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Can Anyone Whisper “PLATOON” (again)?

Karl-Anthony Towns, as an integral part of Coach John Calipari’s infamous 2014 – 2015 platoon system, battles for a rebound versus Notre Dame in the regional finals. Photo Credit Dr. Michael Huang

(LEXINGTON, Ky. ) — The year after Kentucky went 38 – 1 and finished two measly wins short of exalted and legendary college basketball status, head coach John Calipari unceremoniously put an end to his vaunted platoon approach. Not only did the Hall of Fame coach’s substitution strategy fall short in garnering an expected ninth national title for the Wildcats, but rival recruiters were quick to point out that anyone playing in Calipari’s system would be caught in a death spiral of limited action on the court and sitting half the game on the bench. Consequently, the blueprint of using two talented five-man teams to physically and emotionally hammer the opponent into submission became a derisive cuss word in the collective lexicon of the Big Blue Nation.

Never again implied Coach Cal. From now on it would be an eight-man substitution pattern all the way to the next championship tilt. Don’t bring that platoon poppycock into my house anymore. Kentucky isn’t for everybody, but for those who truly belong, there are plenty of minutes still to be had.

Well, what goes around invariably comes around…again. Six years later, having failed to reach another Final Four, it might be time for Calipari to reconsider. The 2021 – 2022 version of the Wildcats returns with twelve (yep—count ‘em) players battling for precious court time. Returnees Keion Brooks, Jr., Davion Mintz, Dontaie Allen, Lance Ware, and Jacob Toppin; transfers Sahvir Wheeler, Kellan Grady, CJ Frederick, and Oscar Tshiebwe; incoming freshman Ty Ty Washington, Damion Collins, and Bryce Hopkins—all good enough to start or play for most Division I powers across the land.

This doesn’t even include the mind-blowing possibility of Kentucky adding even more bodies to the mix—difference-making bodies such as Jalen Duren, Kofi Cockburn, or Marcus Carr. Perhaps what Calipari will really need is a three-team platoon system. His second team could take the SEC trophy while his third team could still beat U of L and bludgeon his buddy Tom Cream at Georgia.

The reality, however, is that numbers don’t lie. There are only 200 minutes in a basketball game. Two hundred divided by twelve players works out to only 16.67 minutes per person per game. If you only play an eight-man rotation, what are you going to do with those that are left out? In the best-case scenario, four players (and their families) won’t be happy campers. If Mitch Barnhart thinks the new NIL rules might have the potential to disrupt team chemistry, just wait until we hear groaning from the Forgotten Four.

On the positive side, with this type of never-before-seen depth utilized correctly, Kentucky should be immune from foul trouble, injuries, and players in the doghouse. Practices should be as competitive as ever. No one can afford to hold back, and everyone leaves it all on the floor. Throw in the occasional platooning strategy during games (it’s not like you have to platoon the entire forty minutes) and watch the opposition start grabbing for their shorts and sucking wind. Oh—that look in their eyes when five fresh bodies (who are just as talented) step out on the court after that media timeout. PRICELESS!

Fans love this kind of dominating fast-paced action. It’s pure ecstasy when you score the first 24 points of the game and you’re up 41 – 7 at the half (remember UCLA in the 2014 CBS Sports Classic in Chicago). All you have to do is keep winning and everybody will be happy with the platoon system—or at least they’ll be willing to go along for the championship ride. If you’re worried about a recruiting hit, just don’t call it the “platoon.” Call it something else, like “24 balls to the wall” or “16.67 minutes of hell.”

In 2015, Karl-Anthony Towns’ 10.3 points, 6.7 rebounds in 21 minutes of game action still got him selected as the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. Although this year’s crew isn’t nearly as top heavy with NBA talent, just think what would happen if they all added an elusive national championship to their draft resume.

In Cal we trust. He’ll get it worked out. He knows best…but I say, “PLATOON!”

Blue Team: Washington, Grady, Brooks, Collins, Tshiebwe (Allen)

White Team: Wheeler, Frederick, Mintz, Toppin, Ware (Hopkins)

Dream Team: Carr, Grady, Brooks, Duren, Cockburn

Dr. John Huang
Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist and military veteran. As a lifelong Wildcat fan, a fledgling author, and an occasional guest host of Just the Cats Radio, he's now living out his dream as a UK Sports columnist. Dr. Huang also covers professional sports on a regional level. You can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs or contact him @KYHuangs@gmail.com. If you enjoy his writing, you can also read more at www.huangswhinings.com.
http://www.huangswhinings.com

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