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By LARRY VAUGHT
BIRMINGHAM — Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook editor Chris Dortch covers Southeastern Conference basketball and has known Kentucky coach John Calipari since his coaching days at Memphis. Dortch offered these observations on the Wildcats during the SEC Media Days here Wednesday.
Question: What went into your decision to have Kentucky No. 2 in your preseason poll?
Dortch: “Unbelievable talent. Too much to ignore despite the inexperience. I think this team will be similar to the 2012 team, which was also young, but it had a couple of warriors in Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist that didn’t care about personal stats. When great players care only about winning, that combination is all but unbeatable.
“Having said all that, I like Michigan State’s talent and experience. The more I read the 5,000-word story that we’ll run on MSU in Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, the more I thought ‘this is the best team in the country.’”
Question: What player on this Kentucky roster is the most intriguing to you?
Dortch: “I could give you an easy answer and say Julius Randle, but I won’t. James Young intrigues me because he’s a game-breaking shooter with range that can open up the floor for all of Kentucky’s athletes.”
Question: Where do you think Julius Randle will rank among the impact freshman Calipari has had?
Dortch: “It would be very hard to surpass what Anthony Davis did. Not sure anyone ever will. So I’ll say No. 2.”
Question: How do you anticipate Calipari handling the playing rotation of perhaps the most talented Kentucky roster he has had?
Dortch: “I would imagine he can extend his rotation. By playing more people, he may have his most suffocating defensive team ever. People that think he just rolls the balls out forget how much he demands of his players on the defensive end, and on the boards.”
Question: Who do you think could be the “super sub” for UK this year?
Dortch: “Marcus Lee brings a lot of pluses to the table.”
Question: Will the experience Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein gained last year allow them to be for this team what Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones were for the 2012 national championship team?
Dortch: “You would think so. But again, I think the Harrison twins and Randle are tough guys that, even as freshmen, could take over teams (as leaders, that is) just by the sheer force of their will. They won’t need to be led.”
Question: Is Calipari underrated as a bench coach because of his recruiting ability?
Dortch: “Yes, I believe that. I say this a lot: Look at his teams over the years and see how they rank among the nation’s leaders in defensive field-goal percentage and rebound margin. Those are effort stats. And no team can excel at effort stats unless it is coached to do so.”
Question: Could this be Calipari’s best team?
Dortch: “Yes. Top to bottom. I’m not sure any team in history—and my buddies at ESPN, the recruiting gurus Dave Telep and Paul Biancardi, would know this better — is as talented.”
Question: Look into your crystal ball and how many players off this team will be first round draft picks in June and why?
Dortch: “It would not surprise me to see Kentucky break its own record for first-round picks with seven in all. The reason: Pure talent and potential for greatness at the next level. A lot of these guys have the rare combination of talent and work ethic.”
Question: What player has the most pressure on him this year and what player do you think is flying under the radar in terms of what he could provide for this team?
Dortch: “I think Poythress will be under some amount of pressure to show that he’s a great player. He certainly has the tools, and he gave tantalizing glimpses of it last year, but just not consistently enough to suit Cal.
“As far as under the radar, it may seem odd to suggest that a 7-0, 265-pound man can be overlooked, but people may not realize what a beast Dakari Johnson is in the post. Kentucky is going to be able to dominate opponents in the paint. It’s scary to think about. Glad I’m not a coach.”