|Sign up for KyForward news updates|
The University of Kentucky men’s basketball team returned to the No. 1 spot in the Associated Press top 25 poll for the first time since the 2009-10 season this week, but the Wildcats aren’t getting too worked up about the honor.
“It doesn’t mean anything,” said freshman forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. “It’s still November. We’ve got a long way to go.”
UK was ranked No. 1 most recently in the week 11 poll in the 2009-10 season but has not held the honor for more than one week since the 1995-96 season. UK head coach John Calipari said the Wildcats must view the ranking in the correct context.
“I want you to understand this is not a burden, it’s a badge of honor,” Calipari said he told his players. “That’s what it is. Playing here, this is what you’re trying to attain. Now it’s not when we want it, but we’re there so lets see how we perform.”
Calipari’s message appears to have taken hold as Kidd-Gilchrist, freshman point guard Marquis Teague and freshman forward Anthony Davis each said Wednesday it was too early to worry about rankings.
“It really doesn’t mean anything,” Davis said. “We try not to listen to all of that. We’re only in November. It’s an honor to be No. 1 right now, but it’s still a whole season ahead of us. We’re not even half way through the season yet.”
“It’s an honor, but it’s still early in the season,” Teague said. “We’re not really worried about it. We just want to come out, play hard and perform.”
UK’s first test as the nation’s top-ranked team comes Thursday when the Wildcats take on St. John’s in Rupp Arena.
Of the seven St. John’s players averaging more than 20 minutes a game this season, four are freshmen and one is a sophomore. The 3-4 Red Storm will be making their first trip outside of New York when they travel to Lexington this week.
“You’re going to see a team that’s trying to steal every ball, dives on the floor, takes charges,” Calipari said. “These guys ball. They play. It’s going to be a good challenge for us.”
Despite their youth, St. John’s is a team that could out-hustle UK in the game, Calipari said.
“It’s something that we have to say, ‘are you going to let them beat you to every 50-50 ball? Are you going to let them beat you on the floor when there’s a ball? Are you going to let them outrun you down the court?’” Calipari said. “It’s something we’re going to have to see. It’s something we’ll be challenged by.”
“I think they’re a real talented team,” Teague said. “(They’re) young guys, going to come in with a lot of energy. They’re going to come in hungry.”
While UK is ranked No. 1 in both top 25 polls, Calipari said the Wildcats still have plenty of detractors to remind them of their shortcomings.
“Thirty percent of the voters voted for someone else, which is really unusual,” he said. “Normally whoever ascends, you get a majority of the votes. That didn’t happen.”
“You’ve got a lot of people saying last night’s game (between Duke and Ohio State) decided the No. 1 for next week,” he added. “The greatest thing is I don’t even have to say stuff. The world we live in right now, if anybody says anything it’s out there in cyberspace. (The players) read it all.”
Photo by Mark Boxley.