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- Video: UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown talks about recruiting the home state of Kentucky
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- Calipari will be keynote speaker at Iba Awards June 3 in Tulsa
By LARRY VAUGHT
Count Florida junior forward Will Yeguete as one who expects big things from Kentucky sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein next season.
“I think he did a good job defensively this year. He was a factor. He was blocking shots, tipping the balls. I think he did a really good job overall,” said Yeguete. “The first time we played them, he didn’t really play that much and do anything to impact the game because (Nerlens) Noel was playing all the time. The next time he was starting and played more minutes and was a big factor in the game. I was impressed.
“He is really athletic. I think his timing is great. Blocking shots at the right time. He knows when to jump. He has size and when the guards are coming inside, he is really aggressive and defensively was just there. When you have a 7-footer in the lane, he will impact your shot and did a good job doing that every time I saw him play.”
Yeguete also appreciates Cauley-Stein’s demeanor on the court.
“I think he plays the game the right way. He had a little foul trouble against us, but when he came back in he was ready to go. He doesn’t say anything. He just plays the right way. I love the way he plays,” the Florida junior said. “He was only a freshman, so his offense is a work in process. He affects the game more defensively than offensively right now. They had a lot of scorers on their team and I think his coach would want him to be the defensive presence that they need without Noel and not worry about offense. I think he did a good job at that, but I know his offense will be a lot better by next year because you can tell he’s a hard worker.”
Yeguete had no idea Cauley-Stein was an all-state receiver in high school.
“That is funny. He must be really fast. That would be fun to watch him on the football field,” Yeguete said. “But he was good in basketball, too. Both he and Noel are good shot blockers. I don’t know if you can compare them. You saw Noel play more games, but they both change the game a lot and he (Cauley-Stein) could really be special next year.”
Kentucky teammate Alex Poythress tends to agree about that.
“Willie has done incredible from the day he got here. He has just got better every day,” Poythress said. “I ain’t never seen a 7-footer that moves like him, jumps like him. He is strong, He is just incredible out there. He has been great friend and great teammate. And you know next year, based on how he improved this year, that he could just be dominant.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari issued a warning to next year’s opponents during an interview with his go-to guy Andy Katz of ESPN.
“We’re going to be much stronger physically at all positions,” Calipari told Katz. “Our post presence will be there with Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee. He’s a lot like Nerlens in terms of blocking shots and going after balls. He’s bouncy with great energy, but he’s not as big.”
And remember that Lee is probably considered No. 6 among the incoming UK McDonald’s All-Americans. However, two NBA scouts recently told me they thought in five years he could be the best player of any of UK’s incoming freshmen.
Lee and Johnson are also going to help Willie Cauley-Stein.
“Willie is coming back with one thought in mind,” Calipari told Katz. “He wants to do something on the basketball court and in the tournament. He’s got something to prove to himself. He’s got a great frame of mind. He understands he’s got to do it and do something different.”
Calipari also told Katz he might play 6-9 Julius Randle at small forward and Cauley-Stein at the power forward to give UK a big, big lineup.
“There will be a lot of teams ahead of us, but we’ll be deeper and the bench will be a great friend of mine,” Calipari told Katz. “I’ll be able to play like we played at Memphis. We’ll be pressing and getting after people because we have more people. We’re going to have competition.”
NBADraftblog.com’s Ed Isaacson correctly predicted that two of Kentucky’s freshmen (Archie Goodwin and Nerlens Noel) would put their name into the NBA draft and two (Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress) would return to UK for their sophomore seasons. Now he’s had a chance to watch Kentucky coach John Calipari’s next No. 1 recruiting class that includes six McDonald’s All-Americans and he offers his insights on those players and their futures.
Question: Which of Calipari’s newest players has the most work to do before he can reach the next level and which one perhaps has the most untapped potential?
Isaacson: “Marcus Lee has the most work to do, but you can see by the raw ability and athleticism why many are high on him. As for untapped potential, Lee is there, as well Dakari Johnson. Johnson has a lot of the physical tools you want, but he relies on the physical way too much right now. He has to put a lot of work into the skill part of his game.”
Question: Can all six of the McDonald’s All-American signees thrive on the same team?
Isaacson: “I don’t know if all six will ‘thrive,’ but in the best case scenario they all get better. The reality is there won’t be enough minutes for every one of the freshman to get exactly what they need to get better, but there will be enough for all to take some steps in the right direction.
Question: How good is Andrew Wiggins and could you see him fitting in well with the six UK commits if he decides to also sign with Kentucky?
Isaacson: “Wiggins is a very good player who still has plenty of room to keep getting better. I think Wiggins has the demeanor and attitude that he can fit in easily with whatever group of players surround him. If he heads to Kentucky, I would actually see him having few problems. He is versatile and can find ways to make an impact from a variety of spots on the floor.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
NBADraftblog.com’s Ed Isaacson correctly predicted that two of Kentucky’s freshmen (Archie Goodwin and Nerlens Noel) would put their name into the NBA draft and two (Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress) would return to UK for their sophomore seasons.
Now he’s had a chance to watch Kentucky coach John Calipari’s next No. 1 recruiting class that includes six McDonald’s All-Americans and he offers his insights on those players and their futures.
Question: Could you just give me your impressions of each future Wildcat?
Isaacson: “Julius Randle: Skilled with good size, he can create matchup problems in different spots on the court.
“Andrew Harrison: Love the size at the point guard position, let’s him see the court and options easily. Has shown comfort in both the halfcourt and transition, but he needs to make better decisions with the ball at the college level.
“Aaron Harrison: Though Andrew is known as the point guard and Aaron as the shooter, their games are very similar. Aaron has the ability to hit the open jumper, but has shown that he can create off the dribble and sees the floor well.
“James Young: Needs to get stronger, but likes to attack the basket and he is very good finishing around the basket.
“Dakari Johnson: A physical post player, he uses his body well to create space and looks to finish strong around the basket. Footwork still needs to improve, as well as understanding how to defend in the post.
“Marcus Lee: Athletic and raw. Needs to get stronger, but his leaping ability makes him a threat around the rim on both offense and defense.”
Question: Is it too early to for folks to be talking about Andrew Harrison and Julius Randle both being potential top 10 picks in 2014?
Isaacson: “Is it too early, absolutely, but that won’t stop it from happening. If both make the same progression their freshman year that they did during their high school years, it is a legitimate possibility.
Question: Are all six of these guys future NBA players?
Isaacson: “I will say all six have potential to be future NBA players, but if there is anything we have learned by now, is that you can’t tell how things will play out once they get to college.”
Saturday: More with Isaacson on which new player has the most untapped potential, how the super six can thrive on the same team and how Andrew Wiggins might fit at UK.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Nerlens Noel is headed to the NBA, and could be the No. 1 pick in the June draft, but he thinks Kentucky has a rising star for next year in center Willie Cauley-Stein.
“Another year, Willie can be one of the best big men in the country, definitely. I’m sure he will be. Willie is a freak athlete. He’s 7-foot, he’s fast, quick, he has all the intangibles to be great,” said Noel. “Next year, I’m sure he’s going to dominate the collegiate rankings and move on to bigger and better things.”
Cauley-Stein was the last heralded member of UK’s 2012 recruiting class but was ranked as the nation’s 10th best high school center by Scout.com and sixth best by Rivals.com. He was a consensus top 40 player even though he also played football where he caught 57 passes for 1,140 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior.
Noel said he saw tremendous improvement in his classmate’s play.
“He’s made so much progress in his game, and just even mentally. Early on Willie wasn’t too sure about things, but as the season went on he’s gotten so much more confident and just so sure of himself that there were just times in practice where he just dominated,” Noel said. “You’d see flashes. Willie’s come a very long way, physically and mentally, and he’s really come into his own as a player.”
Cauley-Stein averaged 8.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game in 29 games last season — he missed four after needing minor knee surgery during the season. He blocked 60 shots. He hit 62.1 percent from the field, but only made 37.2 percent (32 of 86) of his free throws.
He says he’s going to be a far different player as a sophomore for coach John Calipari.
“The intensity. It’s different if you make it different. It could easily be the same where you come in here and you don’t work as hard but the thing is, I don’t think Cal is going to let that happen,” Cauley-Stein said. “And those guys coming back aren’t going to let that happen just because of how we finished — you can’t leave off that.
“I feel very comfortable stepping into a leader role. I already feel different. Once the season ended, it was kind of like my whole mentality changed instantly. I wish it would have changed before the tournament happened. I got kind of like a dominating mindset kind of going into this next year. I want to be the best in everything I do. Before I was kind of like, ‘Ehh… This time I want to come in and do it. I don’t want to try to do it.’”
He has specific changes in mind to become a better all-around player.
“A guy that can step out and shoot 3’s, hit the 15-footer, take people off the dribble, just becoming more of a complete dude, and not just a guy that’s going to stay in the paint,” Cauley-Stein said. “That’s not the way I wanted to play coming in. It just ended up being like that (last season).”
Kentucky will be adding six McDonald’s All-Americans to the roster, including frontcourt players Julius Randle, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson to go with Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Kyle Wiltjer. Cauley-Stein said he will help make sure the newcomers understand what it takes to win.
“I think the biggest thing I took from all that is that you’ve got to know from the get-go that it’s real. We started off really good and we went those couple games where we lost those two games in a row and it was like, ‘Wow. We’re really not as good as we thought we were,’” Cauley-Stein said. “And that’s the biggest thing. Every game you play — it’s hype. It’s a Super Bowl for everyone. I think that’s the biggest thing for the freshmen coming in is that you have no time to relax when you step in between those lines. It’s all business when you step in there.”
“Everything we do has got to be a win or lose. Everything we have to do has got to have a consequence if you lose, and if you win, you get praise for it. You get that kind of feel like, ‘Oh, if I win, you get special treatment.’ If you lose, you’re doing something you don’t want to do. That’s the way it’s got to be coming into it. That’s what’s going to create that dog in you to try to go out and just kill somebody.”
He hopes having experienced players returning — something last year’s NIT team was missing — will pay off.
“I think that’s exactly what we missed this year is a guy that played a lot of minutes his freshman year that decided to come back and take on the role of a leader,” Cauley-Stein said. “We didn’t have that this year. Kyle was that kind of guy but he still didn’t play big minutes his freshman year. This year, we’ve got three guys including J.P. (Jarrod Polson) that were playing almost 30 minutes a game. That coming back is going to help tremendously.”
By KEITH TAYLOR, Winchester Sun
Here is more with Kentucky sophomore Alex Poythress from Monday’s press conference.
Question: With the class coming in and Willie Cauley-Stein and Kyle Wiltjer returning, do you see yourself playing more on the wing next year?
Poythress: “Wherever coach Cal decides to put me, that’s fine. I’ll do whatever I need to do to help the team win.”
Question: What was the biggest weakness last season?
Poythress: “Probably getting our mentality right and our mentality good. I just need to come ready to play and get pushed (harder). I know I can do it. I just need to do it.”
Question: Will the competition next year help?
Poythress: “It should. The competition next year will be one of the best in the country, if not the best in the country. From the top player to the bottom player, everybody is going to be pushed in practice.”
Question: How well do you know some of those guys coming in?
Poythress: “I know Julius (Randle), one of the (Harrison) twins, we played AAU together. I’ve watched a couple of (all-star) games and just helped root them on because they’ll be here next year on my team.”
Question: What are you going to do this summer?
Poythress: “I’m just going to work out when I go home, get myself in shape. I’ll run the treadmill and do some (stationary) biking, work hard, get in the gym and in the weight room. Do everything I can to get prepared for the season. I’m going to get with Rock (Oliver) on the weights and do pool workouts to stay fit.”
Question: Have you changed your approach going into next season?
Poythress: “I just have to focus myself and go even harder than last year. I’ve been through a year and I will know what to expect next year. I’m not a freshman no more. I’m a sophomore and I know what to expect and how hard it takes to get there. I just want to get better myself, work on my skill set and get better as a player. I’m excited for next year. It should be a great year.”
Question: What do you tell the guys coming in?
Poythress: “You just have to work hard every day. If you work hard and do everything you’re supposed to do, you’ll be fine.”
Question: Will it be hard to watch the NBA Draft?
Poythress: “No, it won’t be hard. I know a lot of guys (in the draft) and will be supporting them.”
By KEITH TAYLOR, Winchester Sun
Alex Poythress isn’t second guessing his decision to return to Kentucky for his sophomore season rather than put his name into the NBA draft like teammates Nerlens Noel and Archie Goodwin did.
“I’m happy with my choice of coming back,” Poythress said Monday. “It was a long process and you just wanted to make sure your heart was all in it, make sure you made the right decision and I felt like I did it.”
Poythress admitted that it was a “hard decision,” because it’s “your future” but leaned on his own conscious when it came down to making a final decision on whether to enter the NBA Draft or return to school.
“I just talked to my mom, my parents, figure what they’re thinking and get their input,” he said. “I talked to the coaches and coach (John Calipari) and tried to get their input and decide what was the best decision for me. If your leaving school for a job, you have to take it very seriously.”
Poythress wouldn’t reveal his mother’s thoughts on his future, but added that “we all worked it out, so we’re all good.” He also talked to his teammates, including Willie Cauley-Stein and Archie Goodwin, along with Kentucky coach John Calipari.
“I didn’t want to leave with a bad taste in my mouth,” he said. “It (the loss to Robert Morris) was a tough loss and you don’t want to end your college career like that.”
In addition to discussing his own future, Poythress touched on a variety of topics during his media availability at the Joe Craft Center.
Question: What are the expectations for next year?
Poythress: “We have big expectations next year. We have to come ready to play every day. The goal is a championship, nothing less, nothing more. That’s the ultimate goal. That’s what we want to do. Work hard and try to accomplish (that goal).”
Question: Looking back at last year, how do you rate yourself?
Poythress: “I think I had a decent year. There’s always room for improvement, we just need to focus on next year now. I want to use (last year) as motivation (for next year). You don’t want to this class next year to end up like this class. With the guys we have coming in and the guys that we have returning, we”we’ll have a fire burning to do well. We just need to work hard.”
Question: What is practice going to look like next year?
Poythress: “Competition is going to (be tough). You just have to go hard every day and compete. It’s all competition, so it should be good. We should be mentally prepared for everything. When you’re losing, that’s when you figure out what people are made of.”
Question: Is there one guy specifically you’re looking forward to going up against in practice?
Poythress: “Everybody in general. I just can’t wait for practice to start and looking forward to the competition.”
Question: Did you watch the NCAA Tournament?
Poythress: “I watched it. Everybody was sick because you weren’t playing in it. I knew some of the guys playing (in the tournament). It was kind of hard (seeing Louisville win it) and see a rival school winning it like that, but I’m happy for them. At the same time, hopefully it will be us next year..”
Question: What did Calipari say after the loss to Robert Morris?
Poythress: “He just said it will help in the long run and to work on your confidence and your mentality and get a sense of who we are. The other stuff will work itself out.”
Tuesday: More with Poythress.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Could this be the week that Madison Central guard Dominique Hawkins, Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball, finally learns if will get the scholarship offer from Kentucky that he obviously wants?
Madison Central coach Allen Feldhaus said Saturday there was “nothing new” between UK and Hawkins, who averaged 20.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game for the 32-5 Indians last season. In the state tournament, he averaged 26.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game in four wins.
The 6-1 guard is not a McDonald’s All-American, but he is a fierce competitor and seemed to earn a spot in UK coach John Calipari’s heart with his intense play in the state at the same time the Wildcats were collapsing at the end of their season.
“We would all like to see happen and have got our fingers crossed,” said Feldhaus.
Kentucky found out last week that two players — Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress — would stay at UK for their sophomore seasons while freshman Archie Goodwin is bolting for the NBA and Ryan Harrow is transferring. With seven freshman recruits to go with Poythress, Cauley-Stein and Kyle Wiltjer, that’s just 10 of UK’s available 13 scholarships. The Cats are still in the race for Andrew Wiggins, the nation’s top prep player, but even if Wiggins says yes that would just take up 11 scholarships. So it seems there is room for Hawkins, who showed at the Marshall County Hoop Fest he could be a handful in practice for twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison.
“In big games, you can always tell he is ready to go. He likes to prove something,” Feldhaus said. “We were not very good at the time of the Hoop Fest but he kept us in the game with his play. Nothing intimidates him. Teammates asked him if he thought he could play at Kentucky and he thinks he can fit in and contribute anywhere. He has a lot of confidence in his play, and should. He doesn’t show a lot of emotion, but he’s got confidence.”
Feldhaus knows what UK basketball is about because his father, Allen Sr., and brother, Deron, both played there. He thinks Hawkins is the type of player who belongs at Kentucky.
“I know the type of kid he is. He is the most humble young man I have ever coached. He is always team first, self second,” the Madison Central coach said. “When we were playing teams it was obvious we were better than, the deferred to teammates. When the big lights came on, that’s when he was at his best. Coach Calipari liked his toughness, but he is pretty explosive and has game in him. Calipari sees a lot of (current NBA guard Eric) Bledsoe in him because he is so strong and physical.
“And he handles himself so well on and off the court. He always has that big smile. I think the entire state has fallen in love with the way he has handled everything with Kentucky.”
Hawkins, who will play in the Kentucky-Ohio all-star game this weekend and the Derby Classic April 19, was on spring break last week and put off any college plans until he got back to see what UK might do. Some have speculated he might be asked to be a walk-on for a year and then go on scholarship even though he has several Division I offers and more could be coming.
“I don’t think Dominique Hawkins is a walk-on. I hope it does not come to that,” Feldhaus said. “I don’t know what else he can do to prove himself. He is not a walk-on player.
“Kentucky has been very up front with us. We know they have been dealing with a lot of stuff and Dominique has let it be known he wants to be a Wildcat. We’re just waiting to see what happens.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
For about 10 days, Antoine Poythress spent time gathering information and having discussions about what future opportunities might be there for his son, Kentucky freshman Alex Poythress.
“We were trying to figure out the best decision and wanted to take our time,” said Antoine Poythress. “I was gathering information from various sources and trying to cross reference it. There is not a lot of concrete information out there. It’s not like you are making a decision based on solid information because what you are told could change.”
Alex Poythress was being projected as a first-round NBA draft pick by some, and evaluated as going much lower — if at all — by others. He started 30 games and was Kentucky’s second-leading scorer (11.4 points per game) and rebounder (6.2) last season. The 6-7 forward, who made the Southeastern Conference all-freshman team, often was criticized by Calipari for his lack of focus.
Finally, Alex Poythress decided it was best for him to stay at UK and not put his name into the draft, a decision his father fully supported.
“We kept being told everything was predicated on (pre-draft) workouts or how he would progress if he came back to Kentucky,” Antoine Poythress said. “I tried to gather as much information as I could, but it was a lot for him to absorb. When we discussed going through the process, we decided we had to evaluate everything and then say, ‘Here are the options and what best meets your needs.’ I left the decision with him but I told him he had to be 100 percent sure whatever he decided was what he wanted to do. There would be no looking back in 30 days.”
That’s why when UK announced Monday that freshman Archie Goodwin was entering the draft but both Kyle Wiltjer and Willie Cauley-Stein were staying for another year, there was no mention of Poythress’ future which led to even more fan and media speculation.
“He was just not 100 percent sure and needed to evaluate a few more things then,” Antoine Poythress said. “I wanted him to be 100 percent sure about his decision.”
Poythress’ father gathered the information so his son would not be involved with “external people” and unduly influenced.
“A lot of people have a vested interest in what they say and I did not know how much clean information we would get that was not twisted,” Antoine Poythress said. “I offered my advice and insight to Alex off what I knew, but he knew it was his decision. I told him, ‘You have got to make a decision that will change your life, so I cannot make that decision for you. In the end, you’ve got to make it work. If you go (to the NBA), you’ve got to have great workouts. If you stay (at UK), you have got to work to address the changes in areas they say you are weak in.’ He accepted all that.”
The UK freshman had to rely on his “gut and heart” to make a life-changing choice on his own.
“I love him, root for him but I cannot put the ball in the basket for him or do the work for him,” Poythress’ father said. “He is the one who has to work and perform. That’s why I just tried to give him information to make his decision. The NCAA hamstrings athletes by making them make this decision so quickly. It was gut-wrenching. It’s life-altering and you have little time to decide.”
Antoine Poythress got conflicting information on his son’s draft status. He was told “he is not ready, but he is still very draftable” by one NBA source. Some told him his son was not ready to go into the draft while others said he might go in the 12 to 20 range of the first round.
“He was not going to be top 10 (in the draft), but I kept getting information from enough people that he had this skill level and with improvement could move up to the middle of the draft or even higher,” Antoine Poythress said. “But nothing is concrete. Nothing is set. There is no 100 percent information.
“I do know he has a lot to his game he has not shown yet. He’s capable of much more than he’s shown, a lot more. There is a lot more skill to be tapped into.”
Alex Poythress also wants to return to win a national championship much like Patrick Patterson did four years ago when he came back after a NIT season and UK reached the Elite Eight or Terrence Jones two years ago when UK did win the title.
“From his standpoint, he did not like the way the season ended,” Antoine Poythress said. “He would like to come back and win a national title and thinks they can do that with the players they will have. That definitely did factor into his decision. Losing this year did not set well with him. It’s not a foregone conclusion they will go 40-0 next year and win the national title. They will have seven or eight freshmen and three or four upperclassmen. It’s a matter of how they blend and mix.”
Kentucky never had the right “blend and mix” this season and ended up in the NIT. Antoine Poythress says a few more wins could have changed the perception of his son’s ability and the team’s standing.
“If they win two or three more games, get to the NCAA and win a game or two, the whole perspective of this year is different. It drives me crazy to think how a bounce or two of the ball can impact so much,” Antoine Poythress said. “But that’s the way it went and now Alex is set to come back, work to get better, have a great year and help Kentucky win the national title.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
While many were expecting Alex Poythress to be a certain one-and-done player at Kentucky and likely NBA draft lottery pick, the UK freshman said that was never his expectation about his college career.
He says that’s why he would not call his return to Kentucky for a sophomore season a surprise.
“I don’t know if it is a surprise. You don’t just come to college expecting to be here one year,” said Poythress after UK’s season-ending NIT loss to Robert Morris. “You come college to try and do the best you can. If you have an opportunity, then you leave. Nobody wants to have season like this. It was very surprising we didn’t do better. Last year’s team just made it look so good. They made it look so easy. The reality is that it is not. There is so much hard work that you have to put in, so much more you have to put in. You have to come prepared.”
Kentucky announced Tuesday that Poythress will keep doing that at UK, not the NBA like freshman Archie Goodwin is opting to do after one season with the Wildcats.
“I’m really happy that, after talking with his family and evaluating his options, Alex has decided to return for his sophomore season,” Kentucky coach Calipari said in a statement released by UK. “Alex is a great kid with a lot of potential and I’m excited to be able to work with him next year. I believe we have only scratched the surface with Alex, and another season in college will get him closer to reaching his dreams.”
Poythress had his moments, especially early in the season when he began his career by scoring 20 or more points in four straight games — the first time any UK player had done that in four years. He started 30 games and was second n points (11.4) and rebounds (6.2) per game.
Poythress had no problems with what Calipari and his staff did to help him or push him even when he was publicly criticized for a lack of consistent effort that frustrated Calipari and UK fans.
“The coaches did a great job preparing us the best they could every game. We couldn’t ask for more from the coaches,” Poythress said after the Robert Morris game. “They can only do so much for us and they did it and they probably did more than what they should have for us. It just comes back on us and we should have done more.
“People didn’t change, myself included. Coach told us what he wanted and we either did it or we didn’t. That’s on us. He laid it out as perfectly as you can. It comes back on us as players to execute what he wants us to do. What happened this year will be driving us for a long time. It will stay in my mind, stay in the back of my head. It is going to be hard, especially ending the season like this. You just have to regroup and focus, but you don’t forget what it felt like to lose this way.”
Kentucky lost six NBA draft picks — senior Darius Miller, sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb, and freshmen Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague — off the national championship team and had no experienced leader this season.
“Last year was a great team, probably one of the best in the last decade,” Poythress said. “They made it look so easy, easier than it really is. So you come here thinking that, but you don’t realize how hard it’s going to be, how hard teams are going to play against you. How every game is just a tough game.”
“We knew it was going to be a challenge, but I just think we kind of didn’t realize how hard it is. You think about last year’s team that was so good and they had six pros that were all so good and so developed and so skilled. They had a senior, freshman and sophomores and juniors. They had it all and were a complete team. We were not.”
Kentucky’s national championship team had more depth. Was Calipari not able to push the Cats hard enough in practice this year to make them improve?
“No, I think he pushed us in practice. It just falls back on us that we have to push ourselves harder and drive harder. Just keep fighting more. Just get tougher,” Poythress said.
“It starts in the weight room. We are going to be in there every day in the offseason. We have to work on getting stronger and getting our bodies better. We did a great job last summer, but we have to pick it up and go harder. We can’t let this happen again. We have to focus on having a great season next year and if we feel like giving up (in the weight room) we just have to think about what happened this season and push through.”
But it should be easier with six McDonald’s All-Americans on the way. Plus, Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kyle Wiltjer combined for 949 points, 40 percent of UK’s offense in 2012-13, and 515 rebounds, 41 percent of the team’s total rebounds. Those are far better numbers than what UK went into what turned out to be a NIT season this year.
Now the suspense remains about when Calipari will offer Mr. Basketball Dominique Hawkins of Madison Central a scholarship — and will take it — and if Andrew Wiggins, the nation’s top recruit, will pick UK sometime in mid-May. Of course, Nerlens Noel could come back after his season-ending knee injury, but why turn down being a top five draft pick.
After that, then decisions will be made by Calipari on Jarrod Polson and Jon Hood.
But for those already speculating that UK could win the national title next year, getting Poythress adds firepower and needed experience that can only make the Cats better.