John Calipari the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats gives instructions to his team during the exhibition game against the Transylvania Pioneers at Rupp Arena on November 1, 2013 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Hide Caption

John Calipari's superstar freshmen begin careers vs. UNC-Asheville

a a a a
Share this story

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky coach John Calipari outdid even himself with this year's recruiting class.

After luring some of the nation's top prospects the past several seasons to Lexington, Calipari has six high school All-Americans in his latest eight-player freshman group. Not since Michigan's "Fab Five" rookie lineup in 1991-92 has so much prep talent been assembled.

Now he has to find enough minutes to satisfy the highly talented individuals.

Calipari is also going to have to get them to sacrifice because there's probably not enough minutes to satisfy everyone when there's this many good players on one roster.

These Kentucky freshmen are already being mentioned as the best freshman class ever. The Wildcats are ranked No. 1 in the nation and are expected to win Kentucky's ninth national championship, perhaps even go unbeaten, after last season's team went 21-12 and lost at Robert Morris in the opening round of the NIT.

For them to live up to all the lofty expectations, Calipari will have to pull off one of his greatest balancing acts.

But as he seemingly does every year about this time, Calipari cautions against expecting too much too soon from a group that won't play its first official game together until Friday's opener against UNC-Asheville.

"We've made strides. We're not a good team right now," Calipari insisted after Monday night's 95-72 exhibition victory over Montevallo. "We've got a nice collection of guys, but we're not a good team."

Perhaps, but a few games could reveal whether this freshman class that includes forwards Marcus Lee and Julius Randle, 7-foot center Dakari Johnson and a backcourt of James Young and twin guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison, develops into the championship contender that they look like on paper.

While Calipari introduces his latest group of heralded rookies to the dribble drive and defense, he must also work in sophomores Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein, another 7-footer, and seniors Jarrod Polson and Jon Hood. The Wildcats also recruited promising 6-9 forward Derek Willis and guard Dominique Hawkins, Kentucky's reigning Mr. Basketball.

It's a problem many coaches would love to have.

"I saw them this summer and was blown away," said ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas, stopping short of calling Kentucky's class the best ever compared to UCLA's classes of the 1960s and 70s.

"I didn't think it was possible that you could take essentially a new team every year and have it competing for a national championship. I think he's shown he cannot only recruit, he's a great coach."

Calipari guided Kentucky to the national championship two years ago with a team led by freshmen Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague. The hope is that Kentucky's holdovers can provide the experience and veteran leadership that senior Darius Miller and sophomores Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones brought to that 2011-12 title squad.

The Wildcats lost one regular from that championship team, junior forward Kyle Wiltjer, whose decision to transfer to Gonzaga this summer was influenced by the influx of talent. But Poythress said he and Cauley-Stein "have talked a lot about stepping up and being leaders to help this team do well."

For now, Calipari's priorities are seeing which guys play well together and what kind of effort and energy they show. He's curious about how Andrew Harrison will run the point when he returns this week from a bruised knee, an injury that forced Aaron to move over from his regular shooting guard spot.

The fifth-year coach hasn't hesitated swapping entire lineups in preseason to get players' attention. No matter what combinations Calipari chooses, some players will sit while those that play must prepare for fewer minutes or touches than they expect.

"This is a great group of guys, and I just knew that we would blend well together," Johnson said. "Nobody complains about shots or minutes. We just have a main goal, and that's to win a national championship."

Many of Kentucky's freshmen have either played with or against each other in all-star games, familiarity that has made it easier to establish chemistry. And despite the glowing resumes all of the Wildcats boast, egos appear to have been checked at the door.

Calipari said the same selflessness that the 2011-12 championship squad showed is what this group of Wildcats need if they want to reach the same heights.

"They're in control," the coach said on media day. "The problem we have right now is we have a brand new team every year. So it's hard to say, `OK, we're going to play these seven or eight (guys) and these five are going to play four minutes.'

"No one's promised anything here. You're going to have to earn minutes."

It seems likely plenty of the Wildcats will get big minutes against an overmatched UNC-Asheville squad which went 16-16 last season and lost its top two scorers.

The Bulldogs and first-year coach Nick McDevitt will be looking for increased production from Will Weeks, part of the conference's all-freshman team

after averaging 9.0 points and 5.4 rebounds.

Asheville has lost its three meetings with Kentucky by an average of 45.3 points - the most recent was in 2009 - but three of its last four matchups with Top 25 teams were decided by 10 points or less. The Bulldogs lost 82-80 at then-No. 16 North Carolina State last season.

Previous
1 2
Next

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Print this article

Comments

Hmm... It looks like you’re not a WCPO Insider. or Subscribe now to contribute!

More UK Sports News
'Hefty Lefty' weighs in on NCAA ruling on food
'Hefty Lefty' weighs in on NCAA ruling on food

The former NFL and University of Kentucky quarterback playfully referred to as "Hefty Lefty" is having a little fun on social media…

Kentucky brings up memories of Fab Five
Kentucky brings up memories of Fab Five

The Fab Five came onto the national basketball landscape like a thunder dunk. You had to notice the five baggy-shorts-wearing…

Yes! UK is going to the NCAA championship game!
Yes! UK is going to the NCAA championship game!

Aaron Harrison hit a 3-pointer with 5.7 seconds left, after taking a pass from his twin brother Andrew, and Kentucky beat Wisconsin 74-73 on…

Contrasting UK, Wisconsin meet at Final Four
Contrasting UK, Wisconsin meet at Final Four

Wisconsin meets Kentucky in the Final Four on Saturday, in a national semifinal between two programs that approach the sport from completely…

Big, maybe historic weekend for the Wildcats
Big, maybe historic weekend for the Wildcats

It could be a historic NCAA basketball weekend for the Kentucky Wildcats and Coach John Calipari.The big win would mark the end of a tough…

UK's Randle set for homecoming in Dallas
UK's Randle set for homecoming in Dallas

Kentucky coach John Calipari might as well have built a pipeline to Texas during the recruiting season, or at least found a nice…

One-and-done working just fine for Kentucky
One-and-done working just fine for Kentucky

The youthful Kentucky Wildcats are getting somewhat comfortable with this whole winning thing.

Ky. and Wis. govs wage friendly Final Four bet
Ky. and Wis. govs wage friendly Final Four bet

Someone is winning big when Wisconsin faces the University of Kentucky in the Final Four round of play in the NCAA tournament Saturday.

Harrison's late 3-ptr. lifts UK to Final Four
Harrison's late 3-ptr. lifts UK to Final Four

Aaron Harrison made a 3-pointer from NBA range with 2.3 seconds left Sunday to lift Kentucky to a 75-72 win over Michigan and a trip to the…

UK took the hard way to verge of Final Four
UK took the hard way to verge of Final Four

If the crew of growing-on-the-job freshmen at Kentucky find themselves in Dallas next week, nobody can tell them they didn't take the…