Peers preach patience to John Calipari with young, loaded roster


John Calipari knows the line well, and not surprisingly it applies to his 2023-24 Kentucky team again.

“We’re talented, we’re just young,” Calipari assessed at SEC Media Days on Wednesday.

The Wildcats are counting on a few transfers, Antonio Reeves and Tre Mitchell to fill the leadership void on a roster that otherwise is comprised of a collection of “18- and 19-year-olds,” as Calipari put it.

With eight freshmen and two sophomores, Calipari knows experience and leadership are extremely valuable.

Tennessee’s Rick Barnes said Wednesday coaches are always anxious to add talent, but “it’s tough when you’re there,” in comparing his Volunteers’ roster, five players with starting experience. to Kentucky’s fresh faces.

“The word that John probably doesn’t like, like any other coach, is ‘patience’. You have to be really patient when you have that many young guys because you want to see ’em get better every day,” Barnes said. “Most young guys will have a good day, maybe next day not so much. If you tell them they’ve had a good day, you can almost bet it’s not going to be as good the next day.

“He has to balance a lot of different things, anytime you’re coaching young guys, but knowing you have to get them to do a couple things well early, whereas with an older group, you can get a lot more done early in the year compared to the younger guys.”

Reeves played for Kentucky last season, but Calipari said he wasn’t comfortable coming from Illinois State to the SEC until the second half of the season. He averaged 14.4 points per game. Reeves considered entering the transfer portal but opted to return even with the No. 1-ranked recruiting class in the country to contend with.

“Coming back you just see a different player who’s putting himself and our team in a different position,” Calipari said.

Mitchell, a 6-foot-9 forward, will be playing for his fourth team after stops at UMass and Texas before a short stint in Morgantown. He left West Virginia in June following the program’s decision to move on from Bob Huggins, giving Calipari an experienced frontcourt presence to replace Oscar Tshiebwe. Calipari hosted Mitchell days after he entered the transfer portal and said they’ve stayed in contact for years since they first met in Pittsburgh.

“I wish what happened at West Virginia did not happen. We were the beneficiary of it. It wasn’t planned. You’re talking about all happening within a week. But you’ll have to talk to Tre. He had a great relationship with Bob. He loved him. It’s unfortunate, but it’s good for us,” Calipari said.

Calipari walked back his stated estimate of 4-6 weeks for the return of injured centers Aaron Bradshaw and Ugonna Onyenso, saying the Wildcats will welcome them when they’re ready to play.

For now, he’s preparing another young team to compete against a tough schedule.

“We’ve got a good group of young players that I’m excited about, and they’ve got great attitudes. They’ve got a toughness to them,” Calipari said. “The biggest issue you have with young guys a lot of times is they don’t understand the dogs stand out, if you got some dog in you. This team, our practices have been competitive.

“The issue we’re having right now is we have two of our big guys, seven-footers, that are going to be out a little while longer, so we’ve had to do what we’ve done without that.”

–Field Level Media

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