LEXINGTON, Ky. — It angered many Kentucky basketball fans when ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg referred to the Wildcats’ star freshmen as “spoiled” after their collapse at South Carolina on Tuesday. But on Friday, coach John Calipari all but agreed with him.
“The one thing about Seth: He doesn’t have an agenda. He’s not trying to hurt anybody. He’s not going to hurt this program or me,” said Calipari, who considers Greenberg a friend and has brought him in to work fantasy camps at Kentucky for several summers. “So when he made statements, you know, it was probably — they need to be addressed. If you watched us, you probably would have said the same thing.”
Of note: Greenberg wasn’t only talking about Kentucky. He was bemoaning the fact that star freshmen across college basketball, like Oklahoma’s Trae Young, Duke’s Marvin Bagley and Arizona’s Deandre Ayton, have become the focus of this season while more veteran teams that are playing at a higher level (he mentioned Purdue, Virginia and Villanova) are put on the back burner.
Of the 5-star freshmen, Greenberg said: “These guys are spoiled by the process by the time they turn 13 years old. And they’re clueless in understanding how hard you have to play and what type of teammate you need to be. They’re not as good a team because they are not connected.”
Greenberg let his friend know ahead of time that he was about to go on TV and offer some harsh criticism of the Cats, who nearly blew two late leads last week and finally did blow a 14-point lead with under 12 minutes to play Tuesday against the Gamecocks.
“He said, ‘I’m going to do something.’ My text back to him was, ‘Be easy. They’re young,’ ” Calipari said. “I din’t read it or see anything, but I heard about it — and I just smiled. They’ve got to accept [responsibility]. Yesterday, we watched the tape, the last 5:50 of the game, up seven and we just threw the ball to them for a breakaway layup. I made each of them say, ‘That’s on me.’ We did it in unison so they knew how to say it. Let’s do it together: ‘That’s on me.’ Louder, I didn’t hear that.”
Calipari went through individual mistakes, pointed to the screen and then to the offender and waited for their admission of guilt. One player mumbled and Calipari didn’t accept it.
“We all need to hear you say you’re responsible for that,” he said. “You have to self-evaluate, and you can’t be defensive about how you’re playing. If you’re playing good, why are you playing good? Keep playing good. Can you take it to another level? Don’t be satisfied. If you’re playing bad, why are you playing bad? How can you change it? You can’t keep doing the same things over and over and think it’s going to change. That’s insanity.”
See, Greenberg wasn’t wrong about the current state of things for Kentucky — but the genius of what Calipari has done for eight-plus seasons now in Lexington is finding a way to coach ego out of young players who are daydreaming about the NBA and convince them by March to play for the greater good. Both Greenberg and Calipari seem to agree it hasn’t happened yet this season, but it’s also still January.