LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — The most drama for Kentucky players during a gathering at John Calipari’s house for Sunday night’s NCAA Tournament selection show was finding a comfortable resting spot.
The weary Wildcats knew they had locked up the top seed in the tournament, so their focus wasn’t really on the television in the coach’s living room, but rather the limited seating — there were two couches, two chairs and an ottoman.
Players were engaged — mostly with their cellphones — but just hours before the show aired they had won the Southeastern Conference tournament to cap a stretch of three games in three days and improve to 34-0. They jetted back to Lexington for the get-together at Calipari’s home not far from campus.
After the bus arrived, about 150 members of Big Blue nation lined the streets and gathered outside of Calipai’s two-story beige and cream-trimmed brick mansion.
Inside, there was no cheering, fist pumping or high-fiving. Calipari reacted only when SEC teams were announced as well as surprise selections such as UCLA and Ohio State.
Players were subdued when it was officially announced they were the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed. They were mostly silent, with a business-like attitude of, “Ok, let’s get ready for Nos. 35, 36, 37, 38, 39 and 40.”
They did seem pretty happy, however, when Calipari made the announcement that the catered dinner of fried chicken and vegetables was served, signaling the little soiree might soon be coming to an end.
“I was half asleep in there,” said junior Willie Cauley-Stein, the SEC’s tournament most valuable player. “I couldn’t even tell you who we’re playing. …
“I feel like last year it was more like, we didn’t know what we were going to get. This year, we know what region we’re in and where we’re going to play.”
The Wildcats have completed two-thirds of their quest to become the first team in program history to become undefeated national champions. Kentucky rolled through the SEC regular season, then captured the SEC Tournament on Sunday.
The Wildcats begin the third leg on Thursday about 85 miles West on I-64 in Louisville against the winner of the Manhattan-Hampton play-in game. They figure to be heavy favorites in that NCAA opener, but are also mindful that they’re past the point of no return in their season.
“Now, everybody has the same issues,” a hoarse Calipari said, holding court on his patio. “You lose, you go home. To play us before, you lived for another day. Now, you’re strapped up to the chair. You lose this, you’re done.”
Calipari has previously hosted players and media for selection shows parties at his house, most recently in the 2012 championship season.
Any symbols of Calipari’s success with Kentucky weren’t immediately visible while walking down the hallway to a large, open living room featuring a high vaulted ceiling and two big windows. Wildcats assistant coaches and Calipari’s wife, Ellen, sat at tables and another couch in an adjacent room near the kitchen during the show.
The inside of the Calipari home appears typically modern, with furniture situated around a stone fireplace and the big-screen TV mounted above the mantle. For the coach guiding a high-profile basketball program facing huge expectations of becoming the first unbeaten national champion since Indiana in 1976, the setting provides a relaxing escape.
Kentucky players certainly made themselves at home during the 90-minute gathering after a long week that ended successfully. The Wildcats will have Monday off before resuming work on the last and toughest segment of their quest.
No longer is there room for a good loss.
Sophomore point guard Andrew Harrison summed up the Wildcats’ approach saying: “We’ll enjoy the night off and try to get better tomorrow.”