Reloaded Kentucky set to unveil talented freshmen
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Deuces are wild as Kentucky antes up for a new basketball season.
The Wildcats, ranked No. 2 in the preseason thanks in large part to the No. 2-rated freshman class, opens play Friday at Rupp Arena against Stephen F. Austin (7 p.m. ET, SEC Network).
It is not so much the opponent that will make the opening night special, it is learning who the new stars will be as Kentucky brings aboard a freshman class that features four McDonald's All-Americans.
“Every one of these guys could try to get 30 points. Every one of them have that kind of ability,” Wildcats coach John Calipari said. “But they know they have to do it together.”
Calipari always calls it a “process,” the first three months of the season during which he determines style of play and rotations.
“This is November, the beginning of November,” Calipari said. “It's the first time these kids are doing some of this stuff, and they're going to be uncomfortable and they're going to be wrong 60, 70 percent of the time. Just play. Play hard, compete, battle. Come up with balls. Let's get some easy baskets. And then let's see how we execute.”
The process could be more challenging this year than others as Kentucky has legitimate options between using a smaller three-guard set and going tall with 6-foot-9 or better across the front line.
With the small lineup, Kentucky features sophomore Isaiah Briscoe and freshmen De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk. All three are McDonald's All-Americans.
Should the Wildcats go big, 6-9 Wenyen Gabriel and Derek Willis, 6-10 Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Tai Wynyard and 7-foot Isaac Humphries are all at Calipari's disposal.
Regardless of the direction the coach chooses, Adebayo will be in the mix. The freshman arrived in Lexington sporting an NBA-ready, 260-pound frame.
“How about Bam's energy? Was that crazy? Like, his motor?” Calipari asked after a recent exhibition win. “That motor is how you win ballgames. He's a beast.”
The one person bridging the transition is Briscoe, the sophomore who pulled his name out of the NBA Draft last spring.
“In Isaiah, you really have a leader who is an alpha dog,” Calipari said. “He's got a killer in him. You win with guys like him.”
It all begins Friday against Stephen F. Austin.
The Lumberjacks have been the toast of the mid-majors of late, having reached the NCAA Tournament three straight years while posting a 53-1 record in the Southland Conference. However, the departure of five seniors and head coach Brad Underwood, who took the Oklahoma State job, leaves SFA scrambling under new coach Kyle Keller.
“Unfortunately, I only have, like, 17 percent of the offense back,” Keller said, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. “So we're flipping this thing for the first time in a long time. It's a brand new team, but expectations are even higher.
“I'm doing what Coach Calipari is doing.”
At least at the Southland Conference level.
The biggest challenge might be in the paint. No SFA player is taller than 6-7.
As for the Wildcats, Calipari promises a slimmed-down package of plays the first few weeks.
“Limited baseline, limited sideline, limited what we'll do versus zone, limited man offense,” he said. “We're just trying to get good at some things right now. I don't want to throw too much. I want them to worry about competing at a high level versus worrying about, 'What am I supposed to be doing out here?' Just compete.”