LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- John Calipari has not lacked for pointed criticism of players this season. He hasn't called them out by name, but has called them out by transgression.
Doing their own thing. Not being "coachable." Not being tough, disciplined or competitive enough.
But after the Wildcats' tenth loss of the season on Thursday night, at Georgia, Calipari saved his harshest words for another target -- himself.
It's not the first time this season Calipari has voiced frustration with his own ability to motivate or otherwise produce the desired results out of his young team. But these were the most unsparing terms he has used.
"I'm disappointed in myself more than I am them, because if we're at this point, what I saw today, I've done a crap job with this team," Calipari told reporters after Georgia's 72-62 victory. The comments are available via video at his website, CoachCal.com.
Calipari's part in all this is destined to be rehashed quite a bit if the Wildcats can't put together an SEC Tournament run and salvage an NCAA Tournament bid.
You could argue that Calipari had less talent when his Wildcats, two years ago, finished the regular season with eight losses, but managed a surprise run to the Final Four, beating more highly rated North Carolina and Ohio State teams along the way.
That team used a big win over Florida at home to spark a late-season run. But that team had one thing this team doesn't -- experience. DeAndre Liggins, Darius Miller and Josh Harrellson all played some of their best basketball down the stretch of that season, allowing lottery pick freshman Brandon Knight to do his thing. Knight, too, probably doesn't get enough credit for just how outstanding his one season in Lexington was.
Regardless, when Calipari asked for toughness, he got it. When he asked for big stops, he got them. This year, when he asks for those things, he seems to get blank stares.
"When it got to that time, we make a couple of threes, we got it down to three and here we go, we have breakdowns again," Calipari told Tom Leach on his IMG Sports postgame radio show after the loss. "But I come down again, this team doesn't have the discipline -- my fault. I must have accepted this. This team doesn't have the toughness to finish off games. That's my fault. I must have accepted this. But to come up with balls -- and you're begging them, go get rebounds. We were in the timeout and guys were telling their teammates, 'Just don't let your guy get it. If you don't want to go get it, fine, just don't let your guy get it.' . . . That's on me. That's what I've accepted. I'm more disappointed in me than I am the team."
There's little doubt Calipari has pulled out all the motivational and schematic stops -- from dodgeball to vitriol -- to get his team back into the right frame of mind. Calipari told Leach, "I've never had a team that didn't look like a great, well-oiled machine this time of year." Forget outside critics. That this one seems to have regressed has Calipari publicly second-guessing himself.
"What in the heck did I do?" he asked reporters after the game in Athens. "I'll tell you, I'm going to go back and evaluate how we practiced, what I accepted, because they're giving us what I've accepted, which is, ‘It doesn't matter whether we win or lose, I'm going to play the way I want to play.'"
Where the biggest area of examination may be, however, is not in coaching methods, but in composition of the team. In the end, this team's lack of progress isn't ultimately for lack of coaching. It's more a lack of personnel. And while any team that loses its best player is going to have problems, this team had issues before Nerlens Noel went down.
Calipari has had a remarkable three-year run at UK, preceded by a remarkable three-year run at Memphis. But the Kentucky years have been marked by wholesale early-entry into the NBA with little significant holdover from year to year, and that's tough to overcome, even with No. 1 recruiting classes.
While his 2012 NCAA championship was hailed by some as a validation of the one-and-done method, it also came in large part because Calipari had senior leadership from Darius Miller and a pair of NBA-caliber returnees in Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones. To be sure, the freshman class keyed the run. But it wouldn't have happened without the solid returnees.
In fact, the problems of this season may have begun when Marquis Teague progressed to the point where he became a first-round draft pick. He's been little-used by the Chicago Bulls this season, but has been sorely missed in Lexington. Calipari had Ryan Harrow waiting in the wings after transferring, but could've used more help at the point, help nobody knew he would need until Teague's decision after the season.
Calipari has another No. 1 recruiting class coming in next season, this one being hailed as the best class in decades. But he may well be paying more attention to who is returning, or what kind of experienced leadership he can find to mix with those freshmen, than he has in the past.
Calipari was already sounding the alarm for this season after early practices. Following the championship last season, he voiced grandiose ambitions -- like putting together an undefeated season. Given his recruiting run, people thought he just might. His team entered the season No. 3 in the nation, but Calipari began to dismiss that weeks before the first game.
He had, at times during his massive runs, suggested that there would be years when the freshman class wasn't as good as his first three at UK. This, as it turns out, was one of those years.
He's also had remarkable good fortune with regard to player injuries. Until this season and the loss of Nerlens Noel.
So Calipari is now playing the blame game with the coach in the mirror. He even questioned whether he should be blaming players more.
He made an oblique reference to Bill Self's rant earlier this season about his Kansas players, and noted that Self got results, saying, "I probably should do that, but it's not in me," he told reporters. "It's not in my bones to go that way. I'm not going to blame a kid. At the end of the day, it's my job to get them to play right. And we're not playing right."
At least one player, Willie Cauley-Stein, rejected Calipari's notion that the struggles of this team fall on the coaching staff.
"It's completely off Coach Cal," Cauley-Stein said in remarks published by CoachCal.com and other outlets. "We've got one more regular-season game left and there's not much else you can coach us about. You can't coach mentality. You just can't do it. He's prepared us thus far. You just can't coach a mentality. You've got to want to do it."
Regardless, fair or not, it always falls back on the coach. Calipari understands that. And from his comments after the loss to Georgia, he not only accepts it, but is taking it to heart.
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