John Calipari: Thrilled by decision

Updated: April 26, 2014, 12:23 AM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Kentucky coach John Calipari met with Andrew and Aaron Harrison in Lexington, Ky., for five brief minutes Friday morning before he left for a recruiting trip to Sacramento, Calif.

The twins didn't tell their coach whether they were declaring for the NBA draft by Sunday's deadline or returning for their sophomore season.

"I didn't know," Calipari said Friday night by phone from Sacramento. "We met for five minutes, and they told me they were going to make a decision today and call their dad.''

Calipari's reaction to the news that the twins would be back?

Thrilled.

The Wildcats, a preseason No. 1 but an 11-loss team, were within one point of UConn in the national title game with eight minutes left earlier this month, only to lose to the Huskies 60-54.

Kentucky had gone on an improbable run to the final, knocking off Kansas State in an 8/9 game, undefeated top seed Wichita State in the round of 32, and then rival Louisville before Aaron Harrison's late 3s beat Michigan and Wisconsin in the final rounds leading up to the title game.

The return of the Harrison twins, coupled with the decisions of Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress to stay, as well as an incoming top-two recruiting class led by big men Trey Lyles and Karl Towns Jr., means Kentucky likely will start the season No. 1 for the second straight year.

"We've got a lot of work to do," Calipari said. "But I'm happy with whom I'm starting with. I can actually have veteran guys."

Calipari said there is a parallel between the veteran leadership he'll have on this team and the 2012 national championship team that was led by freshmen but also had experienced returnees.

The biggest difference is next season's team will be complemented by the freshmen, instead of relying on them.

"There's no question these guys have to blend their talents," Calipari said. "The whole key will be everyone truly playing for each other. How quickly will they be servant leaders? They all need to be worried about each other. The greatest thing is the young guys are ecstatic. They know it's not on them."

Calipari said the freshmen will get better with the competition and still will be able to perform like they want.

"There may not be as many minutes," Calipari said. "We'll coach every player like he's a starter. We did that this season. That's what we did with Dominique Hawkins and that's why Marcus Lee was ready. Each of them have things they must work on."

Calipari said that once he knew his roster Friday, he immediately called his staff and told it to start planning for an August trip. The NCAA allows teams to go on foreign trips every four years, and Kentucky last went in 2010, to Canada.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison
AP Photo/James CrispThe return of twins Andrew (left) and Aaron Harrison has John Calipari feeling good about Kentucky's chances next season.

"We want to play national teams," Calipari said. "Once we found out, all of a sudden, it's, 'Let's go.' We've got to get the trip rolling now. Where are we going? How are we doing it?"

The Wildcats are still finalizing their nonconference schedule but will play Kansas in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis, UCLA in Chicago and a home game in the Big 12/SEC Challenge that could end up being against Texas if, as expected, Florida plays Kansas in a return game in the event. Calipari said the Wildcats will host Providence and are working on a game at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn again.

Calipari said he hasn't had a chance to think the past few weeks, let alone watch the national title game from April 7.

"I've been doing all the NBA things," Calipari said of counseling the early entrants.

Freshmen Julius Randle and James Young, the top two scorers this past season, declared for the NBA draft. Calipari also has been on a book tour and is scheduled for hip surgery May 2.

"We'll have a team meeting Sunday or Monday," he said. "I was sick to my stomach the next morning (April 8) but I was then focusing on the kids. I wasn't worried about me. Now I'm back to being fine."

More than fine. He has his most experienced roster in his soon-to-be six-year tenure in Lexington. In the previous five, he coached in three Final Fours, won one national championship and lost in the title game.

The August trip Calipari is now planning isn't the only thing rolling right now.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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