Kentucky coach John Calipari had three questions for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist when the star freshman didn't want to start in the 2012 SEC tournament championship game against Vanderbilt.
"Are you sick? Are you hurt? What are you talking about? Tell me … "
Kidd-Gilchrist cut Calipari off with the answer.
"Darius isn't playing well and we need him to win a national title."
DECOURCY'S REGION BREAKDOWNS: East | West | South | Midwest
Darius Miller won the SEC tournament MVP for Kentucky in 2011, but he did not score a point in the first two SEC tournament games the following season. Calipari still honored Kidd-Gilchrist's request and made the switch. Miller scored 17 points on 16 shots. Kidd-Gilchrist finished with five points and fouled out.
Kentucky lost 71-64 to the Commodores, just its second loss that season. Why is it the lasting memory for Calipari a decade later?
"We lost that game, but we won the n Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus clothes ational title because of that move by Michael," Calipari told Sporting News. "That's when the team was like, 'Holy geez are we for each other.' That was because of the youngest player on the team."
Three weeks later, Kentucky beat Kansas 67-59 in the national championship game in New Orleans. That marked the first title for Calipari and put the "one-and-done" debate to rest.
"When the game ended I looked at my wife and said, 'All right, that's done. Now we can go about doing what we do,'" Calipari said. "In other words, they kept saying, 'He doesn't care about winning. He's just trying to recruit. He just cares about putting people in the NBA. Yeah, he's got all these guys in the NBA, but where's that national title?' That eliminated that."
By the 2011-12 season, Calipari had already enjoyed success at Kentucky with freshmen-laden starting lineups. John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe led an Elite Eight run in 2009-10, and Terrence Jones and Brandon Knight were starters on a Final Four team in 2010-11.
Jones was the only returning starter and Miller became the sixth man the following season. Calipari's new five-star freshman class included Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Anthony Davis, a 6-10 forward who was projected as the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft before the season started. Sophomore Doron Lamb rounded out what would become the youngest starting five to win a national championship.
EXPERT PICKS: DeCourcy (Arizona) | Bender (Kentucky) | Fagan (Gonzaga) | Pohnl (Arizona)
UK Radio Network color analyst Mike Pratt saw leadership emerge early in the season.
"AD and Kidd-Gilchrist were the straw that stirred the drink, and everyone else was willing to fall in line with all of that," Pratt told SN. "That was the most-important thing. Those two guys controlled the locker room and they controlled the culture. I think that has as much to do with winning as anything."
Teague had a tough following act at point guard after Wall and Knight the previous two seasons, even if Calipari didn't see it that way.
"That team, we were really fast," he said. "Like really fast, and we were skilled. Early in Michigan vs. Ohio State Rivalry Jerseys the se Denver Pioneers shirt ason, everybody doubted our point guard, Marquis Teague. By the end of the season, you know what? He was fine. He was another weapon."
Calipari also noticed one piece that completed the puzzle.
"Darius Miller was the glue of the team," Calipari said. "He was OK coming off the bench and being the sixth man of the year. I even said I wanted to introduce this team with six starters. We had six that were really pretty good."
Kentucky opened the season at No. 2 a Florida vs. Georgia Rivalry Gear nd bolted to a 10-0 start with victories against No. 12 Kansas and No. 5 North Carolina. Davis nearly had a triple-double with 15 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocks in a 81-59 victory against St. John's on Dec. 1.
"Once we got through November, I knew (Davis) was the real deal," Pratt said. "They continued to grow and other guys on the team grew their game. I thought they could make a real serious run at the championship by the end of December."
Indiana became the first hiccup on Dec. 10, 2011. The Hoosiers won 73-72 at Assembly Hall on a buzzer-beater by Christian Watford, but Calipari had a unique take on that event.
"They made it an ESPY," Calipari said. "We lost on a buzzer-beater at Indiana, and they made it an ESPY. You beat us, you became an Fairleigh Dickinson Florham Devils shirt ESPY."
Calipari was right to have that confidence. Davis (14.2 ppg.), Lamb (13.7), Jones (12.3), Kidd-Gilcrhist (11.9) and Teague (10.0) averaged double figures, and Miller (9.9) and Kyle Wiltjer (5.0) contributed to an offense that averaged 77.4 points per game.
Defense was the difference-maker, however. Kentucky allowed 60.6 points per game. That started with Davis, who led the nation with 4.7 blocks per game. Davis finished with 186 blocks, 21 short of the NCAA record set by Navy's David Robinson in 1986.
"Anthony was the best blocker, and I've had a few," Calipari said. "(Former UMass center) Marcus Camby was one that I would say, 'You know, wow.' I have a kid on this team, Daimion (Collins), who is going to be that kind of guy, too. When you have a shot blocker, it makes everything better."
Kidd-Gilchrist, a 6-7 forward, was the dangerous end of the defensive equation.
"Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was an absolut Notre Dame vs. USC Rivalry shirt e beast who could guard every position on the court from point guard to five," Calipari said. "You could switch pick-and-rolls. If they had a good guard, you could put him on him. If they had a good forward, you could put him on him. Teague was good on the ball, but we could put Michael on the ball. Darius Miller could guard multiple positions. We were that way."
"The biggest thing was, yes, you could take chances because Anthony's back there," he said. "Now, you weren't worried about getting beat on the bounce because you push up. If they started beating you on the bounce, then they had to shoot through Anthony."
Kentucky ranked 15th in Division I in scoring offense and 25th in scoring defense, the only time that happened under Calipari. The Wildcats finished 16-0 in SEC regular-season play and won 24 straight games before losing to Vanderbilt.
How would this team respond to that adversity in the NCAA tournament?
Pratt saw the answer in the first weekend. Kentucky beat Western Kentucky 81-66 and Iowa State 87-71 in the first two rounds.
"It was clear they flushed that loss down the drain," Pratt said. "Sometimes you take pressure off guys by having a loss. I'm not advocating a loss, but that is kind of what happened."
MORE: Remembering UMBC's 16-over-1 upset of Virginia
The Wildcats then avenged the regular-loss loss to Indiana102-90 in the Sweet 16 before Davis went down in a scare in the Elite Eight matchup with Baylor. Calipari remembers joking with Davis to get up but exhaled when it happened. Kentucky beat Baylor 82-70 to advance to the Final Four.
Davis emerged as the story of the 2012 NCAA tournament. He averaged 15.3 points, 11.7 rebounds, 4.8 blocks and 3.2 assists in one of the most-dominant tournament performances of all time.
MORE: Best NCAA runs by current NBA stars
"He was a guy that had everything around him that he needed to go step out and be that guy," Calipari said. "He had a desire within him to be the best player, to be the No. 1 pick, to say, "This is me. This is my stage.' I love the fight and what I saw."
For Kentucky fans, the 2012 Final Four might be best-remembered for the semifinal matchup with in-state rival Louisville and Rick Pitino, who led the Wildcats to the national championship in 1996. This was the first Final Four meeting between the schools, and the hype in the Bluegrass State was off the charts.
"That was a critical ball game for both teams," Pratt said. "To come that far to the Final Four and the fan bases are all excited and then Kentucky wins, that was a big game. I never had any problem with thinking Kentucky was going to win that. I liked the matchup, but Louisville played well."
Louisville tied the game at 49 with a 15-3 run, and that is when Calipari noticed an attitude shift on the Kentucky sideline.
"(Louisville) thought they were winning," Calipari said. "They thought they were going to beat us. Our guys thought, 'They're not beating us. They are not.' There was no way we were going to play a game not ready to play, if you know what I'm saying. You're not beating us."
That set up a championship game with Kansas, and the Wildcats jumped out to a 41-27 halftime lead. Lamb scored 22 points and Teague added 14. Davis scored just six poin Alaska Anchorage Seawolves Jerseys ts, but he had 16 rebounds and six blocks.
Calipari, however, remembers two things from that game. The first came when Jones twisted his ankle.
"Terrence Jones turned his ankle so bad that everybody on the TV screen that was watching him said, 'Oh my gosh,'" Calipari said. "The kid was on the floor for about two minutes, then pushed himself up with a pushup and finished the game on a swollen ankle. That's the kind of kid he was."
Fittingly, the second was a defensive play by Kidd-Gilchrist on Tyshawn Taylor that turned the momentum in Kentucky's favor for good in the final minutes.
"Michael Kidd blocks a shot on the weak side," Calipari said. "I can't even believe how he got to it, but he blocked it. We were able to defend th College Operation Hat Trick Apparel em from different positions."
Kentucky finished 38-2 and won the national championship. Davis and Kidd-Glichrist were the first two picks in the 2012 NBA Draft. Jones and Teague also were first-round picks, and Lamb and Miller were taken in the second round.
The Wildcats have had younger starting five lineups in the last decade. The 2013-14 team and 2017-18 teams had all-freshman lineups and the 2013-14 reached the championship game. Kentucky has produced 43 NBA Draft picks and 32 first-rounders under Calipari but is still looking for the next national championship.
"This is where he wants to be when he does this, but unfortunately you don't have guys like Kidd-Gilchrist, AD and Jones every year," Pratt said. "That team was so well put together."
Calipari maintains he still uses three coaching lessons that materialized with the 2011- Notre Dame vs. USC Rivalry Shirts 12 team. Player development and learning to fight for your spot remain the first two standards.
"The third thing, and Pat Riley said this to me, a great compliment, he said, 'Your kids in this league are all great teammates. They learn to share,'" Calipari said. "A team like that means five double figures. That team had it, and so does the team I'm coaching. Now the fact we have a sixth man. We almost have six guys in double figures on this team. That means, 'Who do you stop? Who are you taking away?'"
It is a formula that works for the 2021-22 team, which opens NCAA tournament play on Thursday as a No. 2 seed in the East Region.
Sporting News Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe, a 6-9, 260-pound forward, averages 17 points and 15.2 rebounds. TyTy Washington, Kellan Grady, Keion Brooks and Sahvir Wheeler all average double figures. Sixth man Davion Mintz is a fifth-year senior. This team had won one of those moments in the home finale against Ole Miss on March 1.
MORE: SN names Oscar Tshiebwe Player of the Year
"Kellan comes up to me on Senior Night for Davion because I had him in with 10 seconds left. He runs up and says, 'You gotta get Davion out. Let him get an ovation,'" Calipari said. "I just forgot. I took him out, he got his ovation and that's because of Kellen, not me. That's the stuff that makes for a great team."
That is what Calip Berklee College of Music shirt ari had 10 years ago, and that season comes with one lasting flashback that unfurls from that moment Kidd-Gilchrist told him to put Miller in the starting lineup.
"Here's the memory," Calipari said. "Good players make good teams. Great teammates make great teams."
There is no question about that now.