Calipari says Cats aren’t where they need to be


Les Nicholson

Kentucky coach John Calipari yelled instructions across court in a scrimmage on Sunday.

By Keith Taylor, Kentucky Today

LEXINGTON (KT) — Kentucky coach John Calipari admits it could be a “shaky” ride for the Wildcats to open the season.

The Wildcats struggled in a 56-38 win over Missouri Western State on Sunday night and will close out the two-game exhibition schedule against Kentucky State Thursday night at Rupp Arena.

“We’re not where we need to be right now,” Calipari said on a social media post this week. “I’m looking at November and December saying, we could be a little shaky … what we’re building to and what we’re doing every day, these guys are giving everything. I love the pieces. I love the teammates but what we have to do to win at the highest level is going to take us a little time.”

The Wildcats have been awaiting the return of reigning National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe and for the full roster to get fully healthy. Point guard Sahvir Wheeler re-aggravated his knee in the exhibition opener, but Calipari said the injury isn’t a long-term issue.

“The big picture of this is January, February, we’ve got to be at our best,” he said. “Hopefully the injury bug hit us early this year instead of what it did last year. Let’s hope that we move on. Can’t wait to get the entire group together and then start working together to grow this thing. (It’s a) good group. Let’s have some fun. Let me coach. Let me cheer these guys on, hold them accountable, and let our fans enjoy the ride because that’s what this is.”

Following his team’s win over Missouri Western State, Calipari addressed the future of exhibition games. Calipari is a fan of playing smaller schools in the state, but knows the landscape has changed with teams playing charity games and conducting closed scrimmages against equal talent.

“(It’s an) administrative decision because obviously a closed scrimmage where you can get work against another high-level Division I program helps you, but I understand it here because financially it’s a big deal to play two games,” he said. “That money goes to other sports, so now you start taking that money away that will go to other sports.”

The Kentucky coach singled out his team’s Blue-White scrimmage in Pikeville last month, but also favors changing the routine.

“That was a big deal because we need this program — it’s for all the other programs,” he said. “I get it. But I think we’re going to have to address it now because it’s become so prevalent. We have to address it. … good for us. It was.”

Calipari added playing teams such as Kentucky State provided an athletic and financial boost.

“(It’s) a big deal for them, so I like doing those things,” he said. “But I also like this program probably more than doing that (playing other equal teams), so that needs to be addressed. We will.”

Gametracker: Kentucky State at Kentucky (exhibition), 7 p.m., Thursday. TV/Radio: SECN+ and UK Radio Network.