Kentucky basketball suffered a hard fall from the top in the 2012-13 season. A year after winning a national title, the Wildcats were sent packing with a 59-57 loss at Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT Tuesday night.
After the game, several of Kentucky’s embattled freshmen as well as point guard Ryan Harrow were inevitably asked about their futures in Lexington. Would they leave after one year for the NBA as has become the norm at Kentucky under John Calipari? Or would they decide to come back?
One by one, the players delivered a similar message after the game, according to Kyle Tucker of The Courier-Journal in Louisville.
From freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein:
Cauley-Stein: "I got this empty feeling and I want to fill it. I want a ring before I leave college."— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_CJ) March 20, 2013
Harrow: "I'll be here next year."— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_CJ) March 20, 2013
From freshman forward Alex Poythress:
Poythress: "I'm not ready" for NBA.— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_CJ) March 20, 2013
From freshman guard Archie Goodwin:
Goodwin: "If any of us said we should leave, we'd all be delusional."— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_CJ) March 20, 2013
It’s important to point out that none of this is set in stone. These players could have been simply reacting to a disheartening defeat that signaled the end of a long season with plenty of ups and downs. They all could end up leaving.
An interesting question now, though, is whether Calipari even wants these players back. He had some pretty harsh words about this season following Tuesday’s defeat.
"The stuff I had to accept this year, the program almost got hijacked," Calipari said, according to The Courier-Journal. "Never in my career have I surrendered in any way to any team, and I did at times this year—to try to save guys, to try to help guys—and it never works."
Next year, Calipari has already signed a monster six-man recruiting class. That class could also get bigger and better with the possibility of adding Andrew Wiggins and Julius Randle.
If Harrow and Goodwin stay, will they be able to even get on the court with the Harrison twins and James Young on their way? Would Poythress play ahead of Marcus Lee?
Talent-wise, Kentucky doesn’t absolutely have to have its freshmen return. While the added depth would be a plus, the Wildcats will have plenty of players to factor into the national title picture with or without them.
Would Kentucky's freshmen returning be a good thing for the Wildcats?
Last season, Kentucky benefited from the leadership guys like Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb provided after they stuck around for their sophomore years. However, Jones and Lamb were part of a Final Four team back in 2011. With that kind of success, it only makes sense the freshmen would listen to what those two had to say.
Somehow, it doesn’t make sense that next year’s freshmen would look to players who led Kentucky to a first-round NIT exit in the same way.
From there, all sorts of chemistry issues could arise with players relegated to role player status or incoming freshmen not being completely handed the reins like they expected.
That’s a lot to figure out for Calipari. Up until this year, he had done a masterful job of handling all of the egos, getting the most out of all of his players. His first three seasons resulted in an Elite Eight, a Final Four and a national title.
Now, he has to go back to the drawing board, making sure another season like this one doesn’t happen again. That will begin with trying to figure out who should and shouldn’t return next year.
"This was humbling," Calipari said, according to The Courier-Journal. "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. All the sudden this hits you. It's a humbling experience—but also a learning experience."