By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today
LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — John Calipari was looking forward to the NCAA Tournament and admitted that he was surprised by the decision to cancel the tourney because of coronavirus concerns.
“Today’s news has stunned all of us,” he said. “It’s just now sinking in for me. As disappointed as we all are, this was the right decision for the health of our nation. I’m saddened for everyone. My heart is broken for our guys, but I’m equally as disappointed for the thousands of student-athletes across the country in all sports and at all levels who won’t have a chance to experience that shining moment that they’ve worked so hard for.”
The Kentucky coach believes the Wildcats could have competed for a national title. UK won the Southeastern Conference regular-season crown and finished with a 25-6 record, including a 15-3 mark in the league.
“I’m really going to miss this team,” Calipari said on ESPN SportsCenter Thursday. “I think we could have won the national title. I think we had a bunch of guys who really liked each other. We didn’t have one bad practice all year. Not one. The last team that had done that for me won the national title, or was in the final game. Fate intervened but they deserved to keep playing.”
The Wildcats were scheduled to play the winner of the Alabama-Tennessee game Friday in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament in Nashville, but the remainder of the tournament was cancelled because of coronavirus concerns. The NCAA Tournament also was called off Thursday, bringing an abrupt end to the season. Calipari said the pandemic was “nobody’s fault.”
“It had to be done,” he said. “It’s not fair. You also learn fate intervenes sometimes in your life, some of it good — in our lives, many, many things have been good — some of it bad. Some of it’s man-made, some self-made, some of it not. Now, it’s how do you deal with that?”
For the most part, Calipari was pleased with his team’s performances and hopes the Big Blue Nation “take on the team.”
“If we had been in the Final Four and won the national title, this may have been the most favorite team I have coached here in 11 years,” he said. “But they didn’t get a chance to be that team. They don’t have a chance to live that last moment, whether you’re going to win or lose, which will be with them the rest of their life. That’s, for me, the hard thing to swallow.”
Calipari said the team will continue to work out in Lexington and added, “You may not know where the end of the road is. You’re running down a dark hallway and hope a doorway’s not open. This is a hard thing for these kids.”
“I met with them as a team on the way back to Lexington and I’ll have individual meetings with them tomorrow so they can figure out what’s next,” Calipari said. “We’re still working through all that. Whatever that is for each individual player, we’ll be there every step of the way for them.”
In moving forward, Calipari said four or five players are expected to declare for the next level, but added an NBA Draft isn’t certain at this point.
“When is the draft? What is the draft? What is the combine? When is the combine?” Calipari asked. “Are they going to have people, players fly in with their families and agents to work them out? Well, they’re not coming to our campus because we’re not letting you. Will there even be a draft?”
Like all athletic events in the nation, it remains to be seen whether a draft will even be held this year.