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By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — It wasn’t hard for senior Jarrod Polson to know exactly what Kentucky needed when he got a rare opportunity to play here Saturday.
Kentucky was down 25-14 midway of the first half against Belmont in a game it had to win to avoid falling out of the national rankings and stop an all-out panic attack among the UK fans with rival Louisville next on the schedule.
“We just needed energy,” said Polson after he helped jump start the Cats in what turned out to eventually be a 93-80 victory. “Getting to play a lot of minutes (21) was fun and I just tried to bring energy. We were down 11. The crowd was kind of dead. I tried to push the ball, which is what (Kentucky coach John Calipari) Cal wanted.”
He did that, too, along with freshman teammate Dominique Hawkins and without them, Kentucky would not have won.
Polson hit a 3-pointer almost immediately and added one assist in his 21 minutes. Hawkins had two points, four rebounds and three assists in 22 minutes. But Hawkins also hit the floor for looses balls with a reckless abandon that has been missing most of the season on this highly-touted team.
“They just play with so much passion. It’s fun to play with them, but it’s fun to watch, too,” Kentucky sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein said. “They just care so much about the little things. You need a whole team of that and when you get a whole team of that, you will be a special team.”
Say amen Calipari and Big Blue fans.
That whole team of passion has been missing as Calipari tries to bring along his young team. That’s why he sat freshman point guard Andrew Harrison, who struggled with fouls and poor decisions, beside him on the bench and pointed out what a smaller, less talented Polson was doing to help the team with his experience and passion.
“I was really proud of Jarrod, and you say, ‘What did Jarrod add to the game?’ Energy. Energy. Nothing else,” Calipari said. “So now you understand what energy does for our team, and if you’re sitting there and you’re not one of the guys playing, you’re saying ‘Man, I’ve got to play with energy.’
“What does Dominique (Hawkins) add to the game? Energy and toughness.I put him in for James (Young) and he dives on the floor and gets that ball that basically ends the game.”
Calipari said what they did was no surprise because of the way they have practiced. He says Hawkins’ exertion rate and heart rate “is incredible” to where he sometimes tries to get him to slow down in practice — a problem he’s not had with other freshmen.
“But he just keeps busting to the next level. And we get other guys that never understand you have a long way to go,” Calipari said. “What he does is he gets everything he can out of his body. It’s incredible. Everything. How about the play late where my man went off the ball in the middle of the lane with two hands and looked down so he fumbled it, and Dominique got it and laid it in? He didn’t run back on defense.
“He stuck his nose in there — the other guy was 6-7″, 6-8 and he looked down and fumbled it, he grabbed it and laid it in. It’s great for our guys to see.”
Once again Julius Randle was dominating at times with 29 points (8-for-10 field goals, 13-for-19 free throws) and 10 rebounds because he overpowered smaller players inside.
“But we get up nine and he wants to bring it up the court and throw a scoop pass. Oh, my gosh, that is being a freshman,” Calipari said.
He admitted Andrew Harrison “didn’t play particularly well” in just 20 minutes. He had seven points, no assists, two turnovers and two rebounds. But more than the numbers, he often could not get UK into an offensive rhythm like Polson did.
“I sat him next to me so I could talk him through what Jarrod was doing because he can do everything Jarrod can do to another level, but he’s not. Do you see what he’s doing? I’m just going to keep working with him because at the end of the day, I want Andrew to be the best point guard in the country,” Calipari said.
“I don’t want there to be any question. Right now, most games, he’s not the best point guard on the court. We’ve just got to get it changed. He has the talent, he has the ability, he has the mindset, I’ve just got to keep working with him.”
Belmont coach Rick Byrd, who had guided his team to a win at North Carolina (something UK couldn’t do), knew what an impact Polson and Hawkins made even if he might not have been exactly who they even were when they entered the game.
“I was surprised. They hadn’t played a lot of other guys. There was a guy or two that we didn’t have on the scouting report. I know for us when we have a guy who doesn’t get a lot of time and he comes in and plays well and gets things done, it lifts the team up,” Byrd said. “There are more guys not playing than are playing and all of those unknown guys, when their buddies get in, can make a difference.
“For that matter, to the regulars, it’s a big deal. They know how hard the guys practice and don’t get to play much. When they come in and contribute it’s a big lift for your basketball team.”
It was in this game and the hope for Calipari has to be that other players noticed the way the crowd — and the coach — reacted to the enthusiastic play by the two in-state players.
“They make the hustle plays and play with such great emotion,” Randle said. “They are full of energy.”
That’s because they don’t know any other way to play.
“Dominique is a great defender, something I need to do better, and he brings so much energy,” Polson said. “He just makes the extra effort plays. We play a lot together in practice, so I see what he does and those are things I try to do along with running the offense. I was just happy for a chance to play and happy we could do something to help our team because I really do believe we can still have a special year.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Freshman guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison didn’t need Kentucky coach John Calipari to tell them they didn’t play well in Tuesday’s loss to Michigan State.
“Well, you had a lot of people crying in that locker room (after the loss). And they both knew … the guys that didn’t play well knew they didn’t play well,” said Calipari Friday. “So we did some things yesterday that comes back to the same thing; it’s like, ‘Wait a minute. You didn’t know this?’ Like, we started working on some things yesterday that I saw on the tape. If you think they know, you’re going to make mistakes.
“They’re no different than any other young team, young freshmen. But Aaron’s going to be fine, and so is Andrew. You’ve got to change, though, and I said this yesterday. Just saying you’re going to learn from that, I need to see that there’s change. There’s change in an attitude, there’s a change in an approach, there’s a change in an effort level, there’s a change in the focus. As long as that’s happening, then it was a good experience for us.”
That includes having the twins learn that their body language can impact the team.
“Well, they’ve got to learn. They get upset with themselves, but you can’t — you can’t do it. You’ve got to learn. This stuff doesn’t — when you’ve had a habit you’ve had for 17 years to say, ‘OK, within two months you’re going to change.’ You look at Alex (Poythress), it took him a year. Took him a full year to realize, ‘If I don’t change this, I’m not making it.’ He’s changed,” Calipari said.
Going into Sunday night’s game with Robert Morris, Poythress has dramatically changed. He’s not starting like he did last year, but he’s significantly increased his rebounding despite playing fewer minutes. He has 32 rebounds in three games, including 12 against Michigan State, and is averaging 8.7 points and 10.7 rebounds per game.
Andrew Harrison, UK’s point guard, had 11 points, three assists and four turnovers against Michigan State and was 3-for-6 from the field. Aaron Harrison, the two guard, was 1-for-7 from the field and had three points, two assists and two turnovers. For the season, Aaron Harrison is just 10-for-25 from the field, including 2-for-13 on 3-pointers.
Calipari said Friday he might play freshman Dominique Hawkins more at point guard based on his limited play against Michigan State.
“He played really good. I think I’m going to slide him into the rotation to get Andrew off the floor some. And probably slide Marcus (Lee) in the rotation and have he and Willie (Cauley-Stein) play together some,” Calipari said. “Julius (Randle) played too many minutes. He’s cramping up. Andrew played too many minutes, which meant he’s trying to pace himself. You can’t. You just go and then sub and then go again and then sub yourself.”
Poythress had to learn some of those same lessons last year when he often was criticized for not consistently playing hard enough.
“It was more a mentality. He just wasn’t emotionally ready to do stuff. Alex is playing out of his mind. Alex went from the starter to the sixth man, from way too many minutes to probably a few minutes less than he needs, less shots, and all of a sudden he’s not even — his stuff, he’s skyrocketing,” Calipari said. “That stuff doesn’t matter; the shots and points, that’s all ego. It’s how are you playing? He and Julius carried us.
“Right now, I’m just telling these kids, let’s worry about being good college players, because we’re not right now. Just worry about being college players. Worry about being a good college team. When the season’s over, we’ll worry about all that other stuff. Let’s worry — unpack the bags, boys. Unpack the bags. Let’s start playing some basketball. Let’s get better.”
Calipari admitted he made a mistake when he noted earlier that he started calling future recruits after he watched his team practice because he knew they would all go pro after this season.
“Probably just shouldn’t have said anything, but I did right. It’s a hard thing here to keep them in the moment, and if we were in their shoes and they knew four months from now this could be happening to me, if it were us, we probably couldn’t talk to us. We couldn’t talk to us. These kids want to be coached, they want to be taught, they want to please me,” Calipari said.
“The big difference between what we’re doing is, this team is really skilled. They’re basketball players. They have a physical presence to them. We just got to get it right. I’ve got to make some things simpler for them. I’ve got to get Andrew really being the quarterback of this team, and he wants to be. He’s got to talk more. Our team didn’t talk. I had more comments about, ‘Your team’s a quiet team.’ Well they’re not, but I think they were like deer in headlights. What happened to them?
“But to say that you have 17 turnovers and only create seven because you’re playing defense like that, to say that you missed 20 (free throws), you go 20-for-36 from the line, you miss 16 free throws, to say that they got 22 points in transition and you got two and you had a chance to win, what just happened? How in the world did we have a chance to win? Again, there was a nice will there. I liked it. The guys kept fighting, they kept trying. So we have something to build on. They had a chance of letting go of the rope. We should have been down 20 at half.
“Now as we go into this game (with Robert Morris), this team is really aggressive. They get up in you. They play really physical. The rules should affect their play a little bit because you can’t do some of the stuff that you could do a year ago, they’re just not letting you do it. But, they got a team that’s coming in here and saying ‘We beat these guys, let’s go.’ They’re not afraid. I watched their team. They’re not afraid.”
Five Kentucky players were honored with preseason All-Southeastern Conference honors by the league’s coaches it was announced by the league office on Friday. Freshman Julius Randle was tabbed to the league’s first team, while sophomores Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress along with freshmen Andrew Harrison and James Young claimed second team accolades.
Seven different schools are represented on the two teams with Kentucky having five selections while Tennessee had three and Florida, LSU and Missouri each have two selections. In all, 37 different players received votes for the coaches’ teams.
The coaches’ preseason All-SEC first and second teams consist of a minimum of eight players on each squad, voted on by the SEC Head Men’s Basketball Coaches. No ties were broken and no predicted order of finish was made.
Randle averaged 18.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game in UK’s two exhibition contests. He notched a double-double in both victories. The Dallas native previously earned All-SEC preseason first team honors by the league’s media voting panel and was tabbed the early season favorite to win SEC Player of the Year accolades.
Cauley-Stein and Poythress are UK’s top-two returning scorers from the 2012-13 squad. Both players earned distinction on the All-SEC Freshman team a season ago. Cauley-Stein logged 9.5 points and seven blocked shots in Kentucky’s two preseason victories. Poythress averaged 8.5 points in the two outings.
Andrew Harrison who is a Bob Cousy award watch list candidate earned preseason All-SEC second team honors by the media as well. Harrison did not suit up during exhibition play. Young was UK’s second-leading scorer in exhibition contests averaged 12.5 points per outing. He also dished out seven total assists and accounted for four steals.
First Team All-SEC
Trevor Releford – Alabama, G, 6-0, 190, Sr., Kansas City, Mo.
Patric Young – Florida, C, 6-9, 240, Sr., Jacksonville, Fla.
Julius Randle – Kentucky, F, 6-9, 250, Fr., Dallas, Texas
Johnny O’Bryant III – LSU, F, 6-9, 256 , Jr. , Cleveland, Miss.
Marshall Henderson – Ole Miss, G, 6-2, 177, Sr., Hurst, Texas
Jabari Brown – Missouri, G, 6-5, 214, Jr., Oakland, Calif.
Jordan McRae – Tennessee, G, 6-6, 185, Sr., Midway, Ga.
Jarnell Stokes – Tennessee, F, 6-8, 260, Jr., Memphis, Tenn.
Second Team All-SEC
Scottie Wilbekin – Florida, G, 6-2, 176, Sr., Gainesville, Fla.
Willie Cauley-Stein – Kentucky, F, 7-0, 244, So., Olathe, Kan.
Andrew Harrison – Kentucky, G, 6-6, 215, Fr., Richmond, Texas
Alex Poythress – Kentucky, F, 6-8, 239, So., Clarksville, Tenn.
James Young – Kentucky, G, 6-6, 215, Fr., Rochester Hills, Mich.
Anthony Hickey – LSU, G, 5-11, 182, Jr., Hopkinsville, Ky.
Earnest Ross – Missouri, G, 6-5, 228, Sr., Cary, N.C.
Jeronne Maymon – Tennessee, F, 6-8, 260, Sr., Madison, Wis.
By LARRY VAUGHT
College basketball analyst Jay Bilas thinks Kentucky coach John Calipari has “outdone” himself with this year’s freshman class.
“From a rating standpoint, they have so many players No. 1 at their position that it is really unusual,” said the ESPN analyst. “It would be folly to say this is the best recruiting class ever. It is the highest rated. We can only call it the best recruiting class by looking backwards. But there are not any more classes that are going to come in and win three championships because players don’t stick around. It is a different standard now. But from a pure talent standpoint, it is off the chart. This class is really good.”
Bilas was in Lexington during the summer for one of Calipari’s camp and says he was “blown away” by UK’s talent.
“I had seen them before, but to see them all together and the level that John has gotten his program to with that youth is impressive,” Bilas said. “I frankly didn’t think it was possible to take a new team each year and compete. But what has been the anomaly was last year, which was expected to be the norm. For those who doubted if he can coach, and I was not among that group, he not only can recruit, but he is a great coach.”
Bilas found a lot to like with UK’s new players.
“You can tell at every spot they are special. Julius Randle is the best player. At 6-9, he is the most physical, imposing left-hander. If he limits it to two dribbles, nobody can stop him. If he dribbles more, he gives people a chance. But nobody can stop him if he holds it to two dribbles,” Bilas said. “I was really impressed with James Young. I had seen him before, but he is just getting better and better. He can be their best defender.
“Andrew Harrison is back in the mold of the big, dominating point guard John has had with (John) Wall or (Derrick) Rose. I am not projecting he will be the first pick in the draft, but he will not be much further down. He will be within shouting distance of that. He’s big, strong, quick and can get in the lane. His brother, Aaron, can really shoot.
“Dakari Johnson has really good feet and hands and can score in the low post. He doesn’t run very well. He’s not a speed merchant, but he’s not slow. That’s not his strength. He has a chance to be very good and will contribute right away. It is hard to imagine a class in today’s age with more talent, but I would not put it past Calipari.”
Bilas doesn’t think Calipari will need to change the way he prefers to play because of the increased size Kentucky has this year.
“They changed the way they played last year, and a little bit the year before, and did not use as much dribble-drive,” Bilas said. “I think they will go back and mix ball screens in. The problems they had last year is No. 1, they did not have a point guard, and they could not shoot it. Defenses packed in and Kentucky could not bring them out. You can spread the court all you want, but you have to stretch defenses.
“You can stand anywhere you want, but if the defense does not go with you … this year they will be able to spread defenses and open driving lanes. This team can really drive. If they make shots, it will open driving lanes and open it up for lobs. That team is going to shoot a lot of free throws and get a lot of easy baskets. I was really impressed with them.”
By KEITH TAYLOR, Winchester Sun
When John Calipari speaks, Willie Cauley-Stein listens.
The Kentucky sophomore forward responded to a halftime lecture from his coach, scoring 10 points, complete with five blocks in the second half of top-ranked Kentucky’s 95-72 exhibition win over Montevallo Monday night at Rupp Arena.
Cauley-Stein didn’t elaborate on what Calipari said, but took the challenge to heart.
“I felt like a dude who just got his butt chewed (out) at halftime,” Cauley-Stein said.
To Calipari’s liking, Cauley-Stein finished with 12 points, four rebounds and six blocked shots in 23 minutes on the court. He had five blocks in the first six minutes of the second half to set the tone for the easy victory.
“I thought Willie came out in the second half and blocked shots, which he didn’t in the first half,” Calipari said. “As a matter of fact, I took him out (in the first half) because a guy drove (to the basket) and he stood on the weak side. We just told him, ‘come on, you had two rebounds in the first half. He only had four (four the game), but he fought and did some things.”
Cauley-Stein admitted that his first-half showing wasn’t acceptable, adding he can’t afford slow starts in the future.
“That’s where it’s got to start,” he said. “You know, feeling it, this is who I am and this is what I need to do. The first half was back to the old Willie Cauley-Stein, sitting around instead take on that (leadership) role and fly around and do everything. Once I do that all of the time, it will be good.”
As one the veterans on the team, Cauley-Stein said the team’s chemistry is a work in progress.
You have to play for everybody else and try to get everybody else plays. That’s how the energy goes up and then you’re flying around on defense and you get a steal and then a dunk. That’s just where we have to go and we aren’t all the way there yet. You see it in spurts, but once we get there, where we are flying around for 40 minutes, it’s going to be scary,” Cauley-Stein said.
One of those moments came in the second half, a hustle play that turned into instant highlight-reel material. Cauley-Stein was on the court when teammate James Young tried to save a ball from going out of bounds, but flipped the ball behind his back and into the opponents’ goal, resulting in a two-point basket for Montevallo.
“I thought we were on a break and I thought we were going to have a dunk,” he said. “I saw him throw it up and I was like, ‘oh, my gosh you have to be kidding me.’ It was cool, though. Too bad it wasn’t on our end, though.”
Cauley-Stein played a role in the freak shot with a block that led to the bizarre basket. Although Cauley-Stein liked the shot, he didn’t want to take credit for it.
“I don’t want that assist,” he said with a laugh.
Now that exhibition games are complete, Cauley-Stein said the team knows what it will take to be successful going into Friday night’s season-opener against UNC-Ashville.
“I know where we have to go,” he said. “We are making strides, but there is still a lot to work on and we still have to come together as a team. That’s when we will start taking care of business.”
ST. LOUIS – University of Kentucky freshmen Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Julius Randle and James Young are among 10 first-year players selected for the 2014 Integris Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year Award Preseason Watch List announced Monday by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA).
The four freshmen were part of the top-ranked recruiting class in the country and make up 40 percent of the preseason watch list.
Others named on the list are Tyler Ennis, Syracuse; Aaron Gordon, Arizona; Kasey Hill, Florida; Jabari Parker, Duke; Wayne Selden, Kansas; Andrew Wiggins, Kansas.
Former Wildcats to claim the honor include Anthony Davis (2012) and John Wall (2010).
The USBWA has chosen a national freshman of the year since the 1988-89 season when LSU’s Chris Jackson was the recipient. Last season, Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart became the third winner of the Wayman Tisdale Award. Other notable previous winners of the national freshman of the year award include Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Jason Kidd and Chris Webber.
By GARY GRAVES, AP Sports Writer
Here are five things to watch as top-ranked Kentucky begins the season:
MAN IN THE MIDDLE: Life is definitely good for coach John Calipari with two 7-footers in Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson. The Wildcats are in good hands with Cauley-Stein showing more confidence and fluidity and Johnson displaying a physicality that has NBA scouts raving. Both are obviously benefiting from going against each other daily in practice, and Calipari smiled when he said, “both are going to play. They don’t have to worry about it.”
YOUNG SURPRISES: Six-foot-6 swingman James Young might emerge as the star of this heralded rookie class. Each practice is revealing something different about Young, who can shoot and drive, and he has displayed impressive defensive skills even though Calipari hasn’t fully installed the defense. “I wasn’t a big defensive player in high school, so once I got here coaches got on me about my defense and I had to step it up,” Young said.
UNSUNG DEREK WILLIS: The Mt. Washington, Ky., native has been somewhat overlooked in the hoopla over all those high school All-Americans. But 6-9, 205-pound forward has impressed Calipari and his high-profile teammates with his skills and toughness. Wiry, quick and a smooth shooter, Willis just needs to bulk up. Still, his lean frame hasn’t stopped him from mixing it up in practice and he figures to contribute as a freshman.
NO IDLE CHATTER: On-court communication won’t be an issue with a group that clearly has established a comfort zone with each other. Whether it’s because the freshmen competed against each other in high school or because many of the Wildcats used the summer to get acquainted, the improved chemistry is apparent. “We have a pretty good feeling about what each other can do,” JuliusRandle said.
EARLY TESTS: Once again, Calipari has scheduled several tough nonconference games to see how his squad stacks up. The docket begins Nov. 12 against No. 2 Michigan State in Chicago; vs. No. 25 Baylor in Arlington, Texas on Dec. 6; and at No. 12 North Carolina eight days later. There’s also the annual showdown against in-state rival and defending national champion Louisville on Dec. 28. And in a comically ironic twist, the Wildcats will even host Robert Morris on Nov. 17 in a rematch against the team that upset them in last year’s NIT.
By LARRY VAUGHT
It didn’t take coach John Calipari’s postgame speech/tirade to let Kentucky freshman center Dakari Johnson know how the Wildcats played.
“Obviously, we could have played a whole lot better,” said Johnson after UK’s 76-42 win over Transylvania in Friday’s exhibition game. “But it is a process. This was our first time as a team (playing against another opponent). We will get better as we go on.”
They will. Or at least they better to fulfill the gigantic expectations on this talented team that failed to play with the energy and effort that Calipari wanted and is going to demand this season.
“The biggest thing that we learned is that energy and effort trumps talent,” Calipari said. “It just does. It always has, it always will. Now, talent that trumps the energy and effort, and they do both, like they come out, then you dominate play. Obviously our talent isn’t playing with enough energy and effort.”
Calipari said what Transylvania did — slow the pace, shoot 3’s, run back on defense, fall back into the lane to keep UK away from the basket — is what the Cats will face most of this season because of their size, talent and youth.
He also wants his team to understand that what worked in high school, doesn’t work at Kentucky.
“There’s the difference between running and sprinting. We have a lot of guys that running has always been good enough, and, this is me. You can’t be on the court then. You know, it’s okay, but you can’t be out there,” Calipari said.
He said that’s why senior point guard Jarrod Polson (five points, one assist, one steal, 18 minutes) played so much with freshman starter Andrew Harrison sidelined by a knee bruise for the entire game.
“I thought Jarrod was good. All that Jarrod did was run really hard and push the ball. We had absolutely none of that in the first half. We didn’t get a breakout,” Calipari said.
Johnson also impressed Calipari with his nine points, eight rebound, one steal and one assist in 17 minutes — and Calipari said he would have played more except he wanted to let freshman Marcus Lee play the second half.
“We have a ways to go. That doesn’t look like the No. 1 team,” the UK coach said.
Freshman Julius Randle had 16 points and 12 rebounds — he also had five of UK’s 10 turnovers — in 26 minutes. James Young, who seems to be UK’s most active defender, had nine points, five assists, five rebounds and three steals in 27 minutes.
While Calipari liked those numbers, he was more focused on the lack of energy/effort.
“This was a great lesson. Jon Hood played well. I even said after, ‘How did Jon Hood play?’ He played great. Yeah, he missed every shot (he made one), but he played great because he played hard. He just competed,” Calipari said. “We had a lot of non‑competitive guys out there. They’re just going to have to learn. This was a great lesson for them.
“If you don’t compete, I’m taking you out, which is what I’ve always done throughout my coaching career until last year. I couldn’t.”
Now he can. Three times in the second half he substituted five players at a time, something UK women’s coach Matthew Mitchell did last year and maybe Calipari will do this year.
“If we get that kind of effort, that’s exactly what will happen. They’ll all come out. Then the guys will be saying, please don’t play me with him and him because you’re going to take us all out. Then all of a sudden peer pressure takes over. Then I don’t have to coach the guy to play hard, they will. Or they’ll walk over to me and say, take him out, just get him out of the game,” Calipari said.
“This was a great lesson for us. It’s what this team needed. (Transylvania coach) Brian (Lane) did exactly what we wanted Transy to do: played really hard, spread the court, kept coming at us, made 3s, sagged on defense, and were physical.”
Randle said the team understood Calipari’s message.
“One of his pet peeves is not playing hard. We were just not out there playing hard enough on defense or offense running the floor,” Randle said. “We just had to compete. If we do that, we will be fine. We’re young, and we don’t really get it right now. We stopped a lot, but we will be fine.
“We just need to play hard. (Calipari told us) we weren’t playing hard enough, so we just need to step up and play a little bit harder. It’s just all effort. All of that is just playing with effort. We we will be fine.”
Calipari probably believes the same thing, but he sure wasn’t saying that.
“When I watch the tape, it will be more obvious. We just stopped. We didn’t talk. We blamed a teammate,” Calipari said. “I mean, they scored 12 in the second half, and six of them were on a team I couldn’t leave on the floor, the guys I started the game with. I had to take them out again.”
But this year, he can do that and that’s why eventually this team will be just as good as he expects it can be.
By The Associated Press
Two of the top freshmen in the country won’t have a whole lot of time to get acclimated to college basketball before squaring off in an early season showdown.
Try just four days each.
Andrew Wiggins is the headliner for the most heralded class at Kansas in years, while Jabari Parker is the biggest name headed to Duke. The two of them will face each other Nov. 12 at the United Center in Chicago as part of a doubleheader that also features Michigan State-Kentucky.
Two more programs boasting a slew of stellar freshmen.
In an era of one-and-done superstars, the first-year players hitting the hardwood this season may trump any other year. Along with Wiggins and Parker, there’s Kentucky’s class of Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson, James Young and the Harrison brothers, Aaron and Andrew. There’s also Noah Vonleh at Indiana, Aaron Gordon at Arizona and Kasey Hill at Florida.
All of them have the potential to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft next year. In the meantime, all of them will be trying to deliver an NCAA title.
“We can be great, the best team in the country,” Wiggins told The Associated Press. “We have a young team, the chemistry is really good. The first couple weeks of practice were hard for the freshmen, but everything is coming easier now, more fluid. So the potential is there.”
Potential is a dangerous word in college basketball. There are no sure bets. Plenty of highly touted players have flamed out before they ever earned a dime. It happens every year. But perhaps never before has a group of freshmen promised to make such a statement on the national stage. Just about every program with a chance to compete for a national championship this season will be counting on at least one first-year player to make an immediate impact.
In the case of Kansas, it’s more than one.
Wiggins may be the most recognizable name, but combo guard Wayne Selden and raw 7-footer Joel Embiid have the potential to be lottery picks. They’re joined by a group of freshmen that includes sharpshooters Conner Frankamp, Frank Mason and Brannen Greene.
“There’s as much hype around this year as any,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said, “and I think it’s a large part because of the unknown. We’ve had other good players and other good teams return and this team hasn’t proven itself at all. But the unknown has everyone excited.”
Kansas opens the season against Louisiana Monroe on Nov. 8, the same day Duke opens its season against Davidson. The two blue bloods — and their blue chippers — collide four days later.
On the same floor that night will be Kentucky coach John Calipari’s latest bumper crop, which some pundits believe could be the best recruiting class in college basketball history.
Randle is a bruising forward who can also play the wing. The Harrisons should form a dangerous backcourt. Johnson is a talented, athletic center. Young is the quintessential wing scorer.
Just like the newcomers at Kansas and Duke, though, they’ll have to get accustomed to playing with each other in a hurry. The Wildcats play UNC-Asheville and Northern Kentucky before they head to Chicago for their high-profile date with the Spartans.
“Let them get on the court,” Calipari said. “We’ve got some tough games early. We’ve got one of the best schedules in the country. We’ve got one of the most inexperienced teams in the country. So it will be interesting.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky coach John Calipari knows his players are ready for outside competition, even if it is just Transylvania in an exhibition game Friday night.
“We’ve been playing together now for 22 practices, so I think they’re just about ready to put it out there against somebody else. We’ll see. We’re still trying to evaluate who’s in that top six, seven, eight, who is it? We get another look,” said Calipari Thursday. “The (Blue-White) scrimmage kind of put out one thing, well let’s see it against somebody else and see how our guys do.”
Calipari was “proud” that his team committed only 20 fouls in the Blue-White scrimmage considering the emphasis this year on not allowing as much physical play on defense.
“We don’t want to foul. It’s not football. We don’t have to march a hundred yards to score. They score one, OK. Now score in five seconds. That really hurt? It’s not football. And I’m glad it’s not football and us having to be in the SEC playing football,” he said. “The officials are going to call things. And the good news is: All the propaganda and all the other things, they’re calling it. So you can say you hate it, you like it, you don’t; it doesn’t matter. Your team’s got to play. And now we’ll see.
“I believe everybody will adjust. I believe coaches will. I believe the players will. I believe scoring will go up. I think early there will be a lot of fouls by some coaches that weren’t adjusting, but the coaches that adjusted, maybe it’ll be 50 fouls on one team and 12 on another. One coach did what he was supposed to do, the other didn’t. Should be fun, though.”
Calipari said he wasn’t sure if freshman point guard Andrew Harrison would play against Transylvania. He sat out the second half of the scrimmage with a bone bruise.
“He’s got to take time. And right now it’s good because Aaron’s playing point. It’s giving us a chance to look at James Young playing both the two and the three,” Calipari said. “Now it gives us a chance to maybe put other guys at the three, try Julius (Randle) at the three. Dakari (Johnson) gives us a different look as a big player, more of a scorer than Willie (Cauley-Stein) is. Willie’s more of an athlete and active. We kind of got a good kind of mix. But right now with him being out, one guy’s misery is another guy’s blessing, another guy’s opportunity, and that’s what’s happened for us.”
When Andrew Harrison went out Tuesday, it let his twin brother, Aaron, move from two guard to point guard.
“He’s doing great. The only thing that’s hard: you have to attack and keep your teammates involved. What do you mean? Attack! Come on, why didn’t you pass that ball over there? ‘You’re telling me to attack.’ You need to attack, but I need you to find him. Did you know he didn’t touch the ball the last few times down? ‘No.’ Well, you gotta know that. You’re playing this position,” Calipari said. “Then he leaves the gym saying, ‘My brother’s position is harder than I thought.’
“It’s a tough position, especially playing for me and the way we play. I put a lot on the guy’s shoulders. He’s making his own calls. This is like a quarterback going out there and we talk about the game plan and then he makes the calls. It’s a hard deal.”
Calipari says he is still open-minded about his playing rotation, especially after the way freshmen Dominique Hawkins and Willis both played in the Blue-White Game.
“It’s all good in practice and drills and all that, but when you put people in the seats and it’s on television to 10 states and there’s 15,000 fans and it sets the Guinness World Book of Records (for scrimmage attendance), that you now see who performs when the numbers are on the back and the lights are on. Those two stepped up,” Calipari said.
“You’d like to play your whole roster because you’re up 35. Then you put all those guys in. But the reality of it is, I think you stretch it unless you figure out a way of playing more than seven or eight. Then you got to figure out. Now, if I had a veteran team, it wouldn’t really matter. But when you have young guys trying to figure each other out, you can’t keep throwing more to the mix. You got to figure out these six or seven. That group’s got to get good. How I figure that out, part of it is in practice. Part of it’s going to be in these games.”