LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky’s 1978 national title team was constructed a bit differently than John Calipari’s current Wildcats. Jack Givens and Rick Robey led as senior All-Americans. Four of Kentucky’s top five scorers were seniors. Kyle Macy was a young All-SEC sophomore.
Forty years have passed since coach Joe B. Hall’s 1977-78 club topped Duke in the national championship game to cap a 30-2 campaign. The team is holding a reunion this weekend and will be honored Saturday at Rupp Arena when Kentucky faces Missouri.
Givens, Macy and assistant coach Dick Parsons held a news conference Thursday afternoon at Rupp Arena, and the stories flowed. Hall, who’s feeling under the weather, was absent. There were tales of old workouts and vivid memories of plays most have forgotten. And laughs. Lots of laughs.
“Now that we’re a little older, the stories get even bigger and better,” Givens said.
The 1978 team won title No. 5 at Kentucky 20 years before some of the current Wildcats were born. The 2018 Kentucky squad is the youngest in America with two sophomores as the oldest scholarship players.
“It’s a tough way to play ball on this level, and we find that out every time we face a veteran team,” Givens said. “It’s a tough way to coach for [John] Calipari and his staff because it’s always teaching mode. Just think about it: You can never advance to that second, third or fourth level that teams advance to over the course of their sophomore, junior and senior years.”
Calipari, in his ninth season, has coached 21 one-and-done players at Kentucky. It’s nothing new, but one-and-done fatigue has afflicted at least part of the fan base — especially in a season in which the Cats have lost nine games and are just a game better than .500 in SEC play.
There’s a common complaint from fans that it’s hard to follow the team with so much year-to-year turnover.
“Way back in the day when we played you’re here four if not five years, and so they really got to watch you grow up and know you from the time you came in as a freshman and maybe never touched a weight or finished growing yet until the time you graduated as a 21- or 22-year-old,” Macy said.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver recently said his league is “conflicted” about the one-and-done rule, but no change is imminent.
“The kind of money these guys make after one year, you’d be stupid not to go,” Macy said. “It’s tough, but it makes it easy for the guy’s decision, whereas before it was, ‘Do I want to stay? If I go I’m not gonna make a lot of money.’ Now there’s no doubt. If you’re gonna go, if you have that ability to be able to go, with the amount of money they’re throwing out you’d be stupid not to.”
Kentucky, with two more likely one-and-done players on its roster, is trending upward after quality wins against Alabama and Arkansas in it last two outings. All talk of an NIT berth evaporated as Kentucky is off of the bubble and squarely in the NCAA Tournament field.
“I think they’re finally starting to see what it takes to win on this level,” Givens said. “The last couple games you haven’t seen guys trying to take as many shortcuts. You see guys now fighting for position to rebound the basketball. They’re starting to value every possession. You see guys sharing the basketball. It seems to have clicked.”
Macy said it starts with talent. With eight former 5-star prospects on the roster, that’s not the issue.
“If you’re not very talented to begin with it’s hard to make improvements,” Macy said. “I think they’re getting better. The more they’re playing the more they’re learning — figuring out how to play college basketball.”