Dear Big Blue Nation:
First off, thank you for making Big Blue Madness the special evening it was for all our men’s and women’s players. I know I speak for all of us when I say that you gave us chills throughout the entire evening.
And how about that energy and passion carrying over to Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday night? Well, let’s just say that you guys are the greatest fans in all of sports. Thank you for your continued devotion to all of our student-athletes.
My job this year is a real simple one: How do we get this team to be the best it can be? Right now, I have no idea what that means. But that’s the question I’m asking my staff and myself: How good can we be?
I want you all to understand that our staff won’t be spoiled by the past – be it last year’s remarkable season or our unprecedented record over the last five years. I have been blessed and yes, a bit spoiled by these past several years. It’s no different than a high school player who is spoiled by his past successes and then gets to college and finds out the competition is stiffer and more daunting. He must rise to that level and figure out how to compete and survive.
With last year’s team, after a few days, I said right up front that it would be the most talented team I’d ever coached. But early on it might have been the fifth or sixth best execution team I’d ever coached. Let’s face it, early in the season we won on sheer talent and a “will to win” by a few of the players. We simply Refused to Lose. The other teams executed better than we did and as much as I hate to say it, were probably better coached than our team.
But as the season progressed, what that team became was truly a pleasure to watch. They got better every day; became closer every day; and they got mentally and physically tougher every day. They sacrificed for each other and by the end of the year we were best team in country – with some flaws, yes – but in my opinion, still the best. Also, by the end of the year we executed as well as any team.
From Day One – everyone said our Achilles heel was our shooting and as much as I hate to admit it, that was what got us in the end.
As I said on Friday night, we have now turned the page. This year’s team will need to have a steady climb – how steep is that climb? I don’t know yet. How big is that mountain we’re going to climb? I don’t know yet. People who are rating us right now be it high or low, they don’t really know – they’re all guessing. If I don’t have any idea where we are, you can be sure no one else does!
That being said I love this team and I love its potential and I love their receptiveness to coaching.
There are many questions to be answered: Will we be tough enough both physically and mentally? Will we have players with the will to win? Will we have a few catalysts that will make plays at big moments? Will we execute well enough early in the season to win some games we should not win? And will we be a long, active defensive team that relies on defense more than anything else?
Right now we may be the worst rebounding team playing basketball today – that has to change. And, as was the case last year, we have some awful “freshmen habits” that need to be changed, some that have be to eliminated and others that have to be added. But I think this team is receptive to that and I really think this team understands what it means to play in a Kentucky uniform and what it means to be ready to play every possession of every game.
OMG!!! These Kids Can't Rebound
Where we stand right now with toughness and rebounding, we probably need to struggle early because only a crisis brings about change. I hate to lose – you all know I hate to lose – but at times it’s necessary for a team like this to take its knocks early in order to get them to realize the importance of rebounding and defense.
The same may hold true in league play – we may need to be in some dogfights early during SEC competition to get this team to understand and realize how every possession matters and that it’s not for “funsies” any more. You’re either into winning or you’re into yourself – you can’t be into both.
Sometimes, only a loss or two are the kind of crises that brings about change. My hope is we can learn from some close wins like we did a year ago, but I’m just not sure yet that will be the case with this team.
Now, there is one thing in the way that I threw out in front of these young men as an obstacle and it’s called “The Schedule” – the toughest non conference schedule in the country and a conference schedule that will see us, in my opinion, face four NCAA tournament teams twice each, along with another NCAA tournament team or two once each. All that while being possibly the youngest team in the country!
Why would I do that to this team? Well, no one’s ever accused me of being smart!!
Big Blue Nation, I’ll leave you with this: I love this team and I love its potential. We are nowhere close to where we need to be but I’m going to have a ball coaching this team and I want all of you to enjoy the path.