Calipari expecting his reloading Kentucky Wildcats to make another run

Calipari expecting his reloading Kentucky Wildcats to make another run

June 30th, 2015 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Less than a week after losing six players to the NBA draft, including four who were lottery selections, Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari hardly sounded depressed Monday morning.

In fact, he gave the rest of the Southeastern Conference fair warning.

"I'm excited about our team," Calipari said on a conference call. "I think our backcourt should be one of the stronger backcourts in the country, even though we'll be very young. Our frontcourt will be athletic and long at 7-foot, 6-10, 6-8 and 6-9.

"I hate to say it, but it could be crazy again."

The Wildcats were the toast of the college courts this past winter as they pursued the first 40-0 record in major college men's history. The Wildcats got to 38-0 with a scintillating 68-66 win over Notre Dame in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament, but their quest ended in a 71-64 loss to Wisconsin at the Final Four.

Kentucky head coach John Calipari, right, instructs Aaron Harrison (2) and Andrew Harrison (5) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Alabama on Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015, in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won 70-55.

Kentucky head coach John Calipari, right, instructs Aaron...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Kentucky had a 60-56 lead with four minutes remaining against the Badgers, who closed on a 15-4 run before losing to Duke in the NCAA title game.

The Wildcats have a returning nucleus headed by sophomore guard Tyler Ulis, junior forwards Marcus Lee and Derek Willis and senior forward Alex Poythress. They will be joined by a recruiting class that Rivals.com ranks third nationally behind Duke and Arizona. It consists of five-star guards Isaiah Briscoe and Jamal Murray, four-star wings Charles Matthews and Mychal Mulder and five-star power forward Skai Labissiere.

Labissierre, a 6-foot-11, 215-pounder from Cordova, Tenn., was rated by Rivals as the nation's top prospect in the 2015 class.

Murray, who originally was expected to sign in 2016, committed to Kentucky last week out of Ontario, Canada.

"He is a playmaking guard who can play the 1 or the 2, and he can really score the ball," Calipari said. "He's great in pick-and-rolls and can play with Tyler. We could play three guards at times if we chose to do that, but it's hard to say you're going to do that when you have the bigs that we have."

Among those bigs is Poythress, who at one time was thought to be a potential one-and-done like so many others who have signed under Calipari. The 6-8, 240-pounder from Clarksville, Tenn., tore his left ACL last December.

"He's only five months out, and he needs another three months, or at least two months, and we'll see from there," Calipari said. "He was so physically strong that the doctors were amazed at the area around his leg, and he's working so hard on the leg that was repaired that the other leg, the healthy leg, has to catch up now."

Kentucky's 2015 class does not have quite the same acclaim as last year's group — "We missed on a bunch of kids this year," Calipari said — which contained Karl-Anthony Towns, Trey Lyles, Devin Booker and Ulis. Towns, Lyles and Booker were lottery picks last week, as was junior forward Willie Cauley-Stein, with Kentucky becoming the first SEC team ever to accomplish that feat.

Calipari's warning that this year's group is not backing down comes as no surprise, as the Wildcats are projected to be the SEC team to beat again in 2016. Whether that means another 18-0 run through league play remains to be proven.

"We have a good team, and we're ready to start playing," Calipari said. "Let's throw it up."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.


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