At the conclusion of an embarrassing first-round NIT loss at Robert Morris that mercifully ended this humbling season, Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin insisted this is not how he wants his college career to end.
Asked if he'll be back for his sophomore season or consider entering this June's NBA draft, Goodwin told reporters after the game, "If any of us were saying we think we should leave, then we’d all be delusional."
Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein weren't quite so definitive about their intentions, but both said they were leaning toward coming back too. Of course, they could all change their minds once they take a week or two to cool off, assess their draft stock and consider the talent arriving at their position in next year's recruiting class, but for right now it's an intriguing possibility to consider.
If every member of Kentucky's freshman class besides Nerlens Noel returns, Kyle Wiltjer and Ryan Harrow also come back and the six members of next year's recruiting class all arrive as scheduled, John Calipari will have more depth than he has had in Lexington. Throw in the possibility of adding another Class of 2013 prospect or two, and Kentucky could have as many as 11 or 12 former five-star recruits on its roster.
On one hand, that could lead to chemistry issues and playing time complaints since not all of those guys will be able to play 25-to-30 minutes per game. On the other hand, it would certainly guarantee the fierce competition for playing time that would allow Calipari to penalize poor decisions and lack of effort the way he couldn't on this year's thin team.
"The best thing that is going to happen to us next year is that we're going to have unbelievable competition at every spot," Calipari told reporters Tuesday. "So there's no one promised, saying 'OK, I played 30 minutes a game.' You may play five. The stuff I had to accept this year, the program almost got hijacked."
The "hijacked" comment was cryptic and not further clarified but it certainly makes it clear Calipari did not enjoy coaching this group. Not only were this year's Wildcats not as talented as any of the past three incarnations, they also lacked the tenacity and spirit those teams had.
Though this season was going to be viewed as a disappointment whether Kentucky won by 20 or lost by 20 on Tuesday, the NIT gave the Wildcats an opportunity to salvage some pride. They were playing in Calipari's hometown, they held a walkthrough at his former high school and they were facing the regular season champion of a league that typically gets No. 15 and 16 seeds in the NCAA tournament.
Right from the start, however, Kentucky couldn't match Robert Morris' emotion.
Fueled by a sellout crowd and a student section that waited in line for hours to secure choice seats for a rare visit from a marquee program, Robert Morris jumped out to a 10-0 lead. Goodwin led the Wildcats all the way back to tie the score late in the second half, but the Wildcats didn't make enough plays late in the game and lost 59-57.
Calipari again questioned his team's toughness, noting there were two players he didn't feel comfortable using because they couldn't handle the physicality of the game. Even though the Kentucky coach didn't specify who he meant, the box score suggests Wiltjer and Harrow didn't play their usual minutes.
Harrow, like his freshman teammates, insisted after the game he intends to return, but Calipari was non-committal about whether he'll be asked back or not. The Kentucky coach was adamant he doesn't want to experience another year like this.
“You think you’re supposed to win 30 every year …. go to the Final Four, go to the Elite Eight, win the league, win the tournament," Calipari told reporters. "All the sudden this hits you. It’s a humbling experience."
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