By LARRY VAUGHT
Even though the Southeastern Conference put three teams in the Elite Eight last year, Kentucky coach John Calipari insisted the league would be even better this year.
Whether it is better or not, there’s no question the SEC is a more balanced league — one reason preseason favorite UK is 6-7 and in seventh place in the league going into today’s game against Alabama.
“We’ve got stuff we’ve got to get through here and it makes it harder. I mean, there have been times (in the past) where you’re struggling but you’re playing a team coming up – ‘Ok, we can get these guys at home. We know that.’ And none of that (are) in this league right now,” Calipari said.
“I said after the last game: You want to talk about Vanderbilt or whoever else, Mississippi beat Alabama, so we can talk about who we want but we’re all within three to five points of each other. The team that’s been doing the best job is Auburn. They’ve figured out ways of winning any type of close game, and then they create a gap and they’ll get somebody by 25.
“The rest of us – everybody is hanging around everybody, and so I think the veteran teams have done better than we young teams.”
Calipari says his job is to “empower” players to lead the team but they have to trust each other first, something that even former Cat Willie Cauley-Stein — who is now with the Sacramento Kings and is back in Lexington during the NBA all-star break — has noticed.
“Willie Cauley-Stein walked in yesterday and he said, ‘Why aren’t they just trying to do this together? Playing with, just be one, and then they all benefit.’ I said, ‘Why did you trust me?’ And then he went like this (points around practice gym at pictures of players in NBA). Like, all those players. ‘I trusted what you told me,'” Calipari said.
“Bam (Adebayo), why did you trust me? We never threw you the ball until late in the year. ‘Because I knew what I wanted to do and you were trying to help me.’ And I sent that out so that they could hear it.
“You just gotta trust that I’m trying to help everybody, but I can’t do it at the expense of the team. Someone is not playing well, we just can’t play as many minutes. You just gotta play less.”