John Calipari trots out No. 1 class
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Kentucky coach John Calipari stops just short of calling his latest talented group of freshmen the best ever because previous classes have featured top NBA draft picks and won an NCAA championship.
This class has yet to even play a game at Kentucky.
Calipari's eight-player freshman contingent includes McDonald's All Americans Dakari Johnson, twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison, James Young, Julius Randle and Marcus Lee. In-state players Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis round out this latest crop.
Time will whether they can match the achievements of the 2011-12 national championship or past Calipari squads that produced first team All-Americans such as John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. They do present a scenario where he could start five freshmen.
"I'd like this to play out a little bit and look back, but I will tell you this team is deeper," Calipari said during media day.
Expectations are high for Kentucky winning a ninth national title -- especially after the Wildcats went 21-12 last season and lost in the NIT.
This roster at least has Calipari thinking of fulfilling his dream of coaching an unbeaten national championship team.
"For eight years I've said that before I retire I'd like to coach a team that goes 40-0," Calipari said during media day. "Will it happen? I don't know. But we've got the will to win."
Kentucky certainly has the talent and experience to make a run.
Besides the freshmen, the Wildcats return 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein and forward Alex Poythress, who bypassed the NBA draft for another season of college experience. They could provide the veteran leadership missing last season as Kentucky stumbled out of the rankings after starting No. 3 with that duo, Nerlens Noel and Archie Goodwin, now in the NBA.
Then again, Calipari sees potential leaders with his newcomers, especially Randle, to whom the coach has referred as "alpha beast" for his take-charge mentality.
Kentucky will need some floor generals to maintain focus with projections of a preseason No. 1 ranking and an unbeaten season along with its second championship in three seasons.
"We're just learning from him," said Young, who's trying to master Calipari's dribble-drive strategy. "We're taking it day by day and just learning new things. ... The coaches have been there to help us when we have failed."
Such expectations are nothing new for a Kentucky program that has thrived with talented freshmen under Calipari, but none have had quite the hoopla surrounding this class. Calipari's challenge in choosing which five to play is a problem any coach would love to have.
"We know we have a talented team," Andrew Harrison said. "It's just a matter of playing together. You can't really worry about expectations because they're coming from people that have nothing to do with you or your teammates.
"I used to watch Kentucky whenever it was on TV, so I'm pretty aware of the tradition. But we can't really compare ourselves to teams in the past. We have to be ourselves."
Kentucky's fervent fan base is certainly eager to see how the lineup and rotation will look. They get their first chance to see at the sold-out Big Blue Madness at Rupp Arena on Friday night.
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press