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December 18, 2013

Direct Kick: How bad does this UK team want it?

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Late in Saturday’s game between Kentucky and North Carolina, the white out crowd at the Dean Dome started the “over-rated” chant directed toward the Wildcats, their preseason-No. 1 ranking and their fabulous freshmen recruiting class.

While chanting “over-rated” actually devalues a team’s win over the highly-ranked opponent, in this case, it was true. Coming into the season there were actually people predicting a 40-0 season and another national title for the Wildcats. Those people are feeling mighty foolish right now. For the perfect season, that is. There’s still a chance to win the national title, but unless they start playing as a team instead of individuals, that chance will also go by the wayside.

The three best teams Kentucky has faced this season have beaten the Wildcats. The sad thing is this was a very mediocre North Carolina team, without two key players, that handed Coach John Calipari’s team its third loss of the season. If this was a mediocre Tar Heel team, what does that make Kentucky?

Uncoachable and not very good.

Despite all the talent, the Julius Randles, the Harrison Twins, the Youngs and Cauley-Steins, unless you learn to play as a team, it doesn’t matter if you are some of the top-ranked players coming out of high school.

Maybe those rankings are to blame. I mean, you take a high school player and start telling him he is the one of the best in his class and will probably be a lottery pick when it comes to the NBA, how hard will that make them work once they get to college?

I believe all these highly-touted freshmen who know they are going to the NBA after one year in college don’t really care whether their team wins or not. I think they would rather pad their individual statistics than help a team win a banner.

I spoke with Coach Cal earlier this year and he said he would rather players stay more than one year in college, even though his name has become linked with the one-and-dones. And I have to agree with him.

Players have no ties to the university they are attending, at least not like in the past. I have heard many fans say that some of the older Kentucky stars should come and talk to the team and tell them what it means to play for and wear the Kentucky jersey. But you know what? I don’t think the majority of them care about that and it would probably go in one ear and out the other.

It used to be players would want to attend a school like Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas, Duke or UCLA because of the prestige it meant. But today players would rather go play for coaches who will fast-track them to the NBA and right now that coach is Calipari. You can bet that if Cal left Kentucky most of the incoming recruiting class would want to follow him wherever he ended up. That’s just the way things are.

 This overhyped squad currently masquerading as Kentucky Wildcats needs to wake up and decide how much they want to win. They have to forget about their individual statistics, start taking better care of the ball and learn how to hit free throws. And play hard all the time. Against Carolina I can’t count the number of times these Wildcats were beaten off the dribble or just stood and watched as a player drove by. Sure they are outrebounding their opponents, but if you aren’t converting those rebounds into points, it hardly matters. And stop hanging your head after making a mistake, or looking on in disbelief after a call goes against you or your coach is yelling at you.

Stand up and take a punch and deliver one right back. You have all the talent in the world. Now go out and show it. You have Louisville, the defending national champion, coming up Dec. 28. You have Belmont before that game. Between now and Louisville let’s see just how much these Wildcats learned from the loss to the Tar Heels.

If they beat the Cardinals, or at least play them close and tough, there still might be hope for them. But if Louisville blows them out, then you can all but put a fork in this season because they will be done.

Let’s see which UK team shows up. The overhyped, uncoachable individuals or a team with heart and desire.

sports@sentinel-echo.com

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