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Takeaways From John Calipari’s Offseason Interview

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Photos by Chet White | UK Athletics

On Friday, John Calipari talked to the media for just the second time since the upset loss to Saint Peter’s, this team with Mike Pratt and Dan Issel on ESPN 680.

Let’s take a look at what he had to say.

Oscar Tshiebwe

Oscar Tshiebwe announced his return to Kentucky on Wednesday, making him the first National Player of the Year to return to college since Tyler Hansborough in 2008. Calipari talked about Tshiebwe’s decision-making process and just how close he was to leaving.

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Calipari noted that Tshiebwe had prayed and asked God, “Why did I win every award and did all that I did and not be a lottery pick?”, with God answering, ” you have unfinished business”.

Now, with that said, “there were people in his ear trying to get him to leave until the very end, up until he sat in that chair [on SportsCenter]”. At one point, Tshiebwe even recorded two videos for both a return and a departure to the NBA.

With Tshiebwe assured to be on the next season’s roster, Calipari said “you have a building block with Oscar” and that he feels “really good” about the way the next season’s roster is shaping up.

Oscar returns with two goals in mind, to win an NCAA championship and be a lottery pick.

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Sahvir Wheeler and the Rest of the Current Roster

“He had a hell of a year until he got injured. Then he gained some weight and didn’t play as well, BUT, he is still that guy,” said Calipari about his SEC assist leading guard, Sahvir Wheeler.

Calipari noted that Wheeler is “the difference” and will work to get him steady and to keep improving.

As for the rest of the current roster, “with Sahvir, CJ, Cason, Chris, Damion, Lance, and Oscar. WOW,” Calipari said.

One notable exclusion from that list is Keion Brooks, who has put his name into the NBA Draft while retaining his college eligibility. If Brooks were to return, he would become just the second out-of-state player to stay four years in the Calipari era.

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Finding Players “That Fit”

Since taking the position at Kentucky, Calipari has always said, “Kentucky isn’t for everybody.” He has proved that, being very selective in the players they go after, from high school and the transfer portal.

When asked about finding guys that fit the Kentucky culture, Calipari said “What these kids are hearing [from other schools] is, ‘you’re coming here to score 25 a game’, ‘you’re going to play every minute’, ‘I’m starting you from day one’, ‘you don’t worry, we will build around you’. You come here, and it is all of us together… so that’s not what they hear [from Kentucky].”

Calipari when on to specifically talk about finding guys from the transfer portal, saying, “It can’t be ‘I,m just worried about what happens for me’. It’s gotta be like Kellan, It’s gotta be like Oscar… They fit what we’re about”

Shaedon Sharpe

“I don’t want to start a relationship on a lie,” Calipari said when talking about recruiting and not promising anything to players. Calipari has never called out a player or those surrounding them, but this quote seemed to correlate to the Shaedon Sharpe situation.

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When asked about Sharpe, Cal noted that he is still consulting with him and his family, “He was in class today. Nothing has changed in the last two months in how we go about this. I’m talking to his mother and father, and we’re talking once a week. THEY will play a part in this.”

When Calipari said “they”, he was seemingly referring to Sharpe and his family having a say in the decision, making it seem like Dwayne Washington, Sharpe’s advisor, wants to control the situation.

After his camp saying for months that he would play next season, what changed? “What changed is, he was coming back, that was the plan. But all of a sudden some circumstances change and maybe he can be picked in those early, early picks, maybe he can’t,” Calipari said.

Despite all the controversy, Calipari iterated this is not done, “He signed up for classes, both summer and fall. He put his stuff from his room in the basement of the lodge, Kids that are coming back put they’re stuff down there. We don’t know… He may do this, but it’s not done.”

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“Shaedon knows I want to coach him. Shaedon knows that Oscar is coming back. Don’t let all the negative stuff affect your decision”, Calipari also said.

Acknowledging Fan Frustration

Calipari acknowledged the fan frustration from losing to Saint Peter’s and the Sharpe situation saying, “We have unbelievably strong fanbase that’s everywhere in this country, but when things don’t go right, sometimes they get mad.”

Specifically on the Saint Peter’s game, “Did I grieve? Did I take it hard? What?1? I have never had a team do that in my career… But I’m done with it. It’s next.”

Calipari understands the frustration and takes it, “I get it and I know when people are mad they say stuff. That’s fine. Part of the tax you pay to be the Kentucky coach is that

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With that said, Calipari doesn’t want that frustration to hinder the program going forward, saying “let’s not hurt recruiting.”

Calipari ended the interview talking about the team’s visit to Dawson Springs, and talked about wanting to be remembered for more than basketball. “I’m hoping when my time has gone people can look back and not just be about all the winning and all the Final Fours and hopefully more than one national title and all the other stuff that they say more than that, that program helped everybody within the Commonwealth,” Calipari said.

Listen to the entirety of the interview on most podcast platforms or by using the link below.

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Men's Basketball

Sahvir Wheeler Says “Sky Is the Limit” for This Kentucky Team

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UK Athletics

Sahvir Wheeler may be one of the more controversial Kentucky Wildcats amongst fans.

On one hand, Wheeler is a Bob Cousy award finalist and two-time SEC assist leader, proving himself as one of the best playmakers in the country. On the other, he is an undersized guard that can play out of control and is an inefficient shooter.

Wheeler hears both sides of the aisle but has looked toward the critics to find motivation and at himself to find areas for improvement.

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In an interview with Kentucky Sports Radio, Wheeler talked about his self-reflection and looked at what worked and what didn’t last season.

What worked?

“Playing fast. Playing fast worked. Being able to give it up sometimes and kind of run out, that worked. Just trusting myself, being confident, building relationships with teammates — because they want to see you succeed. All that worked.”

What didn’t work?

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“I think sometimes I got a little out of control. I think defensively I took a step back. I think most of it was just because of the injury. Now that I feel healthy, I feel stronger, faster, more explosive, I feel like I’m back to where I was at the beginning of the year.”

Physically, Wheeler is in better shape after losing weight and cleaning up his diet in the offseason. Even saying, “I’m as fast, even faster than I once was”.

In August, the Big Blue Nation got to see the Wildcats and new and improved Sahvir Wheeler in the Bahamas, albeit against lesser competition.

Wheeler averaged 14.5 points on 61.1 percent shooting from the field and 93.3 percent from the line, but did struggle mightily from three, going 0-9. The senior guard also displayed more control, which was evident with a 24-6 assist-to-turnover ratio, equating to 6.1 assists and 1.5 turnovers per game.

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Wheeler’s play on the court shouldn’t overshadow his importance off it, bringing toughness and his leadership to this team.

Five-star freshman, Cason Wallace talked about how great it is to have Wheeler to lead him. “It’s great having Sahvir right there. If I have a problem with anything, he’s always right there to help me.”

Coming back for a second year at Kentucky, Wheeler has all the confidence in this team and himself, citing the “sky is the limit and beyond” and that he is “coming back with a vengeance.” *cue the Batman music*

Read more of KSR’s interview here.

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Also published on A Sea of Blue.

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Men's Basketball

Kentucky Basketball Unveils New Home Uniforms

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Twitter/Kentucky Men's Basketball

The Kentucky Wildcats have not been to the Final Four since 2015, which coincidentally is one of the last seasons that the checkerboard was used in moderation on the basketball uniforms. This was prior to the infamous pattern being featured very prominently on the sides of the jersey and shorts, which is what has been used for the past six seasons.

Over those six seasons, numerous players and many more fans have voiced their displeasure with the uniforms. The staff seems to have become pretty self-aware of this, with TJ Beisner making this trolling tweet in anticipation of the uniform unveiling.

Fortunately, the checkerboard is no more, at least on the home uniforms.

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On Tuesday, looks of the new home basketball uniforms were released with Oscar Tshiebwe donning the new threads.

The uniforms feature a much more classic look reminiscent of Kentucky’s classic uniforms of the past, specifically the early 2000s.

The away uniforms are sure to be released soon, but in the meantime, what are your thoughts on the new home uniforms?

Also published on A Sea of Blue.

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Men's Basketball

Kenny Payne Surprised at “Hatred” and Negative Recruiting at UofL

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Louisville Athletics

Over the past decade-plus, the Louisville Basketball program has been the country’s most reliable source of athletic-department salaciousness, ranging from affairs between the head coach and booster’s wife to an escort scandal to paying recruits.

It has been so frequent that the NCAA has not even provided consequences for all of the scandals yet. As of now, the NCAA has only issued consequences for the escort scandal, vacated their 2013 national title, and put them on four years of probation starting in 2017.

Five years later, NCAA has yet to issue any more consequences, but many believe it is just a matter of time before they are at least put back on probation.

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Given that, many teams have used this to their advantage, using the provided ammunition against Louisville in recruiting. Most people familiar will college athletics and/or the world of recruiting would not be surprised by this.

That is unless you are Kenny Payne.

On Sunday, Payne talked to the media about being unprepared to face the negative recruiting. “I wasn’t prepared for universities to say, ‘Louisville’s going on probation, why would you ever go there?’ to deter these kids from listening and especially from people that I’ve helped in the past. It’s a lesson for me.”

While Payne did not list any names, he went on to say, “my relationships with certain people that have been in my life for 30, 40 years have changed.”

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Could these comments be directed at another talented recruiter down the road, John Calipari? Calipari and Payne are battling for two top 10 prospects, Aaron Bradshaw and DJ Wagner. The latter of which, Payne hired his grandfather, Milt Wagner.

Whatever the case may be, Kenny Payne knows to recruit. During his time at Kentucky, he received commitments from a dozen five-star recruits and several four-star recruits.

For someone with that amount of recruiting success, it is difficult to believe that Payne wasn’t aware of the recruiting situation he was coming into.

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