John Calipari won’t rely on one star as he chases his second national championship with a stacked Kentucky men’s basketball team led by P.J. Washington, Stanford transfer Reid Travis and the what ESPN ranked as the No. 2 recruiting class in the country.
“I said I’d like to have six or seven guys in double figures in scoring,” Calipari said on an SEC teleconference call Thursday. “There is no one that’s going to average 25 [points per game]. … And this isn’t communism. If you don’t deserve to play, you won’t play.”
Kentucky is ranked No. 1 in ESPN.com’s Way-Too-Early top-25 poll and should enter next season as the top team in every reputable poll.
If Calipari is successful in having that many players in double figures, he’ll achieve a feat unrivaled in modern college basketball history. No team in the past 20 years has ever had seven players average 10.0 points per game, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Last season, Villanova became the 14th team in the past 20 seasons to have six players who averaged double figures.
Under Calipari, Kentucky hasn’t matched that tally. The 2011-12 squad that won a national title had five players who averaged double figures and a sixth, Darius Miller, who averaged 9.9 points per game. The 2014-15 squad, the last Kentucky team to reach the Final Four, had three players who averaged double figures.
With Travis, Washington, returnees Quade Green and Nick Richards, plus five-star recruits Immanuel Quickley, Keldon Johnson, Ashton Hagans and E.J. Montgomery all in the mix for the Wildcats, Calipari could field America’s deepest squad.
Calipari said he’s already challenged Travis, an all-Pac 12 first-teamer at Stanford last season who averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, to evolve into a more modern big man and expand his game.
“With him, you’ve got him and P.J. and we got a couple 7-footers,” Calipari said. “Learn to play over these big guys. Learn to compete every day and let’s see what he does. Movement. The league is going toward stretching out the court. Don’t get away from who you are, but let’s stretch this out. … I said, ‘Reid, how are you gonna be? What if you only average 14 points this year? Are you gonna be OK with that?'”
The hype is not abnormal for Kentucky, and neither is Calipari’s desire to win a national championship. How much pressure does he feel to reach the Final Four and leave Minneapolis with his second national championship?
“I have that in me every year that I coach,” he said. “I don’t know this to be a fact but if we are No. 1, we’ve been here 10 years. Six or seven years, we’ve been ranked No. 1. Four of those years, we’ve gone to Final Fours. We won the national title in 2012. Probably could have won a couple more but didn’t. It is what it is and these guys know it.”
The SEC appears to be one of America’s most talented leagues again as the 2018-19 season approaches. Tennessee, Auburn, LSU and Mississippi State should all start the season with a top-25 ranking. Missouri returns Jontay Porter, brother of first-round pick Michael Porter Jr. Arkansas center Daniel Gafford could be a top-10 pick in the 2019 NBA draft. Vanderbilt has a top-10 recruiting class, per ESPN.com.
But Kentucky is intimidating, Auburn’s Bruce Pearl said.
“Kentucky is loaded again like they’ve always been,” Pearl said on the league’s teleconference. “[Calipari] likes this team and he likes them in June. That’s scary for the rest of us. He usually doesn’t like them until March.”
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