Posted: 1:19 p.m. Monday, March 18, 2013
By Alex Scutchfield
UK Locker Room on the afternoon Monday March 18th. Coach John Calipari enters a silent room and speaks in a measured tone:
Alright guys, I'm going to be brief here. Like it or not, we have a game to play tomorrow night. It isn't going to be glamorous. In fact, the gym might be smaller than where you played in high school. You can be pissed off or frustrated, but this is what our effort earned us. I've said all year that having "Kentucky" across our chests wasn't going to get us into the NCAA tournament. If you didn't believe me before, you do now.
You don't have a chance to play for a National Championship. You know what you do have? A chance to play five more basketball games. Here's something else the NIT has given you; an opportunity to show me you'll put out enough effort to see the floor next year. For those of you who'd rather try to move onto the NBA, you can show that you have the heart to bring it even when there isn't a whole lot to play for. You know, the way Vandy did on Friday night even though they had a lot less at stake than you did, the way Georgia did the week before when they could have just phoned it in.
I'm not going to call anyone out by name, because you know who I'm talking to. Some of you played hard every game, but some of you didn't. And I'll tell you right now, I don't care what you were rated coming out of high school, I don't care who else recruited you and I don't care if ESPN says you are a lottery pick. We aren't going to go through another year like this next year. I have other kids I can try to mold. If I fail again, I fail. But I've rarely failed in my life, so I'm willing to take my chances.
You had close to 18,000 fans come to watch you play in that SEC Tournament. Many saved for months to buy those tickets. Some spent money they didn't really have. You played three miles from Vanderbilt's campus, yet 98% of the crowd was there to cheer for you. They deserved a better effort from you on Friday and I'd bet most of them walked away feeling cheated.
Let's forget about them for a minute, though. They're adults and they knew what they were getting into when they followed an inconsistent team to a conference tournament. You know who you should never want to cheat? Yourself. I think you are all good kids. You are respectful, you don't get into trouble off the court and you don't act like idiots on the court. I appreciate that and so does the Big Blue Nation. But the sad fact is, some of you don't know the difference between going through the motions and playing your hardest. It isn't a sin, nobody hates you for it. But not knowing how to play hard cuts your chances of being a great basketball player in half. While you guys are talented, there isn't one player on this roster who can afford that.
The same thing is true in the team concept. If you've learned anything in the last month, it should be this: When we don't play hard, we are a bad basketball team. Losing to Robert Morris bad. Don't laugh. You were just manhandled by a team that didn't even qualify for this tournament. Robert Morris lost by 5 at Arkansas this year. What did we lose by?
I say all of that to say this. Despite whatever you might be feeling today, you have a lot of reasons to play your asses off in these next five games. I've learned that if you guys don't come to play, there isn't much I can do about it. Right now. Between now and this fall, though, that is a whole different matter. I love you guys, but this is my livelihood. I have a couple of million very demanding bosses (or many of them who think they are, at least). I can't risk this going south on me again. If I can't count on you, I am going to have to plan around you, McDonald's All-American or no. Show me something.
More importantly, show yourselves something.
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