- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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John Calipari has barely slowed down since New Orleans.
Winning a national title usually means there is a slew of requests and even more responsibilities from the school. There are awards to collect, speeches to give and recruits to chase after.
Every coach who wins a national title goes through this process.
But Calipari didn’t want to dial back his intensity one bit. In fact, he’s upped it.
“I’ve added a load of about 10 percent since we won,’’ said Calipari. “My pace is hectic now, and it’s in overdrive. I don’t want to be complacent."
Calipari said he isn’t afraid to say no to the requests. And he’s attempting to create more balance, as he did Sunday. That’s when the Wildcats went through a team workout in the morning, and then he and his wife, Ellen, went and hit golf balls at a driving range.
“What I’m trying to do is spend even more time with the players,’’ said Calipari. “I’m working harder than I have the last 10 years in recruiting, in preparation. I want to be at all the practices and see all the things going on. I don’t want to be seen as complacent. Our whole staff is going harder this season.
“I spent more time calling, texting kids on the road. I’m traveling and spending more time with the current players.’’
He has to because this is by far his most unique Kentucky team. His previous UK squads will go down as some of the most successful in a three-year period, outside of the teams that made three straight Final Four trips from 1996-98 and won two national championships.
In Calipari’s first three seasons, Kentucky reached three Elite Eights and two Final Fours and won a national title.
But less than two weeks before the first day of official practice, Kentucky has more question marks than Calipari’s previous three teams.
“We’re not trying to defend anything," Calipari said. "The trophy is in the case. That’s done. We’re not trying to repeat. Kyle Wiltjer played 11 minutes a game last season. Did you know of the 72 BCS schools, we’re the only school that doesn’t return a player who made a single start?”
Indeed, Wiltjer is just about it in terms of experience in a Big Blue uniform. The point guard duties will be handed over to NC State transfer Ryan Harrow. The Wildcats will lean on another transfer in Wright State wing Julius Mays.
They are expecting freshman center Nerlens Noel to be eligible, despite questions that arose over the summer. Noel has been practicing with the team and has had individual workouts.
Calipari is considering going with a much bigger lineup with the 6-foot-10 Noel, 6-9 Wiltjer and 7-foot freshman Willie Cauley-Stein. That might be because they lack the breakdown point guard in Harrow. His previous point guards -- John Wall, Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague -- could push the tempo and create on their own effectively.
Going big might prove more productive for this team, but it’s also a slower pace. Calipari said he hasn’t found a leader yet, but it will develop organically.
He said he will alter the way the team practices in October and early November because of a lack of experience and opening games against Maryland (Brooklyn) and Duke (Atlanta).
“We’ll do things differently with our practices for the first time in 10 years,’’ said Calipari. “This team is so young that we need to do things differently. Our first two games are Maryland and Duke so we have to put the basics in to be successful.’’
As practice gets set to start next week, here are our five questions for Calipari:
1. How much will you play the bigs together?
I’m not sure if I will play Kyle Wiltjer and Willie Cauley together. I’m not sure whether I’ll play Willie and Nerlens together or how much. I will play Nerlens and Kyle Wiltjer together to be 6-10, 7-foot. You can play a heck of a big zone, and the second thing with Kyle Wiltjer is that he can make 3s and really pass. You’d have two bigs so you can play a big zone.
2. A year ago, Anthony Davis wasn’t sure how he would contribute when practice started. How will Noel contribute?
We’re still developing Nerlens Noel’s game. It’s still being defined. Comparing him to Anthony isn’t fair. He’s a once-in-a-century player. Just like it’s not fair to compare any other player’s motor to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He was a once-in-a 10-year guy. Archie Goodwin has that kind of fight and desire, but to compare him or Alex Poythress with Michael isn’t fair.
3. Which transfers are most ready to contribute?
Both Ryan and Julius surprised me. They’re really steady and can knock down open shots. [Mays] has really taken to the dribble-drive and playing through bumps and making tough layups and jumpers and attacking. Ryan had his best day [Sunday], and he understands how to attack the rim and play with his teammates.
4. What’s the most challenging part of having a new point guard every year?
It’s a hard position to play for us because you have to set the tone on offense and defense. If you’re following Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans [Rose and Evans played for Calipari at Memphis], John Wall, Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague, it’s a tough road.
5. Every year, you push a player who no one is talking about. Last year it was Doron Lamb. Who is it this year?
No one knows Willie Cauley, but because of me they’re starting to look at him. People talk about Kyle Wiltjer, and he could be that guy, too.