Jackson are the only players with any realistic shot at getting drafted. From there, Keion Brooks Jr., Jacob Toppin, Davion Mintz, Olivier Sarr, Devin Askew, Dontaie Allen, Lance Ware, Cam'Ron Fletcher all have at least one year of eligibility remaining, and could all certainly use it.
How many actually will? We'll find out in the coming months.
Needless to say, it's going to be a hectic offseason for Calipari and the UK basketball program.