LEXINGTON — John Calipari hasn’t backed down from the high standard he set for his program during his first decade as coach of the Wildcats.
Calipari, starting his second decade next season, remains committed to the principles of hard work and hasn’t allowed his son Brad to take the shortcut to success.
“I look at this and just tell you that, again, for my son and all of these kids, this is hard here,” Calipari said. “It’s not easy, and if you’re not willing to work, you should not come here. There is someone in there that’s working and if you think, ‘Well, I should play because — ’ no.
“You take what you want and it’s a competitive environment. We’re not recruiting you and never recruiting again. But, if you’re afraid of anybody in this program, you’re not afraid of anybody up there (in the NBA)? I mean, this stuff is a competitive environment and you’ve got to want this, and then you take what you want.”
For just the second time in his tenure at Kentucky, Calipari returns a point guard and a number of players from the previous season. Ashton Hagans, the team’s point guard a year ago, returns, along with perimeter sidekick Immanuel Quickley and post players EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards. Although a newcomer, graduate transfer Nick Sestina gives the Wildcats another post player with collegiate experience.
“It’s nice to have players back,” Calipari said. “We have four really quality players back. The last time we had four players back who were quality players like that was 2014-15. I enjoy coaching guys two, three and four years. In this, ... you just want people when they leave to be prepared and ready for success.
“That’s the whole thing. We’ve had some guys leave too early, but it wasn’t my choice. They were counseled, ‘It might be too early. You might want to think about this.’ But, when they decide to do it, you’re all over it to help them. But it’s nice to have guys back. I do hope my son comes back, to be honest, because I’d like to coach him another year. On the other side, if he chose to leave, I’d be at as many games as I could be at to watch him.”
The addition of Sestina marks the second year in a row and the third time Calipari will have a fifth-year senior on the roster. Reid Travis was an integral part of the Wildcats’ success a year ago, and Calipari sees similarities in their situations.
“(They are) different players, but physically strong, great kid and great mentality about this (and he) knows he’s got to work, nothing’s going to be given to him,” the Kentucky coach said about Sestina.
“He wants to see how good he can be, and the way you get better here is the day-to-day grind, mastering your craft, falling back on that work, playing competitively every day in practice and every day in the summer. Should be fun.”
Even with a bulk of his team returning, Calipari doesn’t expect the squad to be a repeat of last year or resemble his teams of the past.
“Every team is different, (but) I think this is going to be a great group again,” he said. “You can’t come here and be totally into yourself, or it’s all about me taking all the shots or somebody who’s aloof and stands off. You can’t be in this program and make that. There are other programs where one or two guys shoot all the balls and do all the other stuff — that’s not here.
“It’s just not here. So I would expect us to have a good crew of kids and that’s why by the end of the year we’re playing our best basketball. We’ll keep growing because you’ve got a bunch of good guys that know the staff’s in it for them. They need to be in it for each other, and your team eventually gets to where they need to go by the end of the year.”