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Calipari aims to make history for Kentucky, himself

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John Calipari has only been coaching Kentucky for two years, but the fans are already restless. (Getty Images)  
John Calipari has only been coaching Kentucky for two years, but the fans are already restless. (Getty Images)  

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- So I strolled through the rain, into Memorial Coliseum and logged onto Facebook because, well, I don't really know. I guess I just like to make people aware of where I'm at from time to time. So I checked in Thursday afternoon and announced to the caring world that I was at Kentucky's media day listening to John Calipari speak, and 18 replies later, a Wildcats fan chimed in.

"Tell him he's awesome [but that] UK fans want our damn title already, and that we're getting impatient," wrote my friend Kevin. "He's been here for two years already!!! What's taking so long?"

Such is life for Coach Cal.

He can sit behind a table in a UK jogging suit and talk about his graduation rate and APR, his Atlantic 10 titles, Conference USA titles and SEC titles, and he can rattle off the wins he has accumulated and the amount of players he has put in the NBA -- it really is an impressive résumé. And he can talk about working in communities, too. And about giving back. And about also teaching players to give back. But at the end of the day, at the end of his career, fair or not, Calipari will be judged by the casual basketball fan -- and by almost all Kentucky fans -- by the number of national championships he has won.

Right now that number remains at zero.

And how much do you think that weighs on him?

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"It probably hurts him a lot because he's one of the best coaches in the world," answered Kentucky sophomore Doron Lamb. "He's always got a great team and a great freshman class coming in. He's just not winning national championships. But [this] year we're gonna try to win it for him."

The roster is built to do it.

Calipari has again assembled a nice group of talented players headlined by Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones and Marquis Teague, all of whom could be lottery picks next June. Lamb could also sneak into the first round, meaning Kentucky could have five guys drafted in 2012 just like they had happen in 2010. That's the good. The bad is that three of those players (Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist and Teague) are freshmen, and the other two (Jones and Lamb) are sophomores, and no team in the history of college basketball has ever won a national championship relying so heavily on such a young lineup. The Fab Five came close at Michigan. Twice. And that Ohio State team with Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Daequan Cook played for a title, too. But facts are facts, and the fact is that it has never happened. So not only is Calipari taking a team that's ranked No. 2 in the CBSSports.com Preseason Top 25 (and one) and trying to do something with it that he has never done (i.e., win a national championship), he's also trying to do something that has never been done by anybody (i.e., win a national championship with a freshman-heavy roster).

Might he pull off that feat this season?

"I believe so," Jones said. "[These freshmen] don't work like freshmen or play like freshmen."

That much, I can tell you, is true. Davis is a freak of nature with unique abilities for his size, the kind that could make him the top overall pick of the 2012 NBA Draft. He doesn't play like Kevin Durant, but the "wows" he generates from scouts and coaches reminds me of the way folks at Texas spoke about Durant before his incredible freshman season. Meantime, Kidd-Gilchrist is a rock-solid talent and kid, and Calipari has already taken to calling Teague a "pitbull" of an on-the-ball-defender.

"They're all good," Calipari said. "I've got a good team."

But how good?

National-championship good?

On paper, the answer is yes. But until Calipari does it, his detractors -- and even some of his fans -- will continue to remind everybody that he hasn't, and that's the burden he'll carry as the biggest and baddest coach of the nation's biggest and baddest program. Calipari was 29 years old when he got his first Division I head coaching job. Now he's 52. Time isn't running out, exactly, but the clock is ticking. And every minute erased is another minute for people to debate whether Calipari can A) win the whole thing, and B) win the whole thing with a roster that'll almost always be freshman-heavy given his ability to lure elite prospects into his program, usually for just one year at a time.

"We'll see, I guess," Calipari said. "At the end of the day, 10 years from now, we'll be able to look back and say, 'OK, this is how it played out.'"

Until then, people will just wait and wonder.

And wonder.

And wonder.

And ask about it on Facebook, too.


Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.
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