- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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The size was what got you. That's what coaches said about Kentucky as the Wildcats made their redemptive run through the 2014 NCAA tournament: You could gin up a genius game plan, but they were always going to be taller than you at just about every position. In other words: Good luck!
Here's something horrifying: Next season, Kentucky is going to be even taller.
On Wednesday, UK sophomore forward Alex Poythress announced his decision to return to school for his junior season. The decision makes sense: Save some startling highlights and solid toolbox defense in the tournament, Poythress failed to distinguish himself much in his sophomore season, especially on the offensive end. NBA scouts still aren't quite sure what he is, how he could develop, where he fits at the pro level. (Or, if they do know, "a 6-foot-8 small forward who can't shoot or handle, but rebounds his position and guards relatively well" isn't getting them excited.)
Whether Poythress can accomplish as much in his junior season remains to be seen. But his return alone ensures a couple of things about the 2014-15 Kentucky Wildcats:
They are going to be old.
They are going to be massive.
The first one is a relative term, of course. At Kentucky, where John Calipari just played seven freshmen in a Final Four game (and got the highest percentage of minutes from freshmen in said game since the Michigan Fab Five), "old" is having experienced players, period. But along with Willie Cauley-Stein's return, Poythress' decision ensures that Calipari will have two juniors with plenty of minutes under their belts in potential starting (or starting-minutes-level) roles for the first time since the Darius Miller-DeAndre Liggins-Josh Harrelson combo in 2010-11. Against all odds, a coach once determined to turn over his roster every season suddenly is peppering his lineups with hundreds of returning minutes.
The second one was a done deal no matter what Dakari Johnson decided. Then, on Wednesday afternoon, Johnson dropped the size bomb: He decided to come back to school, too.
A 7-foot center whose combination of size and athletic gifts made him a low-post force in the tournament (especially alongside Julius Randle), Johnson is one of those big men who is both preternaturally athletic and still growing into his body. He has the proverbial "baby fat" scouts love to minimize in their imaginations. Either the NBA now or a year in school (and then the NBA) would have probably worked out equally well for him. A decision to return creates a crowded frontcourt situation for Kentucky, one that should terrify anyone outside Big Blue Nation's border territories.
Calipari already has two 7-footers back for next season in Johnson and Cauley-Stein. He has Marcus Lee (6-10 and maybe the most athletic player in the country) and 6-11 freshman Karl Towns as a potential backup frontcourt. Or vice versa. Or some mix therein. Poythress is a 6-8 small forward. Oh, and then there's Trey Lyles, the No. 6 overall player in the 2014 class. He is a power forward with real post moves and 17-foot range who also happens to be 6-10. That's at least two, and maybe three, waves of NBA size.
A handful of teams will have one player that big. Maybe two, if they're lucky. Calipari could create a real-life edition of Jon Bois' NBA Y2K series with no player shorter than 6-10 in his starting lineup -- if he really wanted to. (We'd highly recommend it.)
In the real world, unfortunately, someone has to play guard. The question is whether that will still be Aaron and Andrew Harrison -- who seem to be finding out for the first time in their lives that they are not necessarily first-round NBA draft picks, and possibly adjusting their plans -- or two more five-star Calipari recruits (shooting guard Devin Booker and point guard Tyler Ulis. Booker is 6-5.
If the 6-6 Harrisons are back, Kentucky will still have one of the tallest backcourts in the country. But even if they aren't, Calipari will unleash one of the biggest teams in recent college hoops history on a now-entirely-suspecting hoops populace.
The 2014-15 Kentucky Wildcats will be older and wiser, sure. But they'll be bigger, too. Much, much bigger.