LEXINGTON, Ky. — As Kentucky finished off a blowout win against Illinois-Chicago on Sunday at Rupp Arena, one of two championship games in Phil Knight’s high-profile PK80 tournament was set to tip off in Portland, Ore.
John Calipari’s Cats were a notable absence in the all-Nike, 16-team field. North Carolina plays Michigan State in one championship game while Duke takes on Florida in the other. Gonzaga, Texas, Butler, Ohio State, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Oregon and Stanford also took part in the tournament.
Calipari was asked why Kentucky didn’t make the trip out West.
“It’s hard when you have teams like this,” Calipari said. “You’ve got teams that are now 1-2 and 0-3, and they’re young teams. And guess what? They’re rattled right now. Teams are rattled. If we had played a tougher schedule, Vermont was tough enough for us. So was Utah Valley, am I right?”
The tournament was in honor of Knight’s 80th birthday.
“How many of those events have we played in since I’ve been here?” he asked, scanning the pool of reporters. “And if I was gonna play in one, it would’ve been for Phil Knight. I want you to hear what I’m saying. The only reason I would’ve played in that event was if Phil Knight told me, ‘You have to play in this event.’ And he did not say that.”
Kentucky has started five freshmen in every game this season. Calipari said his squad isn’t ready for a showcase tournament like the PK80. Calipari has also said in the past that Kentucky won’t play in the Maui Invitational as long as he’s the coach.
“This team is growing, and I’ve gotta be fair for them,” Calipari said. “Look, if I’m just worried about, ‘Let’s just keep putting this program out here.’ It isn’t about the program, it’s about the kids in the program. If I have a veteran team coming back and I know it, I’ll go in one of those events.
“It’ll be close to here. It ain’t gonna be a 19-hour flight. That ain’t happening. I don’t like to fly that long. I’ve got a bad back. That is about me,” Calipari said with a smirk.