by Tyler Hobbs
“If I have to choose between experience and talent, I’ll choose talent.” It is no secret that John Calipari never backs down from his beliefs. Cal answered challengers last year that it was, in fact, possible for freshman to win it all. This year introduces a brand new challenge not only for Coach Cal, but also for the NCAA. Six players from Calipari’s National Champion team were drafted last summer, and Kentucky is the only team in the NCAA not to return a starter. If you know anything about Calipari, however, you know that he will reload every year. The talent is certainly there for Calipari to work with, but all of his experience has left for greener NBA pastures. All this being said, the expectations put on the team by the “Big Blue Nation” and the media, suggest this year’s edition won’t skip a beat from last year’s.
The Associated Press ranked the Cats 3rd in their preseason rankings, just behind rivals Indiana and Louisville. The world seems to think the Cats are among the elite teams in the nation, but one person is attempting to temper expectations. John Calipari has taken every opportunity with the media, to brush aside any comparisons to last year’s team. This is indeed a new team with a new identity, but that certainly doesn’t mean that history can’t repeat itself. This team has the talent to compete with any team in the country. As Cal has said year to year at Kentucky, “I like my team, but we have a long way to go.” Perhaps, however, the journey isn’t quite that far.
Defensively, this team should be second to none. With #1 ranked player in the 2012 class, Nerlens Noel, leading the way with his uncanny shot blocking ability, comparisons to Anthony Davis have already begun swirling. Is Noel Anthony Davis? No, but then again, who else is? Noel does have one thing that Anthony Davis does not have, and it isn’t just a flat top or two eyebrows. It’s Willie Cauley-Stein, an underrated football turned basketball star that John Calipari has been giddy about since the day he arrived on campus. Cauley-Stein is an athletic freak who, so far, has impressed even more than Noel. With these two giants, Noel at 6’10” and Cauley-Stein at 7’0”, guarding the middle, there won’t be many easy buckets down low.
Offensively, it appears that Kentucky will be led by freshmen Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress. Goodwin is a jack-of-all-trades type, in exhibition he has yet to show a weakness on the offense. He dunks with passion, is an above-average shooter, and has incredible court vision. Poythress has gained comparisons to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of last year’s championship squad. He has the mind, will-to-win, and a driving ability that is not easily stopped. Add last year’s sixth man and deadeye shooter, Kyle Wiltjer, to the mix and Calipari’s squad is equally as dangerous as it is on defense.
Two question marks coming into this year are Ryan Harrow and Julius Mays. Both transfers, Harrow from NC State and Mays from Wright State, are relatively unknown. Harrow finds himself in a tough position with a long line of successful point guards under John Calipari. Following names like John Wall, Derrick Rose, and Tyreke Evans, expectations are high for the young man. The question is can he live up to the pressure? Not many know what to expect in a transfer from Wright State, because, well, it’s Wright State. Mays however has provided the Cats with a reliable scoring threat off the bench, impressing many (including Cal). Both of these questions should become irrelevant as Calipari gets them into his system, but they are something to watch going forward.
The Cats may have some growing pains, struggling early, with a very young roster. Being thrown against Maryland and Duke for the first 2 games also doesn’t help. UK will hit a few bumps throughout the season, but rest assured, they will be fit for a long run come March and contest for back-to-back titles. Perhaps even a 3peat with the unbelievable 2013 class they have coming, but we will get to that later. The young Wildcats take on the newly freed Dez Wells and his Maryland Squad tonight at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn at 8:30 on ESPN.